My, My! I Think I Hit a Sore Spot

Yesterday, I pointed to a very bipartisan problem: the under-representation of women candidates slated to run for Indianapolis City-County Council (not helped by the “dumping” by each party of an incumbent female). Several commenters–all, I should note, men–protested via twitter that gender had nothing to do with the slating decisions.

As I responded to one of them, I’m sure that’s true–consciously. Neither party deliberately slighted women candidates, or intentionally applied different standards to male and female incumbents.

The key word is “intentional.”

In 1990, Wellesley College professor Peggy McIntosh wrote an essay about White Privilege, in which she observed that whites in the U.S. are taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on any particular group.

Men also tend to be unaware of their own privileges as men. See “The Male Privilege Checklist” for a rundown of unconscious assumptions that are true for men but not women.

A few of the 45 items on that checklist are particularly relevant here:

If I seek political office, my relationship with my children, or who I hire to take care of them, will probably not be scrutinized by the press.

Chances are my elected representatives are mostly people of my own sex. The more prestigious and powerful the elected position, the more likely this is to be true.

I can be loud with no fear of being called a shrew. I can be aggressive with no fear of being called a bitch.

My post yesterday was about those “invisible systems conferring dominance” and the systemic (albeit largely unconscious) attitudes those systems foster. Most of the women who commented “got it.”  A number of the men, didn’t.

I rest my case.


  1. Guess I’m going to have to follow you on Twitter now and actually open it more than once a month eh?

  2. Thank you for bringing attention to this Sheila. My Council work was profiled in an IBJ article last June. It was disappointing that a female reporter included comments about the clothes I choose to wear, the profession of my husband, my hair, and the kind of home and neighborhood I live in. Would that have been included in a story written about a male councillor?

  3. The problem is that with men in control, a woman has to represent herself in a way that is acceptable to the men in charge. As long as men control the slating of all candidates, we can be sure that anyone proposing reform or changes to the existing system will not make it to the ballot for either major party. Seems like the best option is an independent or 3rd party which can slate and finance a successful (i.e. winning) campaign that will fill the vacuum created by the republicans and democrats and put them on the defensive. Maybe this blog group is the start of that independent party??

  4. Christine–you and I both know that none of that information would have been included in an article about a male councillor. We’ve come a long way, baby–but not quite far enough yet.

  5. Christine; as the old saying goes, “Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger.” Facebook posted a week or so ago that author Colleen McCullough (“Thorn Birds” probably her best known novel) had died, they included the obituary which ran in the Australian press. It actually stated that she was not a very attractive woman and was overweight. Doubtless, such description would not be found in a man’s obituary. If it were me; I would demand a retraction of the published article about irrelevant information and focus be placed on your accomplishments – or attemted accomplishments – on this City County Council. But then, I have big mouth and busy little fingers on my computer keyboard.

  6. Sheila, I deeply appreciate you standing up for two fine councilors, Angela Mansfield and Christine Scales. However, I’ve been involved in local politics since 1986 and know that any elected official who shows independence and puts the interest of the public ahead of party bosses and powerful lobbyists, like Angela and Christine did, will become a target for ouster via the use of a rigged slating process. I’ve seen it happen countless of times to women and I have seen it happen to men. I certainly do agree with Christine’s comments above that there is a focus on appearance when it comes to female candidates you don’t see with men. But when it comes to what happened to Mansfield and Scales it was their integrity and willingness to stand up up for their constituents and their convictions that put a target on their back, not their gender. The Republican Party leadership locally is the same way when it comes to race. They like African-American candidates as long as they stay in their place and don’t buck the system. But that’s also the standard for white candidates. Our local party organizations are really corrupt, self-serving and don’t care about the public. People like Mansfield and Scales are a credit to their parties. We need more people like them.

  7. One classical way to examine problems like the under represrntation of women in government is the old 2X2 matrix. ‘Men” and “women” on one axis “individually” and “collectively” on the other.

    The movie “Selma” (I am told) is about a similar problem. And about how MLK, more or less individually, inspired blacks to behave differently and the civil rights movement was born. Was it a complete success? Not yet. Was progress achieved? Most definitely.

    So I admire Sheila’s attempts to raise the issue to levels that start to impact the thinking of others. When those attempts start spreading to more women collectively a movement will be born and women collectively will behave differently in a more focused and powerful way.

    While I can’t take any credit for it I see the same progress in the efforts to save the world from carbon waste dumping. First a few individuals, now, more and more, a movement with the clout to start real progress.

    In both cases the goal is to improve the fate of mankind. That starts with the few and moves when the many take a stand.

  8. I’ve noticed that celebrity is very much about looks. Tends to be body type for women, hair for men, especially political celebrity.

    Another artifact of big media marketing.

  9. All that stuff that it’s not about women means that it’s about women who are threatening to punch a hole in the boat and show some integrity. They are saying “Ow! That hurts!” Methinks that they protest too much, and that means you need to keep on hitting them until you get results.

  10. OK, we’ve identified a problem and some systemic causes/hurdles. But what about short-term tactical actions to elect more women? Someone has suggested a third party; anything else?

  11. Christine, I contacted you last year after reading the article in IBJ. Even though I live in northern Indiana I wanted to compliment you on your integrity and tell you that there are others out here supporting you and rooting for you. You responded to me and said that just when you were beaten down someone seems to come along and give you a message of appreciation that keeps you going. I was truly sad to see that you could no longer serve your constituents. Integrity seems to bring a sure death in the political realm.

  12. I see that North Korea has just released 300 slogans for people to take to heart. Indiana’s Groupthink leaders may have had advanced copies of these stirring remarks. I see one slogan is “Let the wives of officers become dependable assistants to their husbands!” Apparently Mr. Pence and his colleagues have some things in common with Kim Jong Un.

  13. Paul and Nancy and others who have contributed supportive comments-thank you. Nancy-I remember your kind email. Please know that Angie and I aren’t done yet. We are both candidates running against the slate and will be on the May Primary ballot. Each of us is committed to the hard work necessary that will result in a victory and allow us to run in the November general elections. I consider Angie a friend and I know I can speak for her in saying that each of us will need all the help we can get to overcome the challenges of being non-slated candidates. Each $5.00 donation can add up quickly and help pay for a certain number of mailings or copies of handouts. For some people, even a $5.00 donation hurts the pocket book too much. Please consider then instead, an hour or two of your time calling neighbors and friends and asking them to vote for us. Or-help distribute yard signs, etc. Encouraging words offered in a call or email go far to keep spirits up.

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