“And we’ve been able to build in at least one shopping day at most visits,” the military director confided, clearly expecting a positive response from the women on the executive committee. I was a member of the Defense Advisory Committee for Women in the Military, DACOWITS. (I was also director of Women’s Studies at my University.) I was annoyed, even a bit insulted, when I heard her speak.
It was 1993. The DACOWITS was a presidential appointed committee under the secretary of defense. The predominantly female membership was made up of political donors or wives of political donors. Not me. I was one of the few military appointments, a representative of the army. Each year the executive committee went on a trip to major overseas military bases–Japan, Italy, Germany etc. The organizers built in a “cultural day” for each installation, except in remote bases like the Eareckson Air Station, on the tip of the Alaskan Aleutian Archipelago.
It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy these cultural/shopping outings. It was that these events trivialized our mission. The military hierarchy, including Dick Cheney and other high ranking civilian and military men, dismissed us as unserious.
Why do I bring this up? Recently, NPR did an interview with Ali Vitali, author of Electable: Why America Hasn’t Put a Woman in the White House… Yet. In her conversation with the reporter, she related an incident that happened in 2020 while on the campaign trail with then presidential candidate Kamala Harris. Vice president Harris had been visiting women owned businesses and at one shop was cajoled into trying on a very sparkly jacket. Reporters tweeted about it and started an avalanche of criticism from male reporters and others, condemning the most recent Vice President, of being unserious.
I personally know that men, on business and political trips to overseas offices, shop. They visit tailors in Asia for one-day suits, Russian stores selling Matryoshka dolls, get massages and facials and eat at exclusive restaurants. No one calls them out.
Vitali attributes this to a double standard, different rules for different genders. I think it is more than just stereotypes. I think it is deeply rooted in human history and religion. Women are girls, unsuitable for leadership, even though they have been great leaders over time. Take for example, Catherine the Great—better known for sleeping with horses than expanding Russia’s borders.
Whether it be 1993, 2020, or 1762, the double standard exists, as does the glass ceiling of power.