“I like your hair,” my partner said. “And I like how your boots are exactly the same color as your shirt.”
It was our first day of training as members of the inaugural class of Emerge Vermont. Our mid-day assignment was to tell each other what we liked about the other person. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to my partner’s appearance-based compliments other than to say, “Thank you.”
One of the reasons I applied to Emerge was to learn how to dismantle gender stereotypes in campaigning and holding elected office, and the result of this particular exercise smacked of exactly what I want to combat. It reinforced for me that women are valued more for their grooming and appearance than their intellect, especially in politics. But how does one bring attention to this subtle, well-accepted stereotyping while avoiding yet another political landmine for women – being perceived as critical, too outspoken, and militantly feminist?
I’m quite certain that my partner had no intention of diminishing the skills I’d demonstrated thus far at the Emerge training by prioritizing appearance over talents, but I wasn’t sure how to address the issue without offending her.
I did the best I could. After I said thank you, I smiled and said, “As I was thinking about all the things I like about you, including your beautiful hair and your cool shirt, I didn’t want to fall into the trap of making you think I didn’t notice how great you are at public speaking and delivering a persuasive argument.” Gauging her reaction as friendly, I continued. “As women, I think it’s important to be aware of how we can fall prey to using the same stereotypes that we’re trying to eliminate from politics.” She smiled back and lamented how easy it is to do just that.
I’m sure that my Emerge class will be talking a lot about gender issues over the next few months, and we’ll all become more aware of our own language choices both in life and in politics. I’m looking forward to the next five months of training with my Emerge sisters and joining together to bust gender stereotypes up and down the state of Vermont.
Emerge Vermont Class of 2014