Thursday, June 26, 2014

Connect The Dots: Matt Lauer Interviews General Motors CEO Mary Barra. Morocco Prime Minister Bemoans Working Women.

The horrors of employed mothers!

In Morocco,  Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane has spoken about the deep disaster that working women have caused in his country.  He compares women safely inside the home to lanterns or chandeliers. If the lantern walks out of the home, the home will be in darkness.

He then continues: complaining that the “sacred status God gave” to mothers who stay at home was being disrespected. “We will continue to defend our position against this modernity that is trying to eliminate family in our lives by reversing the roles of men and women,” he said.

There's an "I'm-Not-A-Chandelier" response to his comments in the social media.

So it goes.  What I like about Benkirane's statement is the open admission that he fears a role reversal.  How horrible it would be to have him viewed as a chandelier!  How horrible it would be if he wasn't allowed to go out or participate in politics!

I planned to write about his views as one stage in the process of greater gender equality, perhaps comparing it to the fears some Americans had that the suffrage of women would result in apron-clad-men having to stay at home and care for the children while the women went out, dressed for business and smoking cigars.  That was based on an old anti-suffrage poster.

Luckily, I didn't have to go quite that far back in the US history, because we heard from Matt Lauer so very recently.  His interview with the CEO of General Motors Mary Barra contained several daring questions about the true meaning of womanhood and motherhood:

LAUER: I want to tread lightly here. You’ve heard this, you heard it in Congress. You got this job because you’re hugely qualified, 30 years in this company a variety of diferent jobs. But some people are speculating that you also got this job because as a woman and as a mom because people within General Motors knew this company was in for a very tough time and as a woman and a mom you could present a softer image and softer face for this company as it goes through this horrible episode. Does it make sense or does it make you bristle?
BARRA: Well it's absolutely not true. I believe I was selected for this job based on my qualificiations. We dealt with this issue — when the senior leadership of this company knew about this issue, we dealt with this issue.
 It was the follow-up question where things went a little off:
Lauer: You’re a mom, I mentioned, two kids. You said in an interview not long ago that your kids told you they’re going to hold you accountable for one job and that is being a mom.
Barra: Correct. (smiling.)
Lauer: Given the pressures of this job at General Motors, can you do both well?

Barra: You know, I think I can. I have a great team, we're on the right path...I have a wonderful family, a supportive husband and I'm pretty proud of the way my kids are supporting me in this.

Bolds are mine, typos were in the text.

These stories are both based on the assumption that fathers cannot or will not replace mothers in the traditionally female sphere of activity of the care of children and the home and that alternative caregivers to the parents are not to be thought of.

They also reflect the common assumption that women not carrying out those traditional female tasks should be criticized and can be criticized, whereas men in the same position will not be criticized.  As the linked interview notes, the past CEOs of General Motors have had children, but because they were men they were not questioned about their ability to do the job AND be good fathers (they had wives for parenting chores).  Yet some question whether Hillary Clinton could possibly be both a grandmother and a president at the same time and whether Mary Barra could possibly be a good parent while performing a high-intensity job.  President Obama is not held to similar standards and neither is Prime Minister Benkirane.

Matt Lauer defended the questions he asked by noting that Barra herself has often spoken about life-work balance, and that makes the questions OK.  But imagine if Barra had not mentioned her family at all!  Given the cultural norms about motherhood and apple pie and the fact that she has children, she would have been labeled as a cold and calculating robot who certainly has some crucial bit of humanity missing.  It's a Catch-22 for women on the top tiers of the society, that topic (though of course it's a different Catch-22 for poor women), because those social norms haven't really changed enough for the audience not to question who it is who is taking care of the children of company CEOs.  It's supposed to be the wife, after all.

I so want to write about Matt Lauer's focus on career and what-about-his-three-children and his matrimonial troubles but I can't because he never discusses any of those in interviews.