Lauren Agresti | Everyone Loves a Catfight
Guest Column | Because gender stereotyping is the new Jeremy Lin
February 20, 2012, 11:32 pm·
Excuse me for a moment before we get into this — gotta take my earrings out and have my boyfriend hold my heels. Wait … nope. Wasn’t prancing around West Philadelphia dressed like Business Barbie. I’m good.
First, I’d like to make it perfectly clear that I’ve never really identified with the traditional feminist camp. I will freely admit that I make friends by making cupcakes, I wear more makeup than they keep backstage at Bob & Barbara’s on drag night and I probably get at least some of the things I want in life because I have a very large collection of push-up bras. My generic silver sedan can be easily identified in parking lots by looking for the one that isn’t quite in the space.
Oh, and there was that time I got in a heated verbal altercation outside the Penn Women’s Center because my all-female a cappella group decided to call our show “Pitch, please.” Guess self-respecting women aren’t supposed to call each other bitches. Sorry I’m not sorry (bitch.)
That being said, I was shocked and appalled by newly elected Freshman Class Board President, College freshman Ariel Koren’s recent guest column, “That’s what she said … Debunking the ‘female leadership issue.’” Sure, I get what she’s trying to say. “Girl power” can do anything, we don’t need anyone’s help, look at all we’ve accomplished.
But there are actually so many things wrong with her argument that I’m not sure where to start. I suppose I will focus on the two most egregious errors I can find: 1) Ms. Koren’s narrow-minded, hyper sexualized image of women in leadership and 2) her notion that we’ve done “enough worrying about the ‘female leadership issue,’ because a look around this campus shows that we’re solving it ourselves.”
The picture of the powerful woman climbing “the corporate ladder … in a pair of Jimmy Choos” and a “well-suited pencil skirt” has just got to stop. Yeah, $700 stilettos and some strategically placed spandex makes your ass look great. And making your ass look great gets you jobs sometimes. These are facts. But as long as women go around propagating the idea that our capacity to achieve comes from shiny, expensive material objects and the way we look, our intellects, creative talents and passions will go unnoticed.
Relying on our physical appearance can get us places, but only so far. Amy Gutmann did not find herself presiding over one of America’s most prestigious universities because she wears “lipstick and high-heeled shoes;” she got to the top because she’s a world-renowned scholar and hard-working advocate for the causes she believes in.
Additionally, sustainable or not, the Sex and the City image of successful women is just one image among many. Maybe Ms. Koren walks around Penn “hair windblown, heels clanking, eyes aglow and mind a-storm, at work on her new plan of attack” (doubt it, I’ve literally never seen anyone do this).
But some of us are just kind of traipsing through campus rocking the “my pillow is my hairdresser, my TOMS are comfy as hell, get me a coffee and then I’ll start this plan-of-attack thing” look. Some of us go for the girl-next-door vibe, in either the Taylor Swift or the Elisha Cuthbert sense. Still others among us (see: College junior Isabel Friedman, President of Penn Political Coalition) choose the earth mother, urban goddess effect. And they all work. Female leaders at Penn look as different as the ideas, interests and goals they represent among their peers.
More importantly, “the female leadership issue” is not tired, it’s not dead and it’s certainly not about to resolve itself. Yes, there are a significant number of women in leadership positions at Penn. Yes, criticisms and doubts surrounding Ms. Koren’s campaign because she doesn’t have a “Penn15” (Mother of God can we please let it go) were misguided. And no, we probably don’t need any special initiatives to allow for more Penn women in leadership because we can and are making big strides for ourselves.
That being said, writing a flagrantly dismissive article about women’s issues at Penn a) discounts the centuries of hard work it took women to get to this point and b) ignores the simple tragedy that as members of one of the most educated, wealthy and progressive communities in the world, our struggle as females is barely over.
There is a long road ahead for oppressed and disenfranchised women everywhere and they’re not going to be walking it in Manolos. The conversation about gender issues is an important one and earth to Ariel: being president of the freshman class doesn’t give you the authority to declare that conversation over.
Lauren Agresti is a College junior from Fulton, Md. She is president of Quaker Notes, an all-female a capella group. Her email address is email@example.com.