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The Week in Review: Sexist Stereotypes Here to Stay?

February 7, 2012

Taylor Amato ’14

This week Bloomberg reported that in Facebook’s IPO filing, it came to light that among astonishing revenues and other successes, the number of women on the board was shocking—because it was zero. Interestingly, The Huffington Post also published an article this week reporting the findings of a 2010 Women’s Report, which stated that women entrepreneurs fear failure more than men, and also are much less aware of their business starting capabilities than men. The New York Times then published an article stating that what is most shocking about last October’s outbreak of an unexplained illness, which appeared in 13 girls  in a school outside of Buffalo, is that it is being attributed to the archaic idea of “female hysteria.”

Bloomberg reports this week that the social media giant, Facebook, listed all seven of its board members as male when filing a report for an IPO. For such a progressive social media entity that also has a majority of female users (58% according to a 2012 survey), this lack of female power and voice on the board is disheartening. Not only does it put Facebook behind other competitive technological forces that do have women on the board such as Google and LinkedIn, recent studies show that it could financially hinder them as well. A recent survey of Fortune 500s showed that companies with three or more female directors performed much better than those without, reporting an average of 43% better returns on equity. For such a powerful and modern company, one that is so pervasive and visible in the daily life of many Americans and people worldwide, it is very worrisome that with seven directors on the board, not one was female. Not only is Facebook missing out on valuable insight and perspective by having women represented on their director’s board, it is counterintuitive that such a modern and visionary company would answer to what looks like an old boy’s club.

The Huffington Post also reported last week that in the world of small business and entrepreneurship, women fear failure more than men and believe in themselves less. According to the 2010 Women’s Report by Babson College and the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, although American women have the best outlook and highest confidence about starting a business among all women, they still fall behind men. What the report calls “capabilities perceptions,” or one’s perceived aptitude for starting a business, are much lower among women. Perhaps this is because all of the most visible and successful role models for business ventures are male, for example Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs. The report then points out that the real issue is growth, not necessarily starting businesses. Women are much more fearful of failure than men and do not report levels of higher growth like men do. Seeing a company like Facebook with a board of directors without any female influence is clearly not a step in the right direction to improving the confidence and fearlessness of female entrepreneurs.

Finally, The New York Times reported on a phenomenon that is being referred to as “female hysteria.” Last October a female cheerleader woke up one morning with many of the symptoms of Tourette’s without any explanation. Then 13 other female students and one male reported the same thing. This was not the only time female students had come down with unexplainable symptoms of diseases they then test negative for. What is the explanation that professionals are coming up with?—The archaic Freudian disease, hysteria. As journalist Caitlin Flanagan explains, a diagnosis of hysteria is a step backward from any kind of understanding of the female psyche, and is just labeling all these girls with a disease that assumes that the female mind is emotional and weak and prone to such breakdowns. Flanagan explains that, with all of the difficulties of adolescence, particularly in girls in the modern world, such breakdowns should not be brushed away as symptoms of weakness of the female mind. Instead they should be explored to learn more about female growth, the change from girl to woman, which inevitably affects the population. By brushing away these clear cries for help, we are ignoring potential societal problems plaguing female youth and not solving problems like Facebook’s lack of female power or a worldwide lack of confidence among female entrepreneurs.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Diane S. Yannetta permalink
    February 11, 2012 1:52 pm

    Taylor Amato’s article “Sexist Stereotypes Here to Stay?” was well thought out, researched, and very interesting. Great article.

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