The Blame Game

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Female executives are no longer wearing big shoulder pads; they’re shouldering blame instead.

I was wondering why in the recent election between two flawed candidates, the accusations seemed to roll right off the male candidate’s back while the female candidate was repeatedly investigated, exonerated, investigated again, exonerated again. And it wasn’t because the accusations against the male were false…we heard him on tape saying things he later denied.

So why did the vitriol seem so much harsher against the female?

I found what I think is at least a partial answer in a recent study of female CEOs. The media often is accused of having a liberal bias. But there’s another bias that may have played a role.

According to a study by the Rockefeller Foundation and public relations/research firm Global Strategy Group, females receive a disproportionate share of blame, at least in the media. The study says that almost 80% of digital and print media stories about companies in crisis blamed the CEO when the CEO was female; only 31% of the stories blamed male CEOs in similar situations.

Another difference? Like the “What are you wearing” red carpet question that seems to get asked only to actresses and not actors, the news stories talked about the female’s personal life in 16% of the stories and 78% talked about her family and children. For the men, a personal life was mentioned in only 8% of the stories and none mentioned family and children.

Now, certainly in the presidential campaign, both candidates trotted out children and spouses and personal lives. But, if it seemed that one candidate’s flaws were described as foibles or “locker room talk” and another’s were crimes that should result in “locking her up”…well, maybe the media had a hand in that.

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Laughing Matter

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What makes me laugh won’t necessarily be the same thing that makes you laugh.

There is humor that is infantile (remember bathroom humor when you were little?) and some so intellectual that you need a PhD to get the pun.

Maybe it’s an only child thing, but I have never understood the kind of humor that belittles someone. I think that kind of humor may have its origins in sibling rivalry and those with the tougher skin from brothers’ or sisters’ pokes and prods certainly seem to enjoy that humor more than I do.

I’ve been thinking about humor a lot lately because, as we wind up the most divisive Presidential election in my memory, my social media is filled with people offended by the humor of others, and those others protesting at the lack of humor of the “politically correct” who are offended.

This week, a friend of mine called out a man at a bar dressed for Halloween as a bottle of Rohypnol – roofies. She tried to have a conversation in which she helped him understand why, in a country where one out of five women have been sexually assaulted, a costume representing the “rape drug” isn’t funny. The response was that the man was a feminist and his costume was satire. She was not amused.

I was not amused either.

The kind of comedy that makes me laugh is comedy that laughs with, not at. The rueful observations about the maladies that befall us all. The kind of comedy that makes you feel at one with the comedian in bemusement, not attacked or belittled, and not watching someone else feel that way either. Comedy that unites about this crazy old world, not divides the world into even more craziness.

I know that people under stress will cope with gallows humor. As a reporter, I did it all the time. I know doctors do too. But we all knew it wasn’t really funny, it was just an escape valve to let off the boiled-over emotions in laughter, which was far better than the alternative.

There are those who will still laugh at the racial slur, who will snigger at a Presidential candidate flailing in mimicry of a disabled reporter. Who feel that those who disagree with their politics must be idiots, and who then make jokes at their expense. It’s not a Right Wing thing or a Left Wing thing. It’s just a thing.

Is it politically correct to want that to stop?

Or is it just grown up?

Maybe it’s time we stop confusing the nervous laugh of discomfort with humor. Maybe it’s time that we learn how to use humor appropriately.

Sure, I used to laugh hysterically when someone would blurt out the word, “poop.”

I was two at the time.

Regrets

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I saw a wonderful new play last night, “A Sudden Spontaneous Event” at the Pure Theatre here in Charleston.

The play opens in Heaven’s waiting room and, without spoiling it, it deals with forgiveness and what one big do-over you would do if you got a second chance at life. It’s a beautiful play and I found myself wondering, as I walked home, what my do-over would be.

Of course, there are regrets, large and small. Ugliness and pettiness and betrayal. Things that would make me squirm if I were held to account. Most, I discover, are based on fear: fear of being abandoned, fear of not having enough, fear of being hurt if I didn’t hurt first.

But, if I had to choose, there is one small act that stands out as the first soul-killer.

I was never a bully in middle school. I tried to be nice to everyone, but mostly I felt like a junior anthropologist, observing from the outside what it took to be popular. Kathy rode my bus to and from, and she always sat alone. We talked every once in a while. She always seemed a bit sad, a bit more outside than I was, but I never considered her bullied – bullies were the playground loudmouths who pushed people.

Bit by bit, she confided her loneliness to me. I was different, she told me. I was kind.

Until the day someone did something to her. I don’t even remember what it was. I just remember she found me and collapsed into my arms in tears. Without thought, I put my arms around her. And looked over her shoulder. The commotion had brought the popular girls over, and they were all staring. At Kathy, but also at me.

I caught the eye of the most popular. And, over Kathy’s shoulder, I rolled my eyes. And betrayed the sobbing girl in my arms with just that careless, thoughtless gesture.

Kathy never knew. The popular girls opened their circle to me and Kathy gradually took the hint and stopped seeking me out. I ignored the puzzled, hurt looks she would occasionally throw my way on the bus.

There are worse things I have done in life. Hateful, angry things I wish I could take back. But none haunt me with the poignancy of that very first betrayal, the one that can still make me cringe when I remember. That would be my do-over.

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