Iron Ladies -- And Women In A Bind

Ever since the presidential election of 2012, when female voters brought the win home for Barack Obama, Republicans have acknowledged that they might need help on the female sensitivity/language front. (Binders full of women joke goes here.)

This week, in preparation for the 2016 election, there was another series of unfortunate incidents concerning language and women. First, Representative Renee Ellmers (R -N.C.)was quoted at a Republican messaging forum telling the audience essentially that “Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level.” Later, when she was pilloried in the media for expressing herself in this surprisingly throwback way, especially given her own career prominence, her office responded that her remarks were “taken completely out of context by a liberal woman reporter.”

We will return to the stickiness of Ellmers’ situation. Still, her notion that “men tend to talk on a higher level,” was disproved  almost immediately with the return of Todd Akin. For those who might have forgotten, he’s the former Missouri Congressperson and noted intrauterine expert who said in a televised forum during his 2012 campaign that  "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."



By now, perhaps everyone, including his fellow Republicans, would prefer that Todd shut his whole thing down and just go away.

Au contraire, Akin has emerged from his Mount Olympus of Not Getting It to go on a media tour with his first book, “Firing Back: Taking on the Party Bosses and Media Elite to Protect Our Faith and Freedom.”  And at every stop, he happily responds to the media elite’s questions about his notorious rape statement.

 “Exactly what was so terrible?” he asked in an interview with the Daily Beast. “I didn’t think we had done anything near so evil as what the media was carrying to absurd heights. So the final decision was to do an apology not for what I said, but for what everybody perceived I said.”

Representative Ellmers blamed her particular brouhaha on perception as well, and also on that liberal woman reporter.

The reporter in question was actually Ashe Schow, who writes for the Washington Examiner, a conservative paper. She is also a former staffer with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.  She is by no means a “liberal” member of the media, but as a working, thinking journalist, she felt that the language that  Ellmers used, particularly as part of a conference on messaging to women, deserved reporting and further scrutiny -- as in, “isn’t this ironic? “

Here’s what the transcript shows that Ellmers said: “Many of my male colleagues, when they go to the House floor, you know, they’ve got some pie chart or graph behind them and they’re talking about trillions of dollars and how, you know, the debt is awful and, you know, we all agree with that.

She added, “We need our male colleagues to understand that if you can bring it down to a woman’s level and what everything that she is balancing in her life — that’s the way to go.”

Never mind the language. Trying to pander to women by making fun of men and their little charts and graphs sets a cheap and creepy tone. It’s like a man making political hay out of the fact that his wife is always late. Some women love charts, and some husbands are always late.

Her phrasing is super-awkward and unfortunate, to be sure, but I believe what she genuinely meant to say (to put words in her mouth) was that that women are busy, and don’t want to see pie charts, and want to hear about what matters to them. And perhaps she’s also saying that men are better at obfuscation and bamboozling?  At least she’s an equal opportunity sexist, then.

As for context, how is rattling off stuff like this while trying to train people in effective messaging to women at all effective?

Instead of dumbing down, we all need to smarten up. The last thing women need is to be condescended to. Most of us have developed incredible condescend-dar, from, well, years of being patronized and talked down to.

In the bigger picture, and the presidential race of 2016, there is no model for a female president -- aside from Donna Karan ads in the 1980. It sounds wildly naïve, I know, but how about speaking truth about policy?

Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming front-runner for the Democratic side, of course, but Elizabeth Warren is a fast-rising star, as she goes around the country stumping for Democrats, attacking banks and talking about lowering the interest on student loans. Certainly, with Clinton’s latest listening tour (which is really what her book tour is), she has learned the lesson of how differently she sees “flat broke” from how it is perceived by working people.

Those are the main Democratic women contenders for now. But consider that stranger things have happened than that the next presidential election might be a battle between a liberal and a conservative -- who both happen to be women. 

Look at the story of Margaret Thatcher, the first and only female British Prime Minister, and the ultimate outsider who made herself an insider. Though she was a working mother, she never identified herself as such, nor talked about feminism or made any attempt to be on the side of women and families. Au contraire, she was dubbed “The Iron Lady,” and out-Ironed everyone. She was firmly against any entitlement (except for corporations), broke British unions, and had a very tough (stereotypically male) view on the virtues of individualism and hard work.  

Recently, Pepsi CEO  Indra Nooyi’s controversial interview with The Atlantic’s David Bradley went viral because she, gasp, actually told the truth about her working life. She talked about regularly staying until midnight at work, traveling endlessly, and dealing with complaints from her husband, mother, and two daughters. She admitted to having lots of guilt, and added “If you ask (my) daughters I'm not sure they will say that I've been a good mom." Of course, a male CEO would never have been asked these questions, nor would he have been expected to answer them -- because being a “working dad” is not an issue. (But might become one.)

Nooyi was the first to be brutally honest, to say that her her work came first. But she's not pursuing this fiction that she did it all well.
“I don't think women can have it all. I just don't think so,” she said. “We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all.”

There, she said it. And I think it resonated. The first person to publicly disagree with her was none other than that icon of industry, Kim Kardashian, who shot to fame via a sex tape that some claim was leaked by her manager mother. While speaking with CNBC, Kardashian said, “I mean, I think that’s just not really, like, a positive outlook. My mom kind of taught us girls we could have it all.”

Seriously, women now represent the majority of the educated class, and the majority of voters. Republican candidates have reason to be concerned.

Given some of the party’s conservative’s hard-line stance on refugee children, welfare, health care, contraception, and abortion, the “messaging” is not the issue. There will continue to be gaffes, because the demographic tide has changed, and that’s clear from every chart and graph. There are all kinds of women, and they all want to hear the truth. 
15 comments about "Iron Ladies -- And Women In A Bind".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 18, 2014 at 5:28 p.m.

    Barbara, you need a national stage, that is, the national stage needs you.

  2. Susan Bolle from self, July 19, 2014 at 12:19 a.m.

    Thank you Barbara! I have a produce a viral video to remind women voters (especially the highly touted "single women voters") that they need to vote in 3 months in the mid-terms because REPUBLICANS ARE ACTUALLY WAGING A WAR ON WOMEN and they need to stand up right now in 2014 even though it feels like 1950. The video would include all the astonishing clips of Republican politicians (male and female alike; from the Supremes to the State Representatives--thanks for aforementioned Rep. Ellmers citation) & pundits. I would love to get suggestions (with the appropriate media links) for these infamous clips e.g. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts excusing Hobby Lobby by saying "it isn't that expensive to buy birth control".

  3. Edward Shain from EMS Associates, July 19, 2014 at 2:47 a.m.

    "Seriously, women now represent the majority of the educated class, and the majority of voters. Republican candidates have reason to be concerned."

    One would think so.

    Given the relentless vapidity of the Democrats, one's never certain, of course. As you illustrate over and over again, the counter-weight to Democratic cluelessness is the Republican reaping of what they've sown with their relentless injection of religion and cultural wedges into their presentation.

    It's a race to the bottom. Fortunately, though, we've Barbara Lippert to illuminate the long way down. We shall all laugh ourselves to Hell.

  4. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications, July 19, 2014 at 7:51 a.m.

    Note to anyone appearing on broadcast media...If you ever have to use the phrase 'you know' then you are not telling it and want others to tell it for please just shut up...

  5. Barbara Lippert from, July 19, 2014 at 8:06 a.m.

    Thanks, everyone. Susan--email me at and I will fill you in.

  6. Paul Van winkle from FUNCTION, July 20, 2014 at 11:46 a.m.

    When broad sections of a culture speak and act in retrograde, one has to wonder if the culture is headed to hell in a shit basket. Putting down and putting shackles and muzzles on female power (both real and/or aspired to) is the sign of idiocy, ignorance and SpanishInquistionism. If people aren't meta-tagging and openly ridiculing the Aikens of the world as the evolutionarily damned morons they are, what are they doing? Let's be plain: They're siding with this nonsense.

  7. Barbara Lippert from, July 20, 2014 at 12:09 p.m.

    Edmund-- I thought it was hilarious that CNBC would interview KK about "having it all." plus two nannies, a bodyguard, and her husband's entire staff. and Paul-- "broad sections." woo hoo! I feel like we are in a moment of feminism fatigue; and with the world becoming a tinder box, waiting for a match, we just go from one emergency to the next.

  8. Paul Van winkle from FUNCTION, July 20, 2014 at 2:19 p.m.

    It's definitely a time of tender tinder. And, maybe, decision-making. Because if evolution (in biology, media and politics) was previously unconscious, it now needs to be fully conscious. 1) heritable variation exists within our populations; b) all species produce more progeny than necessary; and 3) these offspring vary in their ability to contribute to the future. Moral: Not all stupid is created equal. We should be uber-wary of those who dis the Mother, the birthplace of origin. It's therefore high time to (consciously, actively) demand higher levels of critical thinking from the gene pool. The future needs it, and so does this present.

  9. Farnaz Wallace from Farnaz Global, LLC, July 21, 2014 at 3:41 p.m.

    Great article. Stereotyping women and men is a sexist act on its own…yet everyone does it. Yes, there are feminine and masculine qualities in all of us. Doesn't make you wonder what would happen in global peace negotiations if we had more women leading nations these days?

  10. Jim English from The Met Museum, July 21, 2014 at 10:19 p.m.

    Thanks Barbara. Agree with comments by Farnaz Wallace, global peace negotiation would be more successful if woman ran them. 100 years ago, the male contingency of kings, Kaisers, czars, and emperors led the world to unparalleled slaughter and destruction.

  11. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, July 23, 2014 at 9:16 a.m.

    INTERESTING. Replace Chamberlain with Thatcher; Peres with Meir in recent history. And for the future: Hollande with Le Pen and Obama with Clinton. Peace don't come easy and czarinas, kaiserfraus, queens, and empresses are no more suited to "global peace negotiations" as men are. Although, it is true that the only person in congress to vote against entry into WWI was Janette Rankin, a women elected to the House before she could vote for president. Unfortunately, she came back in 1941 to vote against going to war after Pearl Harbor. But heck a .500 batting average ain't so bad.

  12. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 23, 2014 at 11:17 p.m.

    LePen should never be used near any of the women you mention. She is the maniacal female version of Hitler.

  13. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, July 24, 2014 at 7:56 a.m.

    My point entirely, Ms. Lynn.

  14. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, July 24, 2014 at 7:59 a.m.

    I do have to correct one thing in my comment above. Although Ms. Rankin did vote against entry into WWI, she was not alone and more than several male peaceniks joined her in the vote; however, she was the only dissenter in the WWII declaration for which she suffered a loss in the 1942 election.

  15. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, July 24, 2014 at 8:06 a.m.

    Rhetoric does mean a lot. Leslie Stahl of CBS once made the point that the Carter Administration said all the right things about women and the Reagan administration didn't, but she herself was treated condescendingly and offputtingly by the Carterites whereas the Reagan people, from Baker on down, treated her professionally and equally as her male colleagues. Romney, in Massachusetts, set out not only to have a bi-partisan administration (how else to govern there for a Republican) but one in which women would fill an equal number of key positions, but blows it all with a phrase that can make him a fool.

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