Esslie-Frenia Law June 2023 Leaderboard

THE CAPITOL CONNECTION: Gender expectations linger


I WAS A COLLEGE PROFESSOR for a lot of years and once you’ve been a teacher, there are some things that you never forget. One of those things was the onerous task of having to grade the work of others. Since we have all had our work evaluated by a higher authority, we know what’s involved and we certainly know the sting of having our work judged as less than what we, ourselves, think it’s worth. Simply, we don’t want to mess up. There are times, however, when we must assess the work of others. Right now, for example, my job is to review the work of some elected officials in New York State government.

Take the governor, Kathy Hochul. She is actually doing a fairly good job and we are not hearing a lot of negatives about her. Since politics has been more traditionally known as a male game, it is instructive that New York’s first woman governor is doing so well. It is possible that people are giving her a break because she’s a woman. On the other hand, it’s likely that she has always had many of the qualities that we tend to associate with strong male personalities. My sense is that Hochul has caught the people’s imagination not only because she is breaking new ground but also because she is a first-rate politician who has eschewed the usual political competitiveness and has garnered the people’s respect. I know that from what I see of her, she has proven herself a master of the game. Whatever it is that she has in her administrative personality, she has certainly made it work and is gaining great credit for what she is doing. I keep my ear close to the ground and do not hear any real grumbling about her administrative abilities.

Now let’s face it, there are some things that both men and women in politics have to deal with that might defy our expectations. If a woman is a major political executive, it’s likely that she will have a lot of men working for her. At each stage of the supervisory process, there is an interactional difference between a man telling a woman subordinate what to do and the other way around. I suspect that it should not be that way, but it is. We are raised by mothers and fathers who quite often set the stage for how we interact with others. I once had an excellent women college president who called me over to a table in our faculty tower where we were both having lunch and gave me a set of very specific orders. I felt like the mouse who was confronted by the cat but I had no choice but to tell her no. It must have been an important interaction because it has stayed in my mind for many, many years.

At that moment I was quite worried that all kinds of meaning might have been attributed to my refusal to abide by her instructions. I later heard that my president told someone, perhaps as a result of my refusal to go along, that she ought to keep an eye on me. The point here, once again, is that gender can figure into the equation when evaluating personal interactions and even if it is irrelevant to the interaction, it will often be perceived as important.

In any case, we have really come a long way and the matter of balance between males and females in the work place has changed, I think, for the better. We are not talking only about sexual tension between males and females but rather in the long-held assumption among the ill-informed that males make better leaders than females. It is clear to me, at least, that those of us with mothers, sisters and wives are ready for the change.

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