By Brigitte L. Nacos
Mothers Day seems the perfect occasion to bemoan the now obvious fact that I was wrong all along to assume or hope that this was the year in which Americans would finally elect a woman to the highest office in the land. Had I not ignored the lessons of history, I would have avoided the disappointment over what is now inevitable—that another man—Senator McCain or Senator Obama and not a woman--will be sworn in as the next president of the United States. After all, African-American males got the constitutional right to vote many decades before women--regardless of their race. Little wonder, then, that contrary to every day life bias against strong and successful females has been more pervasive than prejudices against black males, when it comes to competitive advantage in politics, business, education, the arts, and other walks of life.
The deeply seated bias against and the subsequent
stereotyping of successful women struck me the other day, when I read a story about the fall of
Zoe Cruz, the most successful female Wall Street executive, who had been in
line to become the boss of the investment firm Morgan Stanley. These are a few excerpts of Joe Hagan’s
”Of all the recent firings on Wall
Street, Cruz’s is the one that’s still vehemently debated… The fascination
comes from the fact that Cruz is a woman, and that she had climbed further up
the Wall Street food chain than any other woman ever had. She was fired at a
time when women on Wall Street were starting to wonder—after more than a
quarter-century of getting M.B.A.’s and slugging it out in the firms’
trenches—when one of them was finally going to make it to the CEO’s office…
From the beginning, she had the uncompromising ferocity that seems to be characteristic of nearly all women who achieve great success.
Cruz was more “alpha” than most of the women she started out with at Morgan Stanley. She wasn’t oblivious to the fact that Wall Street, especially at the time, was dominated by men, but she was determined not to acknowledge it. She loved the game, and she was good at it—she didn’t see what her gender had to do with it.”
If that sounds a lot like the portrayal of women who manage to climb up the ladder in local, state and, particularly, in national politics, the reactions of males (and, I assume, some of their female collaborators) at Morgan Stanley is even more revealing in understanding the fall of Zoe Cruz and the failure of the once favored Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic presidential nomination.
This is from Hogan’s “Only Men Survive” article as he chronicles her
“What was happening to Cruz didn’t seem all that subtle. She was seen as a ballbuster: ‘We understand that she is very fierce and enjoys shredding inflated reputations into small packets of confetti,’ wrote a financial-gossip columnist around the same time that the pejorative ‘Cruz Missile’ first appeared in the press. She was seen as overly emotional, her voice sometimes cracking in contentious meetings. (“Having an emotional reaction to things is where I’ve made most of my mistakes,” she told a group of students at Harvard.) Much like Hillary Clinton, she was accused of crying for the purposes of manipulation. ‘She wanted to compete with the guys, but she was not beyond crying when it was useful,’ says a onetime male colleague.
Most critically, she was not taken at all seriously by a number of her male colleagues… During a year-end management meeting in 2004, one mid-level executive interrupted Cruz’s speech to ask, ‘Are you high? Because I really don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘High?” Cruz asked. ‘You mean stoned?’ ‘Yeah, exactly,’ he said. ‘Smoking it.’ “
Can you imagine a mid-level executive daring such an exchange with his male superior at Wall Street or anywhere else?
To be sure, during the current crisis and similar hard times at Wall Street many of the top male executives were forced into early exits.
But I wonder about the striking similarities between the gender stereotypes invoked and the attacks launched by the adversaries of Cruz and Clinton, many of them in the media. Labeling the rising star at a leading Wall Street firm as “Cruz Missile” or worse and the candidate for the U.S. presidency as “Terminator” or worse are typical tactics in campaigns against strong and ambitious women on the move upwards.
In this respect, the United States is far behind a growing number of countries in Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia that elected women into the highest political offices.
As far as I can tell from following the current presidential campaign, no change is in sight here.