Post by Jane K. Stimmler, contributing Women On Business writer
Sarah Palin – those are two words that make me shudder since her Friday revelation that she was moving on from her role as Governor a good year or so in advance of the end of her first term. She appeared resolute as she rambled, seemingly in an effort to give a good reason why, after a whirlwind romance with politics, she was calling it quits. My immediate reaction was astonishment, my next thought – why? And finally, I got a queasy feeling in my stomach as it hit me. How many people are going to think this is a “woman” problem – that she’s quitting because she’s not tough enough.
Oh no – not again! A woman with a high profile who disappoints.
We can reel them off at this point – Carly (Fiorina) wasn’t good with people, Katie (Couric) isn’t getting ratings, Hillary (Clinton) had to settle. Oh and then there was the Harriet Myers debacle – she hid behind her boss, the President, who protected her as she withdrew as a Supreme Court nominee. Now Sarah, who came from nowhere and hadn’t done much, was pushed into the harsh glare of national scrutiny. Everything she has done, said and worn has been analyzed. How could anyone not come up short?
The fact is, women are still a focus of unrelenting attention and debate when they succeed. In the book Breaking Into the Boys’ Club, we discuss the ways in which women are scrutinized and their frequent difficulty in establishing the “right” tone of authority. No matter Palin’s politics or experience level, the very fact that she is a female in a predominantly male arena engenders endless judgments and analysis of all aspects of her life. Just as with other high profile women who have come before her, there have been extreme reactions one way or the other to everything about her – personality, candidacy, family, future plans and, of course, her recent announcement. She and other successful women have a track record of often being polarizing figures. They walk a fine line between being too tough or appearing weak. They must strike a balance to be seen as positively assertive rather than overly aggressive. They are critiqued on their style – pants or skirts, long hair or short? Their work/life balance is questioned and debated – can they really do it all and if not, why not? In other words, the spotlight shines relentlessly on all of the issues on which men are rated – as well as many more.
Can any woman stand up to the test – or, for that matter, stand the constant scrutiny?
Until there is acceptance that women are part of the landscape of powerful and successful people, each woman who gets near or to the top will have to endure the “Palin Treatment.” I wonder how all these firestorms surrounding women who “make it to the top” affect the future. In light of the controversies, how many people have been deterred from selecting women for these slots? How many women have been dissuaded from accepting top positions?
The bottom line is that no matter what I think of Sarah Palin, I know I wouldn’t have wanted to withstand her past few months. Do you know anyone who would?