The double standard of sexist statements

Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet magazine, was interviewed on the Harvard Business Review’s podcast this week.


In the course of 14 minutes, she said:

  1. “Women leaders are more practical than men.”
  2. Women are more sensitive than men to the struggles of balancing home and work responsibilities.
  3. Though she was told that she would likely have to “clean house” when she took over the magazine, she ended up firing just one person. She attributed this ability to retain staff and avoid employee turnover to “possibly being a woman.”
  4. When female employees announced that they were pregnant and intended on returning to work following the birth of their children, she would tell them, “Now you’re going to understand what guilt is.”

I have no issue with Reichl’s assertions.

I don’t necessarily agree with them, and I find her statement to pregnant employees to be stupid, presumptuous and insensitive, but she is expressing an opinion based on her anecdotal experience. She believes these things, as wrongheaded as they may be, and she has a right to her opinion. 

My issue is this:

Imagine if a man has made similar statements.

Imagine if a man in Reichl’s position has said that men were more practical than women.

Imagine if a man had attributed his ability to retain staff to his something inherent in his gender.

Imagine if a man had declared that men have a keener understanding of the challenges of balancing work life and home life.

Imagine if a male boss made it a habit of telling pregnant employees that they will finally understand what guilt is.

A man would have an equal right to his opinion, but I suspect that his opinions would not be allowed to go as unchallenged as Reichl’s were.

I can’t help but think that a man would be punished in the court of public opinion for making statements like these, whereas Reichl’s statements are entirely ignored by her Harvard Business Review’s interviewer in favor of her next question.

What is fine for Reichl to say would likely be politically incorrect and possibly damaging to the career of a man in her same position.

I don’t think Reichl should be punished for her opinions. I would like to see them questioned by an interviewer who does not simply sit back and allow her subject to make numerous gender-based assumptions, but I don’t think that people should avoid purchasing Reichl’s new novel based upon her statements.

Reichl believes these things to be true. An interviewer's job is to test these beliefs. Demand that their subject support these assertions with facts.

And more importantly, not punish a man for making similar gender-based assumptions in the future.