Columns » Max Brantley

Still a man’s world

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Barack Obama's inroads among white voters are explained, in part, by a gender divide. Given the choice between him and Hillary Clinton, a majority of white men in many states have voted for Obama.

The numbers suggest to me that some gender bias is at work. Others argue that it's less about Hillary Clinton's gender than it is about Hillary Clinton.

But forget the specific example and consider a bigger picture. How often have you heard a male candidate for public office described as a bitch? When's the last time you heard a male candidate derided for his “cackle.” How many comments do you hear about male candidates' clothing, weight, cleavage and hairstyle relative to those about women? Have you ever heard Chris Matthews suggest a male candidate was a threat to the genitals of a woman?

America hasn't erased racial divisions, but Obama's success lends evidence to the belief that gender barriers are sometimes even more daunting.

Elsewhere in the Times, we've recounted the recent resignation of a female state editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. She wrote an intemperate resignation note, circulated to all on the staff (and beyond), about what she believed to be a sexist atmosphere at the paper. I have no idea if she's right. I do know that the supervisory ranks at the newspaper are overwhelmingly male, except in the features department.

But the state's largest newspaper is no different than the vast majority of the state's major businesses. Men dominate the top management positions. The publicly traded companies in Arkansas have few female board members. The states' colleges and universities, where females predominate in the classroom, are headed by men. Surveys show that male faculty members tend to make more money. I'd guess that no woman in government employment in Arkansas, except possibly at UAMS, makes as much as the defensive football coach at the University of Arkansas. (I know. Football is really important.) Most school superintendents are men, though most teachers are women.

The state's largest law firms didn't add women partners until the mid-1970s. You needed only a couple of fingers to count the number of female judges in the state until the late-1980s. Women have never led either house of the legislature.

Women who do succeed in business and politics generally continue to shoulder “traditional” household responsibilities — primary child caregiver and house manager. There are some new-age men out there, but a whole lot more men are in the deer woods. Good luck finding a man who does the Christmas shopping and gift wrapping.

Male dominance in business and politics isn't a product of superior intellect nor is it an accident. It's a continuing reflection of the attitude that gave black men the vote decades before women, who didn't achieve full U.S. voting rights until 1920. Times have changed, but I bet you'd still find plenty of men sympathetic — if more quietly today — with the infamous Arkansas legislator who said the proper state of womankind was barefoot and pregnant.

Many men are afraid, or resentful, of strong women. The amateur psychologist might speculate that the men who complain about an air of superiority in female leaders are saying more about their own fragile male egos. In the South, the typical antidote is to call the woman a bitch and go buy a few more guns.

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