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A big story of last week was the firing of Jill Abramson as executive editor of The New York Times. Accusations of discrimination based on gender shocked many who felt that issues like these were long ago resolved. In seeking to make sense of it, I was moved to reevaluate my own response to the women who have been my co-workers and bosses during my career. I find I have to look through eyes and perceptions not my own to seek real understanding. I was raised in the middle of a household of women, and judging my mother and sisters by a different standard never came to mind.

Even after years of deliberate study and examination, even with my upbringing, I must cede that my understanding of women remains frustratingly limited. In situations like these, women often take one view and men take the other. We’ve made a lot of progress, for sure, but biology does complicate matters considerably. Though I have discarded gender essentialism, the belief that all gender differences are inborn and inescapable, it is the honest truth that men and women are hardwired very differently. I find nothing inherently wrong with this view, but it requires that we take particular intangibles on faith alone and learn to trust one another.

I cannot entirely escape the lived experiences given to me upon birth. As we know, most of the earth’s population is heterosexual. Sexual attraction is a very powerful force that brings men and women together, in spite of their innate differences. I’m not sure if many heterosexual men and heterosexual women would do the hard work of daily face-to-face interaction if sexual desire was not a factor. It gives everyone an ulterior motive, male or female, but this presents problems as well. There have been times myself where I have made a mistake and viewed every opposite-sex interaction through through purely sexual terms, even though this is hardly unique to me.

It’s astonishing sometimes that men and women can even communicate with each other. In recent years, gender segregation at the workplace has become less prominent, which has led the way towards greater understanding and productive dialogue. Abramson’s troubled time at the Old Grey Lady, as some have discussed, might reveal the latent sexism of our society. Answers here are few, and as feminist writer Ann Friedman has revealed, Abramson (and the rest of us) may never learn the real reasons for her termination.

Because clear cut answers are not present here, theories have to suffice instead. If sexuality and gender are indeed a factor, we ought to take both under consideration. Even so, this is purely speculation and conjecture and likely only one part of a very complex matter. Men are very visual and sometimes more literal minded in their sexuality and in their daily dealings with everyone else. Women, as I have been taught, often process their interactions with men by a more indirect approach, one within the confines of fantasy and idealization. Those in same-sex relationships, either platonic or romantic, workplace or private life, may well escape this conundrum and confusion, which is likely much to their advantage.

Even if men and women learn only how to cater to another’s whims, this might be a good start, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone's comprehension is exact and precise. Though I admit to being a believer in a Utopian, genderless worldview, I know that strictly masculine and strictly feminine identities in some form will persist. If we could eradicate every cultural and societal problem based on misunderstanding tomorrow, we’d still be left with the biological differences. Respecting each other as we are is not the same as completely understanding each other.

I have a familiarity with Mid-Atlantic culture, six years into my life bordered by Maryland and Pennsylvania, but the Southern mores and customs that dictated who I am today are part of me. To me, meaningless chitchat in the supermarket line with complete strangers is expected and anticipated. Where I live now, most people keep to themselves except in the company of friends or close relatives. This is an example of a relatively harmless regional disparity, but it underscores how unconscious we are of distinction and difference. I seek not to excuse the behavior of the intolerant, but I will say that they have farther to go than some of us. None of us have the ability to choose our starting point.

Each of us are be shaped by the familiarity and comfort of home, however we define it. I wish that I was raised by a father who wasn’t threatened by women’s rights and didn’t feel that they came at his expense. His beliefs and conduct pushed me farther and farther towards feminism. My mother was raised by a mother who was very masculine, and in response she became ten times more feminine. Women in business leadership learn that they have to conform to a similarly unwritten standard that must be seen and directly observed to be addressed.

Communication is key. The deck may yet be stacked against women. Part of the modern-day feminist movement is convincing people that there is need for new reforms. Until allegations of sexism arise, many are satisfied that sufficient progress has been made. Though social movements may wish to make themselves eventually redundant, no massive problem is ever put aside completely in the first round. This is where we stand today, in a country where women continue to earn less per hour than men, its promise of equality for all unfulfilled. It shouldn't take psychology to keep conflict away, but sometimes it does.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (0+ / 0-)

    I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

    by cabaretic on Sun May 18, 2014 at 12:09:11 PM PDT

  •  Flew under the radar? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe

    The firing of Jill Abramson was on every Sunday political show this morning. Add that to all the press, TV, and Internet buzz about this during the week. It's an interesting story, and worthy of discussion, but it hardly flew under the radar.

    There have been at least two other diaries at DKOS on the topic that have had a lot of play here as well.

    "let's talk about that" uid 92953

    by VClib on Sun May 18, 2014 at 12:16:22 PM PDT

    •  Making corrections (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I've been off the grid for the past couple days. That is to say, I concede your point and have made changes.

      I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

      by cabaretic on Sun May 18, 2014 at 12:21:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I think she was in somebody's way (0+ / 0-)

    who had the power to get rid of her.  Disagreeing/standing up for your point of view can be dangerous, or simply having something someone else wants.  Women don't deal with conniving gamesmanship the way men do--they are often trying to make things run smoothly and well, and don't respond to it at all.

    •  Go along to get along? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Portia Elm, elmo

      Abramson wasn't much known for that approach. Even she has long admitted that she can be "difficult", "intimidating", "abrasive". But the article diarist links to makes some very good points, including.

      Women never know whether they’re being met with a hostile reaction because of their performance — something that they can address and change — or because of both male and female colleagues’ internalized notions of how women should behave.
      With no "cause" and no single thing to explain her exit, whether or not Abramson was difficult for a boss or whether she was difficult for a woman is probably a question that even she’s struggling to answer.

      “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

      by Catte Nappe on Sun May 18, 2014 at 01:34:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  that's not what I meant (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Catte Nappe

        I meant she was just managing in her style to get a result she considered good, and not paying much attention to crap going on around her, and falling into "traps."  I am sure she is savvy and no fool, but not strategizing on the fly--playing chess as it were.  Just my totally uninformed observation.

      •  I have to disagree (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Catte Nappe

        It isn't a struggle to answer that question. To me, it's obvious.

        If Jill had been Jack Abramson instead, that person would not have been fired. Abramson is a woman who behaves according to the social norms for a man, not for a woman.That's what got her fired.

        The kind of woman that does well at the NYT was Judith Miller. She used more traditionally feminine paths to power (she slept with powerful men).  She kept her job long after a man would have been fired for incompetence.

  •  Instead of simply accepting the idea (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    that differences between men and women are "simply innate,"  or due to being "hardwired differently," can you consider that those differences may actually be a product of lived experiences?

    I think the reaction of women to Jill Abramson's firing probably recalled to mind in each woman an incident in her own life where she believed she was being treated differently solely because of her gender. Men have no such experience to relate to.

    When racism is charged, white people often have a different view of it than African Americans. Surely you would not then conclude that the races are innately different or hardwired differently. Surely not.

    Communication between individuals is always going to be difficult if one of those individuals persists in lumping the other into a generalized category rather than listening carefully to what the other individual has to say for herself.

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