Too [fill in the blank] for a woman

Whatever you think of the outcome of the lawsuit by Ellen Pao claiming sex discrimination at the famed Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, a tactic used by the company’s defense team could make one cringe — character assassination.

(Video: Bernice Sandler, who was “too strong for a woman.”)

Telling a woman that she is too exacting, too condescending, too abrasive, too strong, too weak,  too whatever to be hired, promoted, etc. is an age-old excuse used countless times to deny women opportunities that might be offered to a man who has the same qualities. (Speaking generally now, not specifically about Pao’s case.) What some consider assertiveness in men gets labeled “bitchy” in women, for example.

I’m far from the first person to describe this problem. It can be an eye-opener to women who’ve experienced it. As I followed the Pao trial, I thought of Bernice (“Bunny”) Sandler, whose quest to eliminate sex discrimination in education started only after a male colleague told here that she comes on “too strong for a woman.” She talks about it in this interview. The experience launched her relentless response that eventually led to Title IX.

And thanks to Title IX, more people today understand that there is no such thing as “too strong” for a woman.

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