Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Amid a year of progress for women, some missteps to learn from

By Peggy Drexler
December 26, 2013 -- Updated 2219 GMT (0619 HKT)
<strong>January 1:</strong> People watch New Year's fireworks along Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photographers worldwide captured deadly conflicts, devastating storms and other memorable moments throughout the year. Click through the gallery to see 2013 unfold from beginning to end. January 1: People watch New Year's fireworks along Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photographers worldwide captured deadly conflicts, devastating storms and other memorable moments throughout the year. Click through the gallery to see 2013 unfold from beginning to end.
HIDE CAPTION
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
2013: The year in pictures
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
97
98
99
100
101
102
103
104
105
106
107
108
109
110
111
112
113
114
115
116
117
118
119
120
121
122
123
124
125
126
127
128
129
130
131
132
133
134
135
136
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Peggy Drexler: 2013 saw big gains for women but some mistakes we can all learn from
  • She says Paula Deen, Kathleen Sebelius, Miley Cyrus, Lara Logan were some who stumbled
  • Drexler: Janet Yellen, Mary Barra were among the trailblazers in the rise of women this year

Editor's note: Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @drpeggydrexler.

(CNN) -- It was a big year for women, 2013.

In the past 12 months, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg called on her fellow females to "lean in" to their careers.

Peggy Drexler
Peggy Drexler

And lean in they did: Janet Yellen was nominated to become the first woman to head the U.S. Federal Reserve and General Motors named Mary Barra the auto industry's first female CEO. In a new epilogue to her book "The End of Men: And the Rise of Women," Hanna Rosin wrote that, thanks in part to strong political women like Kirsten Gillibrand, Tammy Baldwin and Claire McCaskill, the patriarchy is officially dead.

But not all landmark moves by women were points scored. A few of the year's biggest missteps serve as powerful reminders of what NOT to do in 2014:

Paula Deen's comeback?

Say things in private that you wouldn't in public: As part of a lawsuit filed by a former employee, erstwhile beloved celebrity chef Paula Deen admitted to having used racial slurs, including the N-word, and admiring a plantation-style event where the "whole entire wait staff was middle-aged black men." It was a particularly ironic revelation, given that she'd built her reputation on being something of a comforting, maternal figure. She was promptly fired by the Food Network and lost endorsements with, among others, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target, and Sears.

The tweet heard around the world

Tweet without thinking: Just before the holiday, PR exec Justine Sacco pressed send on a last-minute tweet before boarding a 12-hour flight: "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!" She had just a few hundred followers at the time. But the Internet has a way of making the intimate go viral, and by the time Sacco landed in South Africa, she was the biggest Internet story of the week. She endured public excoriation and, ultimately, lost her job. And though Sacco's words were insensitive at best, the outrage that followed -- which included some death threats -- proved that Sacco isn't exactly the only one lacking empathy.

'60 Minutes' places Lara Logan on leave

Tell only half the story: Lara Logan's deeply flawed report on Benghazi that aired on "60 Minutes" threatened the long-running news program's credibility and called into question journalistic practices across the board. The worst part: The mistake was avoidable, according to a CBS review that stated the accounts provided by the report's key source differed from versions provided to the FBI. As a result, Logan and her producer were suspended.

Sebelius grilled on Affordable Care Act

Stay silent in the face of criticism. When the website for Obamacare launched -- or, more accurately, failed to launch -- it was Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius who took most of the heat. Millions called for her firing, and the voices only grew louder as Sebelius initially refused to testify before Congress about the nearly inoperable website.

Miley Effect: Bright idea or fallen star?

Muddle the message. Miley Cyrus' butt-shaking, foam-finger-waving performance at the MTV Video Music Awards in August was a lesson in how shock sells. Though the act spawned much outrage -- Vogue reportedly pulled its plans to feature her on the cover, and longtime boyfriend Liam Hemsworth moved on as well -- album sales climbed. But then she followed it up with a topless photo shoot with Terry Richardson; a not-quite-pornographic music video; and an admission that, yes, she is singing about drugs (sorry, kids!). In the end, the takeaway was clear: The act overshadows the talent. Chances are good that as we move into 2014, it's the foam finger we'll remember more than Miley's songs.

'Fit mom' vs. curvy girls

Use shame to motivate. California mother of three Maria Kang became headline news for a photograph she posted to her Facebook account in which she appeared toned and tanned in a sports bra and short shorts beneath the provocative caption, "What's Your Excuse?" After the photo went viral -- and Kang was bashed for "fat shaming" -- she claimed she'd only intended to motivate others. What ensued brought out bullies on both sides, and served to undermine any positive conversation Kang might have envisioned. The fact is that by posting the photo, Kang was issuing judgment on others. And she was judged in return.

Sandberg: Women must toughen up

Assume all women want the same things. Even one of the year's more inspiring messages for women contained elitist notes: In calling for women to "lean in" to their careers, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg assumed that all women want to "have it all" -- or even want the same things, period. Her book, "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead," ignited a powerful discussion. But in some ways her experiences are so far from the norm of the majority of women in the workforce, and her edict about what women "should do" is so absolute, that her larger message, unfortunately, got lost at times.

Frida Ghitis: 10 women who shaped 2013

Of course, 2013 was filled with many gains -- Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis' pro-choice filibuster, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer standing by her decision to ban working from home, then seeing the company's stock soar, and Angelina Jolie's very public double mastectomy among them.

For every errant twerk, pop culture saw its share of positive messages for women, including Malala Yousafzai's "I Am Malala" -- a Pakistani girl's tale of being shot by the Taliban for speaking out about the rights of women -- and the consistent challenging of the Hollywood body ideal in Lena Dunham's "Girls."

Missteps are part of the normal course of life; they aren't a step back. But it's key to remember, as we enter 2014, as women make greater strides in the battle toward complete gender equity, that their words and actions matter. Greater gains, after all, also mean more people are watching.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peggy Drexler.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT