CNBC GOP Debate

You’re Not A Leader If You Say You Have No Weaknesses

In the most recent Republican primary debate, the presidential candidates were asked to name their greatest weakness. For the most part, everybody ducked.

Kasich and Christie invented their own alternate questions, and answered them. Huckabee, Rubio, and Paul used the opportunity to compliment themselves. Bush, Trump, Carson, and Fiorina answered by painting themselves as genuine people rather than political hacks. Cruz came through most honest, acknowledging that most of us don’t want to have a beer with him — which, at some level, indicates he’s not a team player (true, true).

Most everyone who has been through the job interview process, particularly on the hiring side, knows that an inability to admit weakness is a big red flag.

There’s something deeply wrong with people who are so conceited they can’t identify areas for self-improvement. They’re awful team members, bosses, and direct reports. Perfect people tend to refuse criticism and act like arrogant, boorish jerks. Their ability to grow is limited, because how much can you learn, much less change and improve the next time, if you’re already perfect?

Most of all, an inability to concede weakness is the hallmark of a craptastic leader. Leadership is not the person in the cape who saves everyone. Leadership is helping others do their best. Leadership is working through other people, and to do that well you need to listen to others, have empathy, and be open to changing your mind in the face of new information or additional perspective.

Otherwise you’re just telling people what to do.

Maybe that works for awhile, as in the case of Bully in Chief Donald Trump’s early dominance in the Republican presidential primary season, although his numbers are slipping; or notorious psychopath Al Dunlap of Sunbeam, who wrote a book titled Mean Business before the company was forced to file for bankruptcy in spite of (or perhaps because of) the merciless staff cuts he made as its ‘chainsaw’ CEO.

Leadership as dominance is never ultimately sustainable, because the little guy has tremendous power, especially through organizing and collective action.

And we should absolutely question why ‘the little guy’ has a positive, go get ’em connotation, and ‘the little lady’ has a very different, condescending one.

There’s been a good bit of attention paid to the pitiful percentage of women in the most respected forms of leadership — executive leadership, public service, religious leadership — and there should be more.

The leadership gap is not due to character defects inherent in women, or a lack of appropriate training, although programs that specifically aim to train and develop women and girls must continue until equality has been reached in the ratio of women and men in leadership.

That said, the ‘but we need to build the pipeline’ argument is a bit of a smokescreen: There is an excess of qualified, capable women who are willing and ready to lead today. Rather than ask women why this is happening, it’s time to ask the white men who continue to wield disproportionate power in virtually every corridor of repute. They’re not sharing, and they have some ‘splaining to do.

Commonly it’s suggested, even by those who identify as feminist advocates, that women are more collegial and more likely to listen because they are women — but this is a gender essentialist trap. However, this argument does underlie an important and real point.

Leadership is actually not dominance — a good leader uses empathy, humility, and listening in service of building and supporting strong people who don’t need a strong, blustering leader. Leadership is growing alongside the people you’re charged to support. Sounds like a good parent to me, actually.

Maybe the character traits and experiences that we’ve devalued as feminine and non-leaderly deserve a fresh look.

 

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My Pinup Photo Shoot (I Still Get To Be A Feminist)

I did a cheesecake photo shoot. I was a pinup girl. If you think that means I don’t get to be a feminist or work for women’s equality or reproductive rights, come and get me.

The freedom to have fun, be sexy on your own terms, and take up space in public discourse is worth fighting for.

Hollywood noir
The Hollywood Noir Shot

My relationship with my appearance is complicated. I’ve had an eating disorder. I’ve had a baby and felt my body change. Generally, I don’t wear makeup and you’ll see me wearing heels just a few times a year. When I had a makeover earlier in my feminist career for the purpose of making people listen to me about feminism (no shit!), I cried.

But there are select awesome things that have long made me happily toss off my sneakers and glam it up. Those select awesome things are deco or noir or early sixties. (Let’s talk about hats!) I am picky, but every now and again I strike vintage gold.

There is one magical boucle coat I own; it’s teal with three-quarter sleeves. When I wear it to work, which invariably involves pushing for gender equality beyond the boundaries of what is considered polite, I have several times muttered to myself that I’m “taking it back for Grandma.”

Because, simply, Grandma looked great. And she deserved gender equality, too.

The Joan Crawford Housecoat Shot
The Joan Crawford Housecoat Shot

But wait. Isn’t fighting against the objectification of women what feminists are supposed to do? Don’t I have a responsibility not to play into that objectification by always looking as all-business as possible? There are some feminists who would say yes. But frankly, I think no.

Somewhere along the way the fight led by feminists to not be valued on the basis of your appearance in a world of impossible, sexualized standards — something that is toxic and fascist and deadly — became confused with a rigid idea that feminist women must not care about their appearance or (gasp) be sexy.

It is hateful when women are expected to be pretty or sexual, to be sure. But just as no woman is a threat to womanhood because she doesn’t care about her appearance (me on most days), so too she is harmless to the status of other women if she puts great effort into it.

As I covered in an earlier post titled Policing Personal Lives Is Not The Point: Dos and Don’ts Feminism Must Die, an emphasis on one woman’s choices for herself as a threat to all women’s opportunities is the essence of awful, sexist, and mean ridiculousness.

Whether expressed around beauty, fashion, or enjoying supposedly “light” (read: feminine) forms of entertainment, the bald truth is that the alleged stupidity of one woman is not what holds other women back.

Systemic discrimination on the basis of not just sex, but also race, class, ability, sexuality and gender identity, and other immoral hierarchies of dominance and privilege is what holds women back. Denying these oppressions exist does not allow you to escape them.

Change happens not because the arc of history wants it to, but because individuals have acknowledged uncomfortable truths and insisted on breaking convention.

The Bookworm On The Beach Shot
The Bookworm On The Beach Shot

I insist upon being able to wear a fucking swimsuit and heels, and then continue to speak credibly about politics and in particular feminist politics. I know, some of you are cringing — Erin, don’t do this to yourself.

Actually, I’ve thought long and hard about whether to share these. And where I land is that if you think a woman showing her body is shameful, you are saying that her body is shameful. Excuse you!

My body is just fine, I’m not wearing anything particularly outrageous or showy in these photos, and, my gosh, I have legs. Please explain how hiding my legs means that my life will be perfect and women will be equal.

We know that sexism is at play in these assumptions because they simply aren’t there for men. Scott Brown posed nude for Cosmopolitan, and you know what he went on to do? Run for Senate. Not in one state, but two! But it’s not the same for women. Things will change, however, when women insist on taking up space even though we are not “perfect” – a purposefully impossible standard.

Krystal Ball, an MSNBC host who previously ran for Congress, is a hero for fighting back after right-wingers released racy photos of her in an attempt to tank her campaign in 2010 (emphasis mine):

The tactic of making female politicians into whores is nothing new. In fact, it happened to Meg Whitman, one of the world’s most accomplished business women, just last week. It’s part of this whole idea that female sexuality and serious work are incompatible. But I realized that photos like the ones of me, and ones much racier, would end up coming into the public sphere when women of my generation run for office. And I knew that there could be no other answer to the question than this: Society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives that are going to leak into the public sphere. Sooner or later, this is a reality that has to be faced, or many young women in my generation will not be able to run for office.

The Classic Pinup Shot
The Classic Pinup Shot

I am sharing these photos because I love them. I am not ashamed of them. I refuse to let a fear of someone else finding them and ridiculing me — a fact of life when photos are digital and hacking exists — hold me back from participating in public life.

I am sharing these photos because there are lots of young women in a generation beneath me sexting. We should not judge them; sexting seems to be a fairly routine part of sexual exploration for many young people, these days. It is also a fact that many of the young women who are sexting will find photos leaked or shared with others against their will later.

If we want a world with equality, we must insist that those young women who have sexted are not then told that their futures are foreclosed because their body has been made accessible to the Internet. We don’t do that to young men. Nor should we.

I work on incredibly important issues, and I am incredibly serious about them. I am also allowed to have fun.

And, on occasion, my dear, I do.

Team Peggy: Super Bowl Ads Are So Sexist Because We Need More Women Creative Directors

As anyone knows, watching the Super Bowl ads are part of the sport itself. During these spots, it is typical to see the blatant sexism flag fly. Last night viewers on my Twitter feed took particular umbrage with an Audi spot depicting a surprise kiss sexual assault, and a moronic Go Daddy spot divvying up two sides of the business with a “sexy” woman and a “smart” man.

Glorifying male aggression and casting women as idiotic objects is stupid business — women make 85 percent of consumer decisions, and 91 percent say advertisers don’t understand them — Mad Men indeed.

As a former advertising creative myself (I was a copywriter), I can tell you the problem isn’t because agencies don’t have access to sophisticated research or smart people to make ads. The problem is that creative departments are overwhelmingly male. White male, to be exact.

A few numbers:

In 2010, 94 percent of Super Bowl ads created by advertising agencies were done under the supervision of white male creative directors. The remaining six percent were led by white women creative directors.

In 2011, the numbers didn’t get much better. The creative directors of the Super Bowl ads were 94 percent male and 93 percent white.

Less than ten years have passed since legendary creative director Neil French shared his opinion that women don’t make it to the top of creative departments because “they don’t deserve to.” This is quite contrary to what I saw in my experience as an advertising creative. The few women who make it into creative departments tend to work harder and produce better work than everyone else, because they have to to earn their spots.

First, advertising agencies tend to be so segregated by gender that it’s easy to guess that virtually any woman you see in an agency belongs to account or any department but creative. A friend, a woman, is one of the most talented and creative visual artists I have ever seen. Her talent is exploding; she is better than most of the admittedly talented men I have worked with. But instead she is an acclaimed account executive, meaning she works with clients. That is just what women do in advertising. We really haven’t progressed much far from the days when Peggy had to hope to get noticed. There are exceptions, but not enough.

Second, it is all in the hiring and the assignments. People tend to hire, mentor, place and promote people who look like them. In advertising creative departments this tends to play out in a similar fashion. This business relies upon camaraderie, the ability to “hang out and be cool,” and many times beer and games within the team. Not all, but many, creative areas in agencies have the feel of a frat house.

Now I know that some of my friends and other advertisers will read this and say this leaves out the women who are doing great work, and that is not my intention at all. I acknowledge and celebrate their work. But having been in that position, and having also left the industry, I know that I’m also in a space where I have the freedom to say things that maybe some of them can’t.

I will never forget a time when I saw some comps on the table that were going to a client who sold small project paints. The concept on top had a photograph of a glistening, practically naked woman with an arched back. Knowing the creative team (all men, like I said, they almost always are), I walked into one office, slammed it down on the desk and yelled: “What the fuck is this?”

Watching the ads last night it was very easy to tell there remain very few women — much less a critical mass — there to yell “What the fuck is this?” within the advertising industry’s glorified (and very fun, let me tell you it is a great job) creative departments, and even fewer in leadership roles that lend more power than peer pressure. It is reasonable to expect that correcting this problem would help profits go up, not a bad thing in a struggling economy.