Mo Elleithee didn’t realize he was a sexist.
“I was the guy who didn’t even notice all of society’s subtle sexist behaviors. Sometimes I participated without realizing,” Elleithee wrote on Salon on Sunday, in a letter to his daughter. “It wasn’t until I spent months traveling around the country with Hillary Clinton, and then later becoming your father, that I began to see all of this.”
But he began to see rampant sexism while working for Clinton as her press secretary during her 2008 presidential bid.
“The fact that every story about Hillary Clinton mentioned what she was wearing, what hair style she had. But you didn’t have that about Barack Obama or Joe Biden or John Edwards,” Elleithee said on Monday’s Morning Joe.
In his column, he pin-pointed the paradox of expectations women face.
“We tell girls they can be whatever they want when they grow up. So why are so many people still telling women that they can’t balance career and family?
We tell girls that they can succeed if they work hard and be themselves. So why is it that a woman in business or politics is seen as cold and harsh if she doesn’t show emotion—but seen as “emotional” or manipulative if she does?”
“I just saw these subtle behaviors in society that were fine before that I just didn’t notice or accepted it,” Elleithee said on Morning Joe. “Everyone tells their children they can grow up to be whatever they want to be. The problem is I think our young girls are getting mixed messages today.”
The media plays a large part in sending out mixed messages, Cosmopolitan’s editor-in-chief Joanna Coles said.
“Male congressmen, male senators are always described as ‘stating’ something in the House. Women senators and congresswomen are always described as ‘complaining’,” Coles said. “Women are emotional; men are somehow stoic.”
The expectations aren’t just in politics—the sexism occurs “across society, across culture” said Elleithee. Following a study that found that 40% of women are primary breadwinners, conservative media talking heads said such working moms were at odds with the “natural order.”
But some see hope in future generations.
“I asked my girls at dinner last night if there was any career they thought they couldn’t do and they looked at me like, ‘What are you talking about’?” co-host Mika Brzezinski remarked.
“That’s progress!” Coles responded.