Is the Current Leadership Crisis a Crisis of Masculinity?

Posted by Elizabeth Debold in Uncategorized. No Comments

15th February

The Demise of the Heroic Leader

In Sleepwalkers, the fascinating history of the events that led Europe to war in 1914, historian Chris Clark asks an intriguing question: Was a crisis of masculinity an unconscious driving force behind the decisions that led to such a catastrophe? Clark observes that “invocations of fin-de-siècle manliness” were “ubiquitous” in the leaders’ rationalizations for their actions: the necessity of staying “stiff,” having “an unshakeable firmness of will,” seeing inaction as “self-castration,” and so forth. The pressure on elite patrician men was to embody a “harder and more abstinent” masculinity of “stamina, toughness, duty, and unstinting service.” This foundation of identity was inseparable from their motives as leaders. Not surprisingly, Clark’s question caused my ears to perk up. As someone interested in the intersection of gender and culture, I found his investigation intriguing—not just for … Read More »

The Rational Man & the Emotional Woman: Questioning the Myths that So Often Define Us

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4th May

In all species where there is a male and female, “except the bear and leopard,” Aristotle wrote, “the females are less spirited than the males. The females are softer and more mischievous.” Continuing, he asserts that, “Woman is more compassionate than man, more tearful, but at the same time more jealous, more apt to scold, more shameless, more prone to despondency, more deceptive. The male is more courageous and ready to help.”

There you have it, 2300 years ago: women are emotional, and, as he notes elsewhere, men are rational.

While Aristotle is often the whipping boy of feminists who accuse him of institutionalizing male supremacy in the Western philosophical canon, I don’t blame him. In a warrior culture in which might made right, males were stronger, which automatically meant better. Believing in the superiority of his culture—as we are all wont to … Read More »

Time to Be Human: Gender Liberation and the Creation of a New Culture

28th April

The United Nations declared 1976-1985 the Decade of Women, which created an international consensus on the importance of women’s political and social equality. The African Women’s Decade began in 2010. And in the United States, analysts have called 1992, 2012, and 2013 the Year of the Woman. For the last forty-plus years, since the student revolts of the ‘68 generation, media pundits, activists, and cultural savants have repeatedly announced that women have toppled male hegemony. Recent books, even those written by men such as The Athena Doctrine, explain that women’s ways of thinking or leading will lead to greater success in our highly interdependent, networked world.

It’s now women’s time. Finally. After many, many millennia of male domination, patriarchy is dying and women are stepping forward. Let’s heave a big sigh of relief and embrace the new era of women….

Well, I … Read More »

Akin and the Medieval Worldview of the Right

Posted by Elizabeth Debold in Culture, Feminism, Gender, Politics, Religion, Uncategorized, women. No Comments

29th August

As I picked my jaw up off the floor after hearing Rep. Todd Akin’s now infamous statement that women’s uteruses have the magical power to resist impregnation in the case of rape, I wondered, “Where could he have gotten that idea?” Laura Helmuth, writing for’s XXfactor, noted that his “statement was a crystallization of Akin’s worldview: sexist, blame-shifting, and profoundly ignorant.”

Then it clicked for me — yes, it’s a worldview but in a much deeper way than Helmuth realizes. The Onion hit the nail on the head when one of their “experts” noted that “It’s almost as if these people are unaware that the Enlightenment, the scientific revolution, various civil rights movements, and the entirety of social progress over the previous several centuries even occurred.”

That’s right. Akin’s views are positively medieval. I mean this literally. Medieval means prerational. And the problem is that rationality, the capacity to … Read More »

Happiness and Having It All

13th August

Anne-Marie Slaughter‘s recent article in the Atlantic,“Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” has once again raised in public a question that has been privately vexing women for the past several decades (…or longer): How can we pursue our talents and contribute to culture significantly and be the devoted mothers that so many educated women want to be?

How do we slay this dragon? Slaughter, who should get many kudos for her frank presentation of the whole megillah of this dilemma for women at the highest echelons, falters here. Sure, I agree when she says that we need new values to make this work. But which values? The tricky thing is that there are two competing value sets from the two spheres of modern life: public (business and politics) for men and private (children and home) for women. The private sphere’s system … Read More »

What’s Really Hot…

Posted by Elizabeth Debold in Agency/Eros, Culture, Gender, Leadership, Uncategorized, women. No Comments

17th May

O.M.G… Hillary Clinton in public without makeup. That this is news or newsworthy is bananas, and once again points to the bizarreobsession with women’s appearance in contexts where one should just, as Jezebel’s caption read, “give zero fuc*s.” But it does count as more evidence of just how smokin’ she is.

Oh yeah, this is the woman who has the distinct honor of having a nutcracker created in her likeness during the 2008 primary season. Her relentless commitment to a higher goal enabled her to endure during the campaign and, now, thrive as a Secretary of State who has placed girls (child marriage, education, sex slavery) and women (domestic abuse, rape, economic rights) in the center of diplomatic relations around the world. The“Texts from Hillary” mini-meme that was such a sensation a few weeks back cemented the growing recognition that Hillz is cool. But I’d like to suggest that … Read More »

The War on Women — and the War Within Women

Posted by Elizabeth Debold in Uncategorized. No Comments

15th May

The War on Women has many fronts — here in the U.S.,abroad, and across forums on the Internet. In the U.S., the range of hostilities spans the gamut from lewd(Limbaugh) to degrading (state-sanctioned vaginal penetration) to downright dangerous (making the murder of abortion providers “justifiable homicide”). This year has been quite a wake-up call for any woman who has thought that women’s rights and sexual freedom are guaranteed in this country. (It still blows my mind that, although this country was founded on the “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal,” the truth is that it’s still only men who are given the right to equal treatment under the law by the Constitution. Suffragists spent more than 70 years to get the right to vote in the U.S., and a Constitutional amendment that would give women equal rights under the law was first introduced in 1923… … Read More »

Too Many Shades of Grey

Posted by Elizabeth Debold in Uncategorized. 2 comments

27th April

In “honor” of Fifty Shades of Grey hitting the cinema, I thought I would re-post my blog about the phenomenon. Full disclosure: I haven’t read the book, nor do I plan to see the movie. The picture to the left sums it up for me: the submissive little girl with her fingers in her mouth or biting her lip. There are themes that the book and film are both playing with that have to do with women’s, um, position not only in bed, but in more fundamental ways.

In last week’s Newsweek cover story, “Spanking Goes Mainstream,” author Katie Roiphe set the blogosphere atwitter with her commentary on the cultural trend of bright young women willingly engaged in BDSM relationships: 50 Shades of Grey, Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls —even the wedding night of teen heart throbs Bella and Edward in the third Twilight movie. Roiphe pointed to the paradox that our … Read More »

Gloria Steinem & Sheryl Sandberg: Different Revolutions for Women?

Posted by Elizabeth Debold in Blog, Feminism, Leadership, women. 1 Comment

10th April

Last month — Women’s History Month- – I was struck by an exchange between Sheryl Sandberg and Gloria Steinem at the Women in the World Conference because I felt it captured important generational difference among feminists. Business Insider reported that Sandberg asked Steinem if we’re in the midst of a stalled revolution for women. In other words, since the late-1960’s, women have seized opportunities and moved into all arenas of public life, but the percentage of women at the top has stayed between 15-18% for years. In no sector of public life — including the nonprofit arena — have women reached even 20% of the top positions consistently. To Sandberg, that was a sign of being stuck. But not to Steinem. Steinem argued that women are “at a critical mass stage” and getting more resistance. She further argued that revolutions create new kinds of work … Read More »


From pop culture to politics, sexuality to spirituality, whatever and what-have-you, I'm commenting on it, hashing out my own thinking on the upward trends and troubles of our times. Please join in with a comment!

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