Two very powerful women get asked about double standards. Their responses probably won't shock you.

On stage at the Women in the World Conference, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde and former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were asked about double standards in media coverage of women in politics. You can almost feel them restraining heavy eye rolls before delivering a couple of great stories about persisting stereotypes of women in politics and society.

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Hillary Clinton: The way women are treated is often now much subtler, but no less damaging, not only for the individual woman, but for the economy as a whole. And that's a profound message that I hope more and more people and institutions will help us make.

Audience: [applause]

Thomas Friedman: Let's go a little from the public to the more personal. Is there still a double standard in the media about how we talk about women in public life?

Audience: [laughter]

Christine Lagarde: [laughs]

Thomas Friedman: I want to ask specifically, because I had a lot of fun, actually, researching both of you, and I came across a story which I can't believe is true, but you were meeting with a foreign leader. You'd flown all night. You had said you tied your hair back, and when you came into the room, he was really frightened because he had heard that when your hair was back, it mean you were going to deliver unpleasant news.

Hillary Clinton: That's right.

Audience: [laughter]

Thomas Friedman: And Christine, when your hair is short, it means you're going to devalue them? Or do I see pair of scissors?

Christine Lagarde: I'll tell you, I had my hair a bit longer last October for the annual meeting. A journalist actually wrote a story – full page – saying that because my hair was longer, there would no longer be a haircut.

Thomas Friedman: [laughs]

Christine Lagarde: Haircut of the debt of a sovereign state.

Hillary Clinton: [laughs]

Thomas Friedman: I guess that answers the question. But Hillary, pick up on that.

Hillary Clinton: You know, really, Tom, I think ...

Audience: [laughter, applause]

Thomas Friedman: [laughs] I mean, seriously, human sacrifice!

Audience: [laughter]

Hillary Clinton: There is a double standard, obviously. We have all either experienced it, or at the very least seen it. And there is a deep set of cultural, psychological views that are manifest through this double standard.

I remember as a young lawyer – and this was so many years ago – there was a column in the paper in Arkansas, and it was advice about the workplace. And one of the questions that I read one day was, "Dear So and So." It was a man who wrote it, and the writer said, "I've got a promotion, so for the first time, I'm going to have my own office, and I don't know how to decorate it. Do you have any advice about what's appropriate for the workplace?" And it was initials, like, you know, H.R. or something.

So, then the answer was, "Well, I can't tell from your initials whether you're male or female. Because if you're male, I recommend, if you have a family, put the pictures in your office, because then everyone will know you're a responsible, reliable family man. If you are a female, don't have any pictures of your family, because then they think you won't be able to concentrate on your work."

Audience: [laughter]

Hillary Clinton: I remember reading that, and this was so long ago, and yet some of those attitudes, we know, persist. And if they persist in as open and in many ways transformational society as ours is right now in the 21st century, you know how deep they are. And that's why it's important that we surface them and why we talk about them, and help men and women recognize when they are crossing over from an individual judgment – which we're all prone to make and have a right to make about somebody, man or woman – into a stereotype, into applying some kind of gender-based characterization of a person.

So, yeah, the double standard is alive and well. And I think in many respects the media is the principle propagator of its persistence, and I think the media needs to be more self-consciously aware of that.

Audience: [applause]

There may be small errors in this transcript.

Found this video on the Women in the World YouTube channel. Thumbnail image courtesy of Thinkstock.

Apr 21, 2014

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