How NOT to Interview a Powerful Woman

I make my living researching and writing about powerful women, and I wake up each morning hoping I won’t read yet another article about a female politician’s hair.

The utter entitlement reporters have about women’s lives is astounding — Who’s watching your kid? What does your husband think? Are you “having it all”? These questions betray an overwhelming cultural preoccupation with women’s personal lives regardless of their professional achievements. Here are seven questions that can suck it.

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1. What’s your dress size?
In a 2000 article in the New York Times, the interviewer had Condoleezza Rice comment on her dress size, which Rice attributed to “muscle mass,” as if to apologize. Because, of course, we are owed an explanation.

Incidentally, Rice served as the United States Secretary of State from 2005 to 2009. Previously, she was President George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor — and the first woman to hold that position. She wears a size six. Sometimes an eight.

2. Are you nice?
During Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court, Senator Lindsey Graham cited anonymous accounts calling Sotomayor a bully, asking, “Do you have a temperament problem?” After having heard those same anonymous complaints, former Yale Law School Dean Judge Guido Calabresi tracked Sotomayor’s courtroom manner and “concluded that all that was going on was that there were some male lawyers who couldn't stand being questioned toughly by a woman. It was sexism in its most obvious form.”

Sonia Sotomayor served on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where she heard more than 3,000 cases. Since 2009, Sotomayor has been an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Some people think she’s kind of a bully. There has never been another bully on the Supreme Court in all of its history.

3. Can you do your job and be a mom?
Matt Lauer didn’t hold his punches when interviewing noted mother/person Mary Barra in 2014. During an interview with the General Motors CEO, Lauer shared his sexism insight:

"You’re a mom, I mentioned — two kids. You said in an interview, not long ago, that your kids said they’re going to hold you accountable for one job, and that is being a mom. Given the pressures of this job at General Motors, can you do both well?"

In addition to being a mom, Mary Barra made the cover of Time’s 2014 Most Influential People in the World issue, saw GM through a massive recall, and received unanimous support by GM’s board when she was promoted to CEO. Also: She’s a mom.


4. What are you wearing?
When Amal Clooney argued in front of the European Court of Human Rights in February of this year, a reporter joked that the lawyer was expected to wear Versace in the courtroom. Clooney shut it down and noted that she was wearing Ede & Ravenscroft, the required formal legal wear.

Apropos of nothing, Amal Clooney has represented the likes of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the state of Cambodia, a former Libyan intelligence chief, and the former Ukrainian prime minister. She is fluent in English, Arabic, and French, and she may or may not like Versace.

5. No, but really, what clothes do you like?
Clooney is hardly alone. When presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton gave a town hall–style interview in Kyrgyzstan while serving as secretary of state, the moderator decided he was tired of politics and wanted some real answers. This exchange ensued:

Moderator: Which designers do you prefer?
Clinton: What designers of clothes?
Moderator: Yes.
Clinton: Would you ever ask a man that question? [Laughter] [Applause]
Moderator: Probably not. Probably not. [Applause]

It’s not a big deal, but Clinton was the first female senator from New York State, the secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, and is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president in the 2016 race. I don’t know which designers she favors.

6. Do you spend time with your kid?
As the subject of a 2013 profile in Vogue, Marissa Mayer was revealed to be a great mother with nice style and a cool house who sometimes works at Yahoo. This was quite lucky for anyone interested in Mayer’s home life and less concerned with her professional accolades.

Mayer was named president and CEO of Yahoo in 2012. In 2014, Forbes magazine ranked her as the 16th most powerful businesswoman in the world. Her son has “flaxen hair” and enjoys the swing set.

7. Do you “have it all”?
In an interview alongside Virgin founder and billionaire Richard Branson, Sheryl Sandberg was asked if she can “have it all.” Seriously. She turned to Branson and asked him whether that’s a question he ever gets, and shockingly, he revealed that nobody has ever been concerned with how he balances his family with his professional life. That’s a question reserved for people who aren’t allowed to be multidimensional humans, and instead must chose between being mothers or business shrews.

In case it matters, Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook. She was previously the VP of global online sales and operations at Google and served as Chief of Staff for the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Her book, Lean In, addresses the institutionalized sexism that keeps women from advancing professionally.

For a complete list of men who have never been asked whether they are capable of having it all, please see: every man ever.

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