Sylvia Bashevkin talks about her new book, women in politics and this government’s attitude toward women.
“So we see this pattern of speech where we often speak about women in those leadership positions using their first names. … We find this pattern of dissecting their appearance, their clothing, their hair, their style of speech, their personal lives. This is probably not just trivializing the women who may seek to run for top office but it also serves to discourage individuals from trying out those careers. It tends to dampen the supply of women as well as men who are willing to submit to that kind of public microscopic examination so part of it is the stakes that are involved.
“There is high stakes in all fields but very few of them are as exposed, stark, public inspection as public political leadership. … So therefore, we tend to see women who become party leaders, leading parties that are really very weak and then blaming them when the party in fact turn in weak results in an election, which is entirely consistent with the fact that the party was in a weak position.”
The first name basis on which we seem to be with most female politicians is an interesting point. Part of it probably has to do with little more than the fact that the lack of women in positions of political power makes female names all the more singular—you know who is being discussed when someone mentions Belinda or Ruby, there’d be more possibility of confusion if we talked about Michael or Stephen.
None of which gets around the fact that the use of first names in this context is almost always implicitly diminishing.