Opinion: Mahoney’s shots at Miner reflect gender stereotyping

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner is having a raging period. That’s basically what Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney implied when she derided Miner as “emotional” for staking out a completely valid policy position on an issue where they disagree.

Mahoney used coded language to discipline Miner back into feminine submission, urging her to “take a breath” and “dial down the drama.” The problem isn’t that a developer broke an agreement with the city, prompting the mayor to sue. It’s that Miner “gets emotional and lashes out.” Somebody control this woman! 

Miner has been working for years to ensure that a deal to develop Inner Harbor would also benefit the city. Then COR Development Co. went behind her back to the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency for a 15-year property tax exemption. So Miner filed a lawsuit alleging that the company “hid from the city its intention to seek a [tax deal] because it knew that the city would demand a community benefit on any development project as a condition of any deal."

To Mahoney this is all just “personal,” blaming Miner’s forceful advocacy for her community on “hurt feelings.”

In a presidential campaign season defined by Donald Trump’s ongoing vitriol, it’s not surprising that some of his misogyny has seeped into local politics. And it doesn’t make the criticism any less sexist when it comes from another woman. It’s arguably worse because it gives a double x stamp of approval to gendered stereotypes in public discourse.

Mahoney’s choice of language is a classic strategy to de-professionalize a woman. It’s the same argument that’s been used to deny women the vote, restrict service in combat, and bar them from higher education: women are just too irrational and emotional to make sound decisions. Hippocrates identified this “hysteria” as a side effect of childbirth, a phenomenon specific to anyone with a uterus. Although the term has long since faded from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, questioning a woman’s temperament remains fair game in political warfare.

Men don’t seem to suffer the same scrutiny. When an elected official shows strength and assertiveness on behalf of his constituents, he's a fighter. Yet Miner gets tone-policed for the same behavior?

Maybe Miner should’ve held her tongue like a good girl. Maybe if she’d just set aside her objections to a $324 million project robbing the tax base without any commitment to hire locally, everyone could just get along.

But that’s not what the people she represents, who reelected her with 68 percent of the vote in a city with a 33 percent poverty rate, hired her to do.

Demanding a strong tax base has nothing to do with hurt feelings. Using the force of law and the court system to stand up for the city is not feminine drama.

That's the job. Mahoney might want to take notes.  


Alexis Grenell is a Democratic communications strategist based in New York. Find her on Twitter @agrenell.