Saturday, October 22, 2005

I do it sometimes, too, but...

So, I'm taking a break from doing loads of reading and writing to be annoyed at something I've noticed recently, from both me, the news media, friends, and various pundits.

Why is it that when we're talking about Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, we feel sufficiently close to her to refer to her by her first name? Only her first name. right now has a headline: "Condoleeza's Alabama Homecoming." Would we do that for anyone else in the administration? Donald to go to visit troops in Iraq. Dick to take lollipops from young children.

It's because she's a woman. I hear the objections already. 1) We don't call Margaret Spellings "Margaret" (or other women in the admin.) or 2) Condoleeza just has such a unique name, of course we use it.

1) Well, that's true. I think because Rice is the only woman in a major policy making, highly public role, her gender is particularly salient.

2) Well, what about other women to whom this happens?

I've even seen this about Harriet Miers: "Harriet blah blah" not "Miers etc etc." Now, did we see stuff like this about John Roberts? Or judges (umm... well, potential judges) anyway? I've, personally, never seen "Antonin to go to gay rights parade" or "Clarence seen at porn store."

This happens to Hillary Clinton, too, who we are free to call "Hillary."

Why, though, is this the case? Is it because we just feel less respect towards women in these high-power positions? Research would seem to indicate that when women are in more leaderly (is that a word?) roles, they are evaluated less favorably than men in similar roles (Eagly and Karau, too lazy to look up date). Do we feel more "familiarity" with them because they're women? This is interesting.

Anyway, I know this post contains no insightful analysis or interesting perspective. But, do think about it! And I'm going to get back to work--currently in the process of reading Battered Women and Feminist Lawmaking by Elizabeth Schneider. The part I'm reading now is fascinating: about the different legal strategies used by feminists to draw attention to and define battering/abuse/gender violence and the struggles over naming and the implications coming along with different names. She talks about the role of "rights talk" in shaping identity and public discourse and expectations. But, of course, talking in terms of legal reform and rights can't really get at fundamental issues of social structure and gender inequality. Asking for a right is asking to have access to the system as it is, not asking to fundamentally alter it. Legal activism isn't sufficient for those sorts of goals.

She talks about different conceptions of domestic abuse and about how recent/not so recent attempts to project a gender symmetry ("women do this just as much as men"), or to paint victims as somehow pathological, or to think of it as have solely to do with issues of power blinds us to the gendered dimensions of power.

Where I am right now, she's discussing tension within the battered women's movement and within feminism more general between victimization and agency, arguing that that's really a false dichotomy: focusing on victimization ignores agency, but we can't act as if women are free agents in a vacuum, outside of social constraints and power relations.

Wow, I've gone on far too long and probably not made a whole lot of sense. I tend to ramble when something is interesting. Maybe later I'll post a more logical and coherent summarization of Schneider's arguments.


Amanda :-) said...

Actually, I have a friend that refers to John Roberts as Chief Justice "Yum-Yum" and that her boss told Justice Yum-Yum about the name, and then embarassed her and her co-worker (that started the name yum-yum) by introducing him as such when he came into their office.

Jennifer said...

haha, that's great. I don't know what's more cool, though: that someone actually called him Yum Yum to his face, or that you know someone that actually met him! I'm not a big fan, but that's really exciting!