Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chris Matthews Gets It Half Right

Well, maybe a quarter right.

First, I have to say that MSNBC's new feature on their websites to shorten video segments is brilliant. I love it (transcript below):
CHRIS MATTHEWS: You know what, I'll tell you something, and we'll get to this over time. It came up in the Hillary campaign. And that is this: women in the workplace have to have what's called a professional manner. Men have a little more history in the workplace, in certain work places, and they have a little more, uh, range in the way they presents themselves. Women are expected to perform professionally. An attorney, a doctor, you want to see a game face to some extent, right? And now, when they get into politics, they're-they're expected to do a lot of grabbing and holding and baby kissing, and a lot of it, sort of - intimate exchanges with total strangers. An availability for intimate exchanges. Like, come up to me, grab me, you know what I mean? And if you show any kind of, uh, guardedness or what you call in the workplace professionalism, you're cold... ...So, what we're finding out now is it's harder!
Okay, so I'm not the world's biggest Chris Matthews fan. Scratch that. I strongly dislike Chris Matthews. I think the man is, simply put, an ass. Or, a jackass.

Which is why my first impulse upon hearing this was to say (to myself, while I was alone in my car), "REally, Chris? Women in politics are maligned for maintaining the professionalism they need to acquire in order to succeed and progress in a number of business environments? Who'd have thunk?!" The second was, "We're finding that out NOW?! You f***ing JACKASS!"

The "finding out now" part is where Matthews was downgraded from getting it half right to getting it a quarter right. Because, seriously, those of us in the know have known this for years. Hell, I'm 24 and I've known that for at least half of my life.

This whole post, actually, could be about how this remark may be Matthews obliquely offering contrition over his continually stated negative opinion about Hillary Clinton in during the 2008 presidential race, his remarks about how she was "cold", how she was "sharp", etc. And that would turn into a post about how much I ha... strongly dislike Chris Matthews. Especially when I get to the part where he's talking to Rachel Maddow as if this is some grand revelation he's letter her on, when I'm pretty sure this ain't news to her.

But instead, I'm going to talk about where Matthews got it right, and where he got it wrong.

He's right. He's absolutely right that women have to perform in a certain way, act in a certain way, in the work environment - especially certain types of work environments - in order to get ahead.

He's wrong if he thinks that is the only negative women face. If a woman isn't cold, then she is ineffective - in the workplace, and I'll bet on the campaign trail. Lest we forget the reaction Secretary of State Clinton arose from varied political corners when she had the audacity to tear up in New Hampshire. Some (Andrew Sullivan) called it a calculated, crass effort to gain voter sympathy. And anti-feminist to boot. Some asked if we wanted a woman who cried dealing with our enemies. There is very few ways women can win without being critiqued for how they express (or don't) their femininity.

What Matthews is also wrong about is why (white) men are allowed more expression in the workplace. It isn't because they have been there longer; it is because they are automatically seen as competent. Women (and let's face it, minorities of any stripe) have to prove they are competent. Them's the facts, Jack.

I'll give Matthews credit where credit is due: he's teetering on the edge of a rather big revelation, namely that there is actually sexism in the world and it affects women in politics - just like it affects women everywhere else. I'll give Matthews that credit because I actually think he's made a fairly large step. When he says, "we're finding out", I think he means "I'm finding out". Unless he thinks a lot of his brethren are on the cusp of this realization as well. I hope so.

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