Today I posted a blog on Huffington Post about the return of gender insults perpetrated upon Hillary Clinton — this time particularly by CNN’s Gloria Borger. As a communication professor and researcher, I’m always intrigued by how words are used to shape our perceptions. As a woman, I’m also particularly attuned to how those words are used to keep us from senior positions in business and equal pay.
Words are weak vehicles of meaning at times. We use them quickly and sometimes find that they haven’t conveyed our intentions. But they are also weapons when employed by those who are inclined to manipulation. In The Secret Handshake and my other books, I look at how easy it is to “poison a well” at work. When it comes to women, that poisoning is readily accomplished in some arenas merely by calling up negative associations that have taken root — usually by not being quickly and adequately challenged.
In They Don’t Get It, Do They? I wrote about how women are labeled at work. My view: “It’s going to happen, so you might as well have some input.” By that, I mean it’s important when a word is used, intentionally or unintentionally, in a manner that disparages you or your work that it doesn’t stick. Words can be altered along with impressions. If someone says, “You’re stubborn,” you are at a choice point in conversation. What are other ways to describe the characteristics one person might refer to as stubborn? Here are a few: persistent, determined, and committed. “Yes. I was persistent” is a response that turns something negative into a positive.
The Huffpo blog is about how some “journalists” use words they know are disparaging of women to describe Hillary Clinton. Not only do such words repeated over time come to be ‘attached’ to her, they’re distortions of who she is as a person and presidential candidate. Whether in our own lives or observing the labeling of women running for political office, it’s important to be aware of how words and phrases damaging to women’s credibility are employed. If a woman isn’t going to win in 2016, at least it should be because she wasn’t the right person for the job — not because she was constantly labeled in gratuitous ways and we just didn’t bother to inform the press that we noticed.