Tiffany & Co. Needs to Grow Watch Sales to Grow as a Company

The Atlas dome watch is elegant and timeless, like all of Tiffany & Co.’s
jewelry. Its thick band is made of gleaming stainless steel and 18-karat gold. It’s
Swiss-made and water resistant. Despite this $6,200 watch’s level of quality and
design, Tiffany and Co.’s watches only represent 2 percent of their total sales.

If Tiffany has a well-oiled marketing campaign to sell its watches, it isn’t
showing. Demand for watches has remained below 2 percent since 2007, when the company partnered with the Swiss watch manufacturer, Swatch Group, in an effort to further expand the company’s luxury brand and grow less than robust net sales.

“Entitlement to business, even in the luxury market, is history. You have to
get the proper messaging to sell to your client,” said Christopher Ramey, founder of Affluent Insights, a consulting service whose clients include the Four Seasons Hotel in Miami, Bentley and Neiman Marcus.

For over 10 years, Tiffany planned to boost its net sales by expanding stores in the United States and overseas. From 2001 to 2011, Tiffany grew all of its stores from 126 to 247 stores. During the same period, Tiffany grew its Asia stores, excluding Japan, from 20 to 58 and its European stores tripled. Tiffany could not foresee the 2008 financial meltdown, however, or the international economic pain it would cause. A slowdown in China, tsunami in Japan and European debt crisis are threatening an international reach that was previously an advantage for the company.

A JP Morgan Chase & Co. analyst report, “Specialty retail: Taking a luxury mulligan,” speculated that international economic weakness, especially Asia excluding Japan, indicate Tiffany will face further stress down the road, leading to a downgrade of “neutral.” “While comps within the segment continue to outpace the total company, the rate of change has clearly decelerated meaningfully over the past 12 months,” the report read. “A broad based geographical slowdown should lead to a downwardly revised outlook which makes the stock difficult to predict in the near-term.”

International weakness coupled with a changing jewelry industry highlights the storied company’s main problem. Tiffany is not fighting for a long-term place in the jewelry market or continuing to grow at the pace that analysts would prefer. Net earnings increased 39 percent   in 2010 in comparison to 2009 but only grew 19 percent in 2010. Net earnings declined 30 percent in this third quarter compared to third quarter last year.

Though Tiffany is far from being labeled as a failing company, it is not expanding or innovating as other jewelry companies and luxury brand names have done. The jeweler needs to make sure it remains relevant in an industry where unusual fashions are becoming more popular and specialty jewelers like Tiffany find themselves in the minority. Tiffany is trying to compete against a mix of big department stores, such as Macy’s, and higher-end brands such as Cartier, which are owned by larger companies and better at marketing a vaster expanse of products.

Tiffany’s latest earnings report did not restore investor confidence, either. The company lowered its outlook for earnings expectations for the third time in a row. Shares fell 6 percent the day the company released its third quarter report. Third quarter revenues were up 3 percent and comparable store sales rose only 1 percent compared to the third quarter last year. Gross margins fell 54 percent. Tiffany adjusted its previous guidance of $3.55 to $3.70 earnings per share to $3.20 to $3.40 earnings per share.

A dimmer view of Tiffany, compared to the image of a brand that initially bounced back quickly from the financial crisis, is propelling the company to continue pursuing expansion into other territory, such as watches.  Men’s demand for watches grew from 2008 to 2010, which accounted for two thirds of growth in jewelry sales in those years, according to a Unity Marketing report. A report by Koncept Analytics, a global marketing research firm, also highlighted the importance of the growing watch segment. Watch sales increased 10.6 percent in February 2012, and was cited among the fastest growing jewelry categories, with bridal merchandise and fashion jewelry. Unlike engagement andother diamond jewelry categories, which have lost market share from 8 to 7 percent and 41.8 to 35.7 percent, watches held their market share of 13.27 percent from 2008 to 2010.

Tiffany has many marketing tools in its arsenal, whether it be predictive modeling or a strong brand, but its marketing quality is inferior to Cartier and Louis Vuitton’s, Christopher Ramey of Affluent Insights explained. Lack of marketing prowess, however, shouldn’t be a barrier to Tiffany if it continues to compete with smaller jewelers, Ramey said.

“Cartier is an iconic brand and they do a really good job, yes, a superior
job, but they won’t be in the primary camp Tiffany is in,” Ramey said. “Tiffany will
take it away from individual jewelers who depend on obscure brands. Tiffany
takes it away from them because they’re undercapitalized, even though they
position themselves as a peer to Cartier and other high-end luxury brands.”

Taking market share away from individual jewelers may work well for
Tiffany, as Tiffany is fighting for market share with Wal-Mart, Costco. J.C.
Penney and other low-end multi-retailers. Those large department stores’ jewelry
sales rose 15 percent in December of 2011, the month in which jewelers make
their best sales, according to a Koncept Analytics report. Unlike those mega-brands, small chains and independent jewelers account for 70 percent of the U.S. Jewelry market. Smaller jewelers also allow for easier competition.

If Tiffany wants to continue to compete with major retailers and larger luxury brands, however, the company will have to expand into other products and build a stronger collection of watches, purses, and perhaps more fashion accessories. Regardless of which jewelers Tiffany competes with, Ramey sees CEO Michael Kowalski’s goal to expand watch sales from 2 percent to 8 percent of total jewelry sales within the next year as a bit unrealistic.

“Tiffany will be able to grow its share but 8 percent is a really aggressive
point of view. Out of total sales, 2 to 8 percent is a heavy achievement if you can
do it,” Ramey said.

As men’s demand for watches continues to grow, jewelers that used to
focus almost entirely on engagement rings and other women’s jewelry are
adapting to include more choices for men. Signet Jewelers, owner of Kay Jewelers and Jared’s, released a 2012 annual report that showed watches accounted for 31 percent of the jeweler’s sales. Compagnie Financiere Richemont SA, which owns Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Piaget, among others, reported watches as 26 percent of their sales in their 2012 annual report.

Those companies stock prices have also risen in the past five years. Signet Jewelers’ stock price started at $26.10 five years ago. It is now $53.86 as of December 7. Compagnie Financiere Richemont SA’s stock price rose from $18.35 to $76.76 as of December 7. Tiffany’s price has grown from $42.92 to $58.40 as of December 7.

Tiffany has been behind the trend and attempted to catch up by
partnering with Swatch Group in 2007. After Swatch Group and Tiffany engaged
in a lawsuit, that planned 20-year partnership is gone. Post-arbitration, Tiffany
plans to rebuild its watch strategy and grow that part of the business to 8 or 9
percent of its sales in the next year, CEO Michael Kowalski said in a conference,
as high as watch sales were in the 1980s. It is unclear, however, if Tiffany can hit
that target, without any inkling of a new partnership with another watch
manufacturer or the kind of global marketing strategy it employs to sell
engagement rings. Tiffany & Co. spokesman Mark Aaron did not return phone calls or emails by the time of publication.

Tiffany has been behind the curve because the company changed their strategy in the late 1980s and began to focus almost exclusively on the engagement ring business. When the company was owned by Avon from 1979 to 1984, it was downgraded to the lower-end of the spending spectrum and lost its cachet with customers looking for high quality diamond jewelry. The company decided to revamp its image, focusing on the engagement ring business at the detriment of watches and other accessories. As William R. Chaney’s group bought Tiffany in 1984 and later took the company public in 1987, the company restructured itself. Watches were no longer manufactured by two historic Swiss brands, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet, as Tiffany decided to manufacture watches itself.

The company has been refocusing on watches for the past five years. In
2008, Harkness Consulting wrote a report, advising Tiffany & Co. to plan on how
to grow watch sales, because men are brand focused and willing to lay spend a
considerable amount of money on the “ultimate status symbol.” The consulting
group also suggested Tiffany consider opening men’s only stores to woo
Japanese customers.

“In general men are more brand-focused than their female counterparts,
and Tiffany and Co. should play its strong brand to its advantage in this market.
Japanese men in particular are extremely brand-focused,” the report read.
“These stores will help portray Tiffany not just as an engagement ring store, but
as a luxury destination for men, potentially opening up a new market within

Harkness Consulting also noted that Tiffany was not competing for
timepiece sales on the same level as other brands in the luxury jewelry industry.

“Within the luxury jewelry industry, competition in watches is fierce.
Currently, Tiffany does not have a substantial presence in the highly profitable
watch industry.”
Today, most of Tiffany’s ads feature its iconic blue box or photos of regal
women wearing evening gowns on rain-drizzled cobblestone streets. Through the
1960s to the 1980s, Tiffany marketed men’s watches with the same dedication
as their engagement rings. In 1976, Tiffany presented the watch as the embodiment of influence and heritage in a creative ad that featured the Capitol building. Mimicking the shape of the building, a watch lay horizontally across the horizon of the photograph. The caption read, “1851: The cornerstone of the United States Capitol was laid and Tiffany introduced Pateke Phillippe to America.” If company executives want to stake their claim on luxury watches, and continue to remain relevant in a transformed jewelry industry, Tiffany will have to harken back to those days and market watches as the ultimate status symbol they are.

View U.S. Tiffany Stores in a larger map

I Want My Space—Setting Boundaries on the NYC Subway

As a feminist, there are days you want to feel like you are doing something, even if you can’t accomplish the bigger things today. And as a New Yorker, I find it appropriate to take my anger out on unsuspecting strangers when I deem they have done something thoughtless and disrespectful. When I couple these urges, I find myself becoming something of an activist on New York City subways.

The subway is a frustrating place and it always will be, but that does not excuse elbow-invasion and wide leg stances. I’m not denying that women have plenty of rude habits, namely reaching into their ginormous Longchamp bags to find things. But the elbows do abate at some point (once they have found the phone, notepaid, etc.) whereas men extend their elbows into half of my seat and splay their legs out during the entire trip like a woman waiting for her annual pap smear, taking up half of my seat, which was barely occupied to begin with.

I say barely occupied because I, like many women, keep my knees together as if they held in place by superglue and fold my hands neatly in my lap. I look like a mummy whereas some of the men who sit next to me sit as if it is their living room couch. I sit like this because someone else is crowding my space. Some men may argue, “Well yeah, but I’m bigger than you. I need more room than you do.” To this argument, I point to the kind gentlemen I sit next to on the train, who put their hands in their laps and close their legs together. I sit next to men who weigh 60 to 80 more pounds than me every day and they do manage to avoid taking up nearly half of my seat.

What makes the debate worse, is that it’s an argument we’ve heard before about other things. Men take more food and they deserve more food, because they’re bigger. Men deserve more food and rest because they work harder than we do. In the book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Gloria Steinem used access to food to illustrate how women are considered less valuable across different parts of the globe. I think personal space is similar, because men believe we just don’t need it as much as they do, whether or not we paid the same price for an airplane ticket or a train ticket. Socialization also allows them to feel more comfortable invading someone’s space.

Men see me and see a seat and a half. Sometimes I let men know that they are not entitled to my space simply because I’m smaller than them. One night I sat next to a man sitting spread eagle. He closed his legs at first, just to open them back up again later. I decided to spread my legs open (thankfully I was wearing pants) as far as humanly possible, pushing his legs out of the way. I turned to him and smiled. He looked startled then amused. He closed his legs. There was an uncomfortable exchange of looks, but if he thinks twice before doing it again, I will feel I have accomplished something.

We need to fight for our space. It’s unlikely that women will win bigger fights, such as getting a seat in Congress or at the boardroom table, when we can’t even attain a whole seat on the train. Use your voice. Spread your legs when he spreads his. When his elbow digs into your ribcage push it out. Or nestle up next to him so that he can understand how it feels. But whatever you do, don’t surrender your space.

We Need to Support a Quota System for Women

There is a gaping void of female leadership in one of the most developed, democratic countries in the world, but hardly anyone, gender equality activists, senators or corporate executives, dare say the dreaded word, “quota.” In the U.S., it is still considered an extreme stance to suggest the government take more aggressive action by requiring a larger percentage of women on corporate boards and lists of political candidates. According to a Harvard Business School survey, only 25 percent of American women surveyed support quotas for women.

One of the most important feminist debates in the past few months focused on whether or not successful women can balance work and parenthood but most women will never make that decision. Most women will never reach the pinnacle of their profession as Ann Marie Slaughter or “Go home at 5 o’clock” Sheryl Sandberg has. To make that decision, you first need the support of mostly male bosses, internship coordinators and professors to boost you into the talent pool that other elite men choose from. Then you need to convince those elite men that you are just as if not more qualified than the man you’re competing against. As a political candidate, you will have to go one step further and convince the Ed Schultzes and Bill O’Reillys of the world that you can beat your chest as loudly as the rest of them.

Women have taken that traditional route for many years now and it isn’t working. Women represent 4 percent of CEOs and 16 percent of corporate boards. In politics, women make up 17 percent of Congress, 17 percent of city mayors and 23.7 percent of state legislators. Considering the numbers, I don’t think it is extreme that the government institute a form of affirmative action or quota system for women at corporate boards and elected office. Until there are more women leaders, many talented entry-level women will find themselves excluded from the talent pool.

Affirmative action was and is controversial. White people continue to cry reverse racism, as in the case of Fisher vs. University of Texas. They claim that unqualified minorities are taking jobs that rightfully belonged to them. It’s a familiar charge. When feminists ask why employers don’t hire more women, employers often say there aren’t enough qualified women. But as a larger society, we decided that affirmative action was a necessary step for our country to take.

The government acknowledged that minorities were disadvantaged from the early years of their lives. If life were a board game, it wouldn’t matter that minority men and women answered all of the questions correctly. Their white peers were two steps ahead of them before the game even started. Affirmative action is far from perfect, but it has given minority Americans a degree of social mobility they didn’t have before.

According to a Tulane University study, the share of black and Native American men and women from 1973-2003 grew more on average at federal contractors subject to Affirmative Action than at non-contracting firms. At the end of contract durations, increased numbers of minority workers persisted after the firm was no longer a federal contractor. A Georgetown study also found that affirmative action bans at colleges decreased underrepresented minority groups and increased white enrollment at those selective colleges.

The idea that someone is disadvantaged from the start is a mindset that many people feel uncomfortable applying to women. Some women think quotas label them as victims, and no one wants to be a victim. Ignoring gender inequality, however, won’t abolish it. It’s also doubly hard to argue in favor of quotas when women are told from day one, that despite all available evidence, gender inequality doesn’t exist anymore. Thanks to writers such as Hanna Rosin and Liza Mundy, hyperbolic phrases such as “The End of Men” and “The Richer Sex” are thrown out into the public debate over gender equality, clouding what should have been a very clear picture. It is true that more women attend college and are doing well in school. The new economy, Rosin has said, will require a feminine brand of talent, as opposed to brawn and hours of toil.

Women may earn more college degrees but we still earn less than men. Census sample numbers show 4,894 female householders with no husband present lived below poverty in contrast to 950 male householders with no wife present in 2011. The median wages of female managers are 73 percent of what male managers earn. It is not a fact, either, that women are better poised to take the jobs of the future. Men are increasingly taking “pink collar” jobs, which could force women out of those sectors.

If you compare our female representation on corporate boards to Norway, you will find our numbers are quite pitiful. In Norway, 40 percent of corporate boards are filled with women. That’s because the government made a conscious decision to support the social mobility of female Norwegians by passing a quota law in 2003. In 2010, Iceland passed a law on gender quotas, requiring corporate boards to be 40 percent female by September 2013. The European Union has also pushed for the requirement that 40 percent of a company’s directors be women.

In political representation, Norway leads again. The Norwegian Labour Party’s quota system emphasized electing women, not simply recruiting female candidates. Women make up 50 percent of the party’s political representation in parliament today. When the party is in power, women make up 50 percent of its ministers. Quota systems are desperately needed in politics, where the party leaders see women as risks. If the Democratic Party were to truly call itself the party of women’s rights, its leaders would enact a quota system. Further highlighting the stark difference in diversity between the two parties could be only advantageous to Democrats.

There are scholars and feminists who argue quotas should be instituted because women civilize mostly male groups. This is insulting to women. Women do not exist to civilize the world or babysit tyrannical men. COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, was essentially referred to as Mark Zuckerberg’s babysitter. Zuckerburg may be a perennial child, but that does not make Sandberg his caretaker. Women exist on our own terms. We should be allowed to play the part of greedy megalomaniac as well as purveyor of logic during times of insanity.

To argue that women should be added to corporate boards because they are different is to go against hundreds of years of feminist progress. The message we should take to the debate over gender discrimination is the same message civil rights leaders used to institute affirmative action: Everyone should be allowed the same opportunity to advance regardless of what they look like. A society less progressive than ours accepted that argument more than a few decades ago. Why shouldn’t we?


Race is Not a Preference

The first time I heard someone refer to discrimination as “preference,” I was exchanging in small talk with a fellow student. I thought the question he asked me was strange.

“Do you have a preference for who you date, like you don’t date black guys or Asian guys?”

“No, I don’t have a preference. Why? Do you?”

“No, I mean I’ll date all races pretty much, except I don’t really date black girls.”


“Um, I don’t know, it’s just a, um, attitude thing I guess.”

There is racism that happens behind closed doors, the consequences of which bubbles up in both large and small inconveniences to people of color every day. It is the kind of racism that people sense but aren’t 100 percent positive of because they can’t see the evidence, such as a potential employer discarding a resume emboldened with the name “Maria Cruz” or someone questioning if a black politician is able to connect to his or her life values. But one of the last acceptable and most brazen forms of racism comes from the carefree ability some men, white men in particular, are comfortable telling people they have excluded an entire race from their dating prospects, whether in person or on an online dating site.

Here are the results of an OKCupid survey on the relationship between the race of the person messaging and likeliness the person will message them back:

I don’t know how people discern their preference to date only one, two or three races from racism in its purist form. When challenged on it, men often say they are just picking physical criteria, like preferring blue eyes or blonde hair. But it isn’t, considering how these characteristics vary so widely from within one race. A Hispanic woman can have blonde hair, but it often isn’t blonde hair that these men are worshipping, it’s the idea of whiteness itself.

Historically, white and Asian women have been “awarded” all of the femininity stereotypes, such as being perceived as innately demure, and nurturing. If a man is interested in dating only white women and/or Asian women, it is a red flag to me that not only is this person racist, which is bad enough, but he is likely a misogynist as well. It tells me that this man is looking for a woman who fits a narrow definition of femininity, one that reduces me to the Madonna side of the Madonna/Whore complex.

Conversely, black women are portrayed as my fellow student expressed. They have an “attitude,” which is code for “emasculating.” Black women (as well as Hispanic women) have also been labeled as promiscuous and less intelligent. If you have any doubt, look at Gone With The Wind, with its masculine Mammy or dumb and irresponsible Prissy or more recently Ally McBeal’s independent and flirtatious best friend Renee, whose overt sexuality lands her in trouble and Modern Family’s bubbly and irrational Gloria.

I’m surprised, though perhaps it’s naive, that some of my white feminist friends aren’t really appalled by the “preference” problem. Whatever gender biases white women face, women of color face them to a magnified degree. Every gender stereotype, from being manipulative to too masculine, are all charges men level at women of all colors when they wish to minimize our power. By not challenging the preference statement, due to some unconscious apathy or their own inner racism, white feminists are supporting another system of inequality as well as supporting the same gender tropes they also suffer from.




Amanda Todd and Stigmatization of Nude Female Bodies

The recent teen suicide of Amanda Todd made me think about how the nude female body has been both exalted and torn down by men and women for centuries. Throughout our lives, even as children, we’ve been taught that our bodies are something to be ashamed of.

Women learn that their bodies exist for sexuality very early on. Our teachers, our parents, friends’ parents, and community leaders teach us this from grade school to college and beyond.

I’ll never forget the day the school librarian buttoned up my shirt because she thought my neckline was too low. “How does her mother let her come to school looking like that?” she said. It never occurred to me that my baggy flannel shirt needed two more buttons, because eight year-olds don’t have breasts. I thought that being a child desexualized me, but it turned out that the only requirement for such judgment was that I be female.

Thus it does not come as any surprise to me that women are well acquainted with these judgments. Unfortunately, it also didn’t come as a surprise to me that Amanda Todd became so distraught that she could no longer live with herself; all because her community had seen her naked breasts. For women, class has always been inextricably linked to the covering or uncovering of the body. When you show your body, a commodity in its own right, to too many people, it loses its value, mainstream culture suggests. Because women tie their worth and therefore their class to the body, the thought that an image of their body could be shared with the world is all too terrifying.

A lot of faux-concerned journalists and legitimately concerned parents think the solution is obvious: We tell those young women to be careful and stop bearing their naked bodies to random people through downloadable photos. There are several problems with that plan. Young women, like young men, make mistakes. Young men can streak a football field or send pictures of their penises to women they hardly know, and their lives are hardly forever ruined.

The real solution won’t be the easy quick fix most parents are looking for. We need to de-stigmatize the naked female body.

Photograph by Helmut Newton

It starts with us, talking to our daughters, nieces, and students about what they’ve done and what they’ve said, not how they much skin they bare or how they present their appearance. It starts with small every day actions. When you berate your three year-old daughter for removing her shirt, ask yourself if you would react the same had you had a three year-old son. Don’t tell a student you approve or disapprove of her dress. If your teen daughter’s once private naked pictures become public, tell her she has nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t tell her this because it’s comforting. Tell her this because it’s true. Amanda Todd wasn’t guilty of anything else but having a female body. It’s too bad her classmates didn’t know that.

On Facebook, General Election Apathy is Alive and Well


For every presidential election, never any local or state office elections, the same cadre of people come out of the woodwork to post dark thoughts on the uselessness of the two party system and often, voting itself.

As someone whose heart and mind is fully steeped in cynicism, I am aware of how they feel. I have voted for third parties before and I know special interests and big donors play a huge role in the two parties. But this election season, I saw more posts than ever encouraging people not to vote, or to stop throwing this do-goody voting thing in their faces. Some of the posts suggested that social issues like gay marriage and abortion were hijacking the debate.

As I read these posts, something else sank in. My female friends and gay friends consistently posted on the importance of the election and urged people to get out and vote. Gay men argued they couldn’t be friends with people who voted against their rights. I saw similar posts from many of my younger female friends. This election was very personal to them. They didn’t encourage people to vote for Obama because he was infallible, or because he was a nice singer with a funny, fashionable wife. They felt that their lives were inextricably less important to a President Romney than other lives, namely wealthy white men.

And then I noticed something else. I noticed it not only when I looked through the endless feed of election related Facebook posts, but looking back to every single time I heard the apathetic mumbles of my generation. Those snide, holier than thou remarks, telling us that our votes don’t really count. Who did they come from? Young white men.

Young white men have plenty to lose in a general election. But they don’t have as much to lose. It is the luxury of a privileged group to separate itself from the drab responsibilities of every day life and look down upon the conventional, less than perfect path ahead. It is the luxury of a group that has always had the right to vote since the country’s founding, to take that vote for granted. It is the luxury of a privileged group to tell less privileged groups to calm down, because even if the other guy wins, your rights aren’t really in danger.

It’s easier to call Democrats’ appeal to women voters fear mongering when you haven’t actually wondered how soon a group of politicians would start to chip away at your personal agency. It feels more comfortable to say these things when you don’t have to think about the right to call your love as legitimate as the nuclear family’s next door or to maintain the ability to get accepted into an Ivy League school so you could say you were the first in your family to attend Harvard.

There is a reason why white and minority women, minority men and queer people decided they couldn’t sit out on this election. It’s because they can’t afford to.

What Cannibal Cop and Princesses Have In Common

My mother once told me a story about a southern gentleman she dated. He had impeccable manners and showered her with gifts. Until the day she broke up with him. He attempted to lock her in his car and informed her that she wasn’t “allowed” to stop seeing him.

Be careful of men who treat you like a princess, she said. Those are the ones you have to watch out for.

Starts like this

Could end like this:

The news of “cannibal cop” Gilberto Valle reminded me of this nugget of wisdom. His OKCupid profile contained several red flags that seem fairly innocuous, if not sweet.

He considers himself a “true gentleman” and chivalry is important to him. He wrote that he likes to open doors and pull out chairs for women, as well as “spoil the heck” out of them. He’s also looking for a lady with “good values,” whatever that means.

In itself, there is nothing wrong with being courteous to your date or wanting to give your significant other presents. Every day women walk in and out of buildings while some well-intentioned, kind man holds the door open. Those men don’t even plan to boil them over a hot stove afterward.

But there is something in his comments, and in the boasting of chivalrous deeds in general, that should concern women.

As picturesque as it is, chivalry was invented to control and manipulate women. Kate Millet made this point best in Sexual Politics, the book that forever ingrained the idea that the personal is political in the minds of second wave feminists.

“One realizes how much of a concession traditional chivalrous behavior represents – a sporting kind of reparation to allow the subordinate female certain means of saving face. While palliative to the injustice of a woman’s social position, chivalry is also a technique for disguising it.”

In a nutshell, this answers the question I always ask when men make a point of their chivalry. What is he trying to make up for? If a man is a gentleman, does he need to explicitly remind women of it? Or is he trying to distract her from the things she’s losing by allowing him to control her behavior?

Chivalry also depends on a sense of entitlement. “I (insert empty ritual) on all of our dates and I paid for (dinner, drinks, movie tickets) while I listened to you talk about (your work, your friends, other things unrelated to myself) and now you won’t go out with me again? I guess nice guys finish last.”

Even friendship is considered something chivalrous men give their sexual prospects, until they feel the woman has “friendzoned” them. I can’t recall any woman who has expressed delight at the knowledge her crush didn’t feel the same but I have never heard outrage or contempt. The fact that images like this are circulating the internet should give women pause over the term “friendzoned.”

I would never berate a man for performing a kind, however meaningless, gesture. But if that man defines his romantic identity and his relationship with women, by that gesture, I would avoid him. Most women are better off being partners, not princesses.

A Word on Engaging With Trolls

Feminists have tried, persistently, to kill the stereotype of the angry feminist, because angry women, like angry people of color, and especially angry women of color, are in a word, terrifying. It’s tempting to rebel against the idea that women have to play the role of accommodating peacemakers all the time, even when someone is supporting an idea that sets our rights back 50 years. Bikini Kill’s lyrics from “White Boy” come to mind:

“I’m really sorry if I’m alienating some of you. Your whole fucking culture alienates me.”

This is how a lot of feminists, including myself, often feel. Why should I attempt to make you feel comfortable? Our whole lives we’ve had to empathize with a male point of view and envision our lives through the male characters we watch on television and read about. So yeah, we’re sick of empathy.


But as tired as I am of tolerating misogyny in my friends, family and acquaintances, I can’t simply yell at them and hope they retain the message. I know that a lot of feminists can agree with the fact that men are also victims of gender roles. Admittedly, they live in them far more comfortably than we do because the culture has been constructed to fit their worldview, especially if those men are white, and men continue to make more money and hold more positions of power.

They don’t “have it all,” however.  The American workforce demands that men spend less time with their families in order to succeed, which is an equal part of the problem. A society that values motherhood more than fatherhood minimizes the impact a father can have on his child’s life and discourages his involvement in it. Little boys are told there is one acceptable model of manhood they are allowed to follow.

funny gifs

Now we’re coming to a point where some men are voicing their frustration with women on feminist blogs, calling themselves Men’s Rights Activists. Some of them are extreme and call us selfish sluts for asking for more than they think we’re entitled to. I think others are just confused. Imagine being raised to believe there is a correct way to be a man and suddenly the ceiling comes crashing down on you. You have to adjust. But no one has told you what you should do to adjust. Angry people are yelling at you for being a misogynist and yet, this is all you knew about being a man.

I’ve noticed that feminist bloggers and commenters on Jezebel and Feministing, either call these men ignorant buffoons or patiently attempt to explain why the ideas they’re expressing are outdated. The first reaction is exactly what an MRA wants. He wants to believe there is a war of the sexes and you are validating his worldview that women attain a better quality of life at the expense of men. Take the conflict away from him and he becomes disoriented. It’s human nature to disengage when no one is engaging you.

In a different vein, feminists often speak to men who express confusion because they don’t know what feminism is, or call women names without thinking about what those names mean. Take a deep breath first. We often argue that women who sit comfortably in their gender roles aren’t to blame because it’s what we were raised with. Unfortunately it’s all men know too, so try to be patient first. If that doesn’t work, abandon the mission. At least you tried.

Why Feminine Wiles Are Less Valuable Than Andrew Goldman Thinks

The Twitter wars always teach us something valuable about sexism, racism and overall bigotry. This week was no exception.

The New York Times Magazine writer Andrew Goldman came under fire for a question he posed to Tippi Hedren, which implied she should have been grateful to sleep her way to the top with the great Alfred Hitchcock.

The author Jennifer Weiner tweeted:

Saturday am. Iced coffee. NYT mag. See which actress Andrew Goldman has accused of sleeping way to top.

Goldman responded:

Little Freud in me thinks you would have liked to at least have opportunity to sleep way to top.

Thank you Andrew Goldman, for expressing what so many people think.

In 2012, this discussion should be rare, but it isn’t. Throughout my journalism career, I’ve heard male colleagues complain that women are better at getting sources to return our phone calls or answer our questions because we have feminine wiles at our disposal.

What many men, and some women, fail to understand, is that this theory only covers a subgroup of women, that as Andrew Goldman so kindly pointed out, are conventionally attractive.

The second, but most important, point:

You can’t ignore that this “advantage” exists, assuming it does exist, because the people with resources, be it money, influence or valuable information, are men. Politicians, CEOs, economists, scholars, police, community leaders, etc. are predominantly male. All of my editors, through internships and my job, were men, and this is not an anomaly.

Don’t the men who argue this theory understand that more women in positions of power can only help lift women up? The mindset that fails to grasp this logic is the same mindset that only recognizes women who are young or beautiful or both. If these men thought of women moving through different stages of life, they would realize that more women in authority help young women advance their careers, so they are bureau editor or senior correspondent when they are 45, not a reporter living under relatively the same salary as they did at 25.

Let us also examine the consequences of this “advantage” Andrew Goldman believes a charmed subgroup of women enjoy.

As a result of ancient stereotypes, further perpetuated in television and the movies (Reese Witherspoon has played all of them), these women now live under the specter of “bimbo.” You can try to escape the image by wearing glasses and letting those heels gather dust under your bed, but you can’t stop being a bimbo unless you stop being young and female.

If you’ve ever read an article about how to prepare your makeup for a job interview, it’s hard to ignore the fact that women can’t be attractive and hirable at once. It’s too taxing. Pick a side.

Allure magazine reported a study that concluded interviewers always prefer some makeup to a bare face, but when the looks became more dramatic: “People saw them as equally likeable and much more attractive and competent but less trustworthy.”

A 2011 study conducted on job applicants in Europe and Israel found that attractive men who included headshots on their resumes were more likely to be called back than plain men. Women were more likely to get called back if they didn’t provide a picture at all. Attractive women were especially judged for including pictures on their resumes because it was assumed they were using their looks to secure the job.

In short, the next time you consider your female colleagues blessed, think again. Ask yourself: When was the last time you thought people wouldn’t take you seriously because of how you look, instead of how you behave?

What My Summer as a Flag Girl Taught Me About Sexism and Class

Every day I walked into work at the county highway department, I hoped that day would be less awkward than the last, and not only because all of my co-workers were men. I have to admit that as I looked at the avid Rush Limbaugh listeners and Harley Davidson bikers, who proudly stuck their guts out as they leaned against the station walls, I thought: I have nothing in common with these guys.

So it’s fair to assume they made the same judgment about me. When I started my first day of work, the foreman said to me in disbelief, “So you’re…going to work here?” before telling me to leave my black alligator purse in the truck.

The men I worked with said and did all sorts of sexist things while I was there. Many of the men bonded over nude pictures and posted some of them on their dashboards. Some of them yelled at the young men for swearing while a “lady” was present. They laughed at me for offering to do “men’s work.” One of them asked way too many personal questions and tried to pressure me into dating an older co-worker.

The list goes on.

But some of them also told me to speak up if I felt uncomfortable and apologized for the lack of female employees. Though some of them wouldn’t let me do certain jobs, others offered to teach me how to maintain the roads. And in their own flawed way, they tried to correct sexism by making hand signals whenever they saw an “attractive” male.

Sometimes I miss those days. I knew how they perceived my gender and how it affected their actions at work. It wasn’t okay but it was out there and I could acknowledge it if I wished.

The men I’ve worked with professionally since then have been different. They were the men I always thought I could identify with; the men I trusted to treat me as an equal because they read the same publications, aligned with similar politics and received the same level of education.

As I participated in other male dominated worlds, politics and journalism (yes, a ton of women are entering but the editors are mostly men), the sexism is more covert but it is still there. And unlike the highway workers, many of them aren’t addressing it or even attempting to correct it.

This issue came to my attention after listening to the comments and advice given by journalism professors, internship coordinators, guest speakers, editors and fellow journalists over the past few years.

Guest speakers tell a group of co-ed, students, mostly female, that women just aren’t as good at interviewing. He presented this as an inconvenient truth. The professor looked embarrassed but not too embarrassed to acknowledge the statement, brushing it off later with the comment, “He’s a little old school.”

Conversely, people who work for state government tell a group of female student journalists that we’ll get along in this business because we’re pretty. We’ll be great at the interview!

It’s worse than just a few men who haven’t caught up with the rest of the pack. There are liberal thought leaders, both of the vaunted and hot dog variety, who perpetuate sexism every day.

Michael Moore defended Julian Assange after he was charged with rape and sexual molestation and coercion.  Chris Matthews piled on Hillary Clinton in 2008, calling her “anti-male” and “uppity.” Liberal television hosts, Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz love to insult women they disagree with using gendered language, calling them sluts, bimbos and in Olbermann’s case, “a mashed up bag of meat with lipstick.”

There are less inflammatory but still hurtful comments made by journalists and opinion writers from revered institutions. Sometimes it isn’t what these sources say, but what they don’t say, or how they frame arguments on gender that make a difference.

When a journalist has been hired by The New York Times, you don’t expect liberalism but you do expect fairness. However, one reporter found time to comment on an 11-year old rape victim’s clothing, and lead his story with a quote sympathizing with the several men charged with raping her.

The Atlantic, which boasts great writers and a groundbreaking history, chooses to talk about feminism by reducing the conversation to pictures of babies in suitcases and hyperbolic phrases like the “End of Men” and “Having It All.”

Sometimes it’s more important to take a long, studied look at your own weedy backyard instead of scoffing at the redneck neighbors who leave their rusted swing-set and broken down Chevy in the front yard. The most insidious form of bigotry is usually found inside the people you consider most enlightened, including yourself. Dig up your own weeds first, because if the people who are best positioned to acknowledge sexism don’t see it in themselves, we can’t fix it, period.