I find it fascinating that in response to an article about economic development, a male planner felt entirely comfortable telling me that the only thing of value about me is how developed my breasts and vagina are. In fact, he seemed downright proud about that observation, so much so that he signed his email to me with his company logo, telephone number and web address. What precipitated this completely unprofessional sexist email outrage that I quoted exactly in the headline?
Well, this woman had the nerve to write an article a few months ago about how important it is for cities and states to develop their “improve what you have” toolkit — an area of economic development that ranges from completely ignored, to being given a proverbial “pat on the head” and told to go back to its room and be quiet. Apparently, having the temerity to offhandedly describe our typical approach to economic development as having male attributes just once, and describing a different approach that builds more local wealth as having female attributes, was enough to make Mr G’s head explode.
Here is a screen grab of his lovely email (contact info blurred or cropped out):
So tell me Mr G, am I wrong that men have historically dominated, and still dominate, positions of leadership in every area that impacts economic development? Am I wrong that men run almost all large companies in America? Am I wrong that men dominate the fields of infrastructure and construction? Am I wrong that men dominate elected office on the Federal, State and local level? Am I wrong that men dominate in the ownership of architecture and planning firms? Am I wrong that economic development policy has long been promulgated by white men for the benefit of white men, and not women and people of color? Am I wrong that it is men who come up with genius economic development plays, such as building stadiums for billionaires, in the name of economic development?
It’s pretty clear that our current economic development apparatus was created by, and has been run by white men since forever. Now obviously (although maybe not to our friend Mr. G), pointing this out does not mean that EVERY man supports the traditional approach to economic improvement, or wants to see it continue unabated. It’s a pretty big stretch to conflate “it’s not a bad thing to consider changes that have female attributes” to “all men suck.”
The fact that my email planning buddy made this connection means he is being a bitch, a douche, a girlie man, a pussy… it’s interesting, isn’t it, that many of the words we use to put men down are actually ways of calling them out for having female attributes? Are men really so fragile, and are we really so fragile as a nation, that the idea of identifying a set of characteristics as being both female and superior, is controversial, or even wrong? (Outside of our allowed area of traditional female excellence: sweetness, caring, sexiness, enthusiasm and cuteness, of course.)
The bottom line is that when I think about national and state organizations that have been involved in the “improve what you have” economic development space for a long time, and very successfully, I come up with two groups that are well represented with women in leadership roles: Historic Preservation and National Main Streets. Yep, girls rule!
As a woman, when I publish something in the public realm, I understand I am opening myself to criticism, to people challenging my ideas, and to people disagreeing with me. Bring it on! But let’s be clear that Mr G’s response is none of those things. Instead, its intent is to increase the costs for women to participate in public discussion. It’s like punishment for participation.
Well, your #TimesUp Mr G.
And it’s time for America to unabashedly embrace and celebrate all of the great attributes and approaches women bring to the table. And men need to understand there is NEVER a time when it is okay to reference a woman’s genitals in a professional setting. Period.
The paragraphs from the article Mr G is referencing follow below, and the single reference to each gender in the entire article are in bold text.
You can look at commercial district revitalization in two ways: The first way, which is the common way, and unfortunately not the best way, is to hatch a scheme to get rid of everything that is underperforming and replace it with something else. Bulldoze it, and start over with a blank slate. This approach to economic revitalization is the cornerstone of many well-intentioned plans — the wholesale replacement of entire existing commercial ecosystems. It is also an approach that values typical male attributes: valuing big, valuing new, valuing the deal. This is truly a shame since these districts often have wonderful businesses, owned by locals, that serve as non-traditional anchors pulling from wide trade areas.
The second way to approach these eclectic, local, one-of-a-kind commercial places is to figure out how to improve what is already there. Not only improve, but fully embrace and leverage what is there to ratchet up economic performance and brand. Remember, it’s always easiest to brand around unique and authentic assets, which these districts typically have in spades. Growing your improvement from within, locally and incrementally, instead of imposing it from without, is what I call a female approach to economic development.