Why Don’t More Women Collect Stamps

Several years ago, President Obama made a gaffe and was widely criticized for his statement regarding the appearance the Attorney-General of California, Kamala Harris. Most philatelists are middle aged men (in fact over 90% of serious collectors are male) and most of us no doubt don’t see what the fuss is all about. The President described Harris as the most attractive Attorney-General in the country, a statement that he certainly meant as praise and with respectful admiration. But the latent sexism in his remarks is instructive to us philatelists, especially as we wonder why we haven’t attracted more women to our hobby and to organized philately.


Sexism, like racism comes in many forms and what Obama was displaying, when he thought he was being complimentary, was really a more benevolent form of sexism. Ms Harris won a statewide election to be Attorney-General of California. She won the job because of her qualifications (and because she got the right party’s nomination in highly Democratic

California). What Obama thought was a compliment was really denigrating Ms Harris by adding her sex appeal as a factor in her professional life. There is considerable evidence that such treatment of women in the workplace negatively impacts their chances of success and creates, even for the “pretty” ones, an environment in which they don’t feel that they are being judged for their work.


Forty years ago, when there were stamp clubs in Philadelphia, I regularly attended the Philadelphia Stamp Club, which was a group of really decent older men (and all of the attendees were men). The club had probably thirty “regulars”, with an average age of sixty. These men were mostly successful professionals and businessmen. There was one Common Pleas court judge, several doctors and lawyers. The education level was high, the conversation level higher-these were good, kindly men -good fathers and grandfathers. One evening a young woman-about 25- came to the club. She collected US locals and had since she was a child. She was inquisitive and intelligent. She came to several meetings and then stopped and no one ever heard from her again.

I never before much thought of this event. Back then we thought we treated her very kindly- but, looking at it through today’s eyes I see the condescension that was so clearly there. One older man-a partner at one of Philadelphia’s largest law firms actually said (and he thought he was being kind!) “US Locals?-that’s a mighty tough subject for a pretty lady”. As we look at the success of our hobby in attracting the 53% of the population that is non male, perhaps these attitudes should be examined and altered. It will be hard. Obama (who is usually sensitive to gender issues) initially didn’t see that he had done anything wrong (I didn’t either). But in discussing this with my wife and daughters I saw that women are used to this kind of dismissive treatment from men. Though they unfortunately have to put up with it in their professions from time to time, they are not going to seek out a hobby where they must relive it over and over again.

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