“Promise” itself is gendered

The myriad ways women are treated differently from men, not in a good way, are so myriad they’re hard to exhaust. We keep learning of new ones. Jill Filipovic points out that young men have promise while young women are incompetent.

There are several youngish men jostling for the presidential slot, and maybe this is why.

But whether a youngish candidate is bright, brilliant and promising or inexperienced, off-putting and ruthlessly ambitious depends on whether the young thing in question is male or female.

“Promise” itself is gendered. Research consistently shows that in American workplaces, women tend to be promoted once their managers see them perform well; men are promoted if managers believe in their potential to do well. We’re running the same experiment in politics: Voters, donors and journalists are all excited by the great leadership potential of young men who leapfrog up the political ladder. They expect women to prove themselves before they move forward.

And so women don’t move forward as quickly. Women are more likely than men to enter politics later in life, having spent years shoring up the experience, accomplishments and recognition necessary to be considered credible contenders for higher office. Women start low and climb up, which means they may not climb as high. Women also tend to run for more collaborative legislative positions (school board, state legislature, Congress) rather than executive ones (mayor, governor, president). Men do the opposite, seeking executive roles, starting early and skipping ahead.

That’s interesting. I’ve just written a column for Free Inquiry arguing that we should value those collaborative positions more and not be so obsessed with the executive ones, because focusing on the One Top Dude gets us atrocities like gods and criminal presidents. (I’m not expecting the idea to catch on.)

Unfortunately for women, age poses an unsolvable problem: They are seen as too young and inexperienced right up until they are branded too old and tedious. Ms. Warren, for example, finds herself put in the same “old” category as Mr. Sanders and Joe Biden, even though both men are nearly a decade older than she is.

Men who are more or less the same age as Ms. Warren — Sherrod Brown (66), John Hickenlooper (67), Jay Inslee (68) — are not lumped in with the white-hairs. If women in their 40s are “in a hurry,” and women in their 50s are old news, and women in their 60s are just old, when, exactly, is a woman supposed to go to the White House?

Oh, we all know the answer to that one.

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