The Double Standard Faced by Women in Power

Shonda Rhimes, creator of the television show Scandal on ABC, strives to unveil the ways women are undermined in our society. Week after week, she raises awareness to important issues like the double standard women in power face.  On a recent episode of Scandal, character Abby Whelan, played by actress Darby Stanchfield, delivered quite a powerful monologue regarding that double standard. Now Collegiettes, before I go into what was said during this monologue, know that I will not reveal any spoilers (in case you happen to be behind on your Scandal episodes).  Just to give a little background to the Collegiettes who don’t happen to watch the show, Abby Whelan is the White House Press Secretary who is currently in a relationship with the character Leo Bergen who happens to be involved in a serious scandal. Leo has a hard time believing why Abby thinks she has to resign from her position when the scandal has to do with him and not her. She quickly states that when you’re a powerful woman involved with a man (especially someone of his rank), his actions and personal life have a way of affecting the woman’s professional life. Abby goes on to say:

“If I wear lipstick, I'm dolled up. If I don't, I've let myself go. They wonder if I'm trying to bring dresses back, and they don't like it that I repeat outfits even though I'm on a government salary. They discuss my hair color. There are anonymous blogs that say I'm too skinny! Every article about me has your name somewhere in it. Because apparently, there's this rule: in order to mention my name, they also have to report to the world that there's a man who wants me. My work, my accomplishments, my awards -- I stand at the most powerful podium in the world, but a story about me ain't a story unless they can report on the fact that I am the girlfriend of DC fixer Leo Bergen. Like it validates me, gives me an identity, a definition. They can't fathom the concept that my life doesn't revolve around you. There is a difference. So what happens to you happens to me.”

Abby made an important point when she talked about how the media often focuses on a woman’s appearance rather than what she is accomplishing in her professional life. Putting emphasis on a woman’s appearance ultimately trivializes her. Women in politics often are asked rather sexist questions as well by the media. For instance, when Nancy Pelosi first ran for public office, she was asked who was going to be taking care of her children, even though her youngest at that point was a senior in High School. Would a man be asked this question? I doubt it.

Another issue is the notion that a woman in power is often seen as a “negative thing.” Something I can’t personally stand is when people talk about Hillary Clinton’s ambition as though it were a bad thing. Her credentials were always called into question as well. We constantly hear Hillary being referred to as a “bitch.” Scandal hit on the double standard of the word during a recent episode by having Olivia Pope, the leading character on Scandal, reprimand President Grant when he referred to Abby as a bitch.

This issue made me think back to a Glamour interview with Barbara Walters, who made the comment that Monica Lewinsky surprised her the most during an interview. She said “When you meet Monica, she’s very sweet and intelligent. I think she’s the only one who hasn’t been allowed to move on.” There’s a clear double standard present here. Monica Lewinsky is unfortunately only known for engaging in oral sex with former President Clinton, and in the process, her career was ruined.  Meanwhile, Bill Clinton was able to move on and bounce back from the incident.

I don’t know about you but I can’t wait to see what future issues Shonda Rhimes brings up in Scandal. Who knows, maybe the first female president will be seen on Scandal…