By Christy Strawser, CBS Detroit
WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS Detroit) After a lifetime spent smashing glass ceilings, California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer raised eyebrows Wednesday during her grilling of GM CEO Mary Barra over a defective part that allegedly killed up to 13 people before it was finally recalled.
Boxer didn’t just question Barra’s leadership in her new role as CEO — she said she was disappointed in her “as a woman.”
“I am very disappointed, really, as a woman to woman, I am very disappointed. Because the culture you are representing here today is a culture of the status quo.”
Rana Foroohar of TIME Magazine immediately pounced on her statement, writing in a story Thursday, “I hate hearing comments like the one Boxer made, which make it seem like Barra has some special, higher calling as a woman leader.
“That sort of comment is just as sexist as the opposite sort that might have been made in the days of Old Detroit.”
Feminist author Naomi Wolf has long seen sexism in Barra’s treatment as the first CEO of General Motors, which survived the Great Recession through a government bailout.
Wolf blamed journalists in a December article, writing, “two-thirds of professional journalists are men, and men account for almost 90% of bylines in economics and business reporting in traditional media.”
She went on to write: “For example, CNN covered the story by referring to Barra’s “knack for climbing the corporate ladder” – a phrase with some suggestive undertones, and one that would never be used with a man at the top, for whom, presumably, hard work, talent, ambition, and dedication constitute more than a “knack.” It concluded by suggesting that Barra will have succeeded when people no longer call her “car girl” but “boss” – though the report offers no evidence that anyone is in fact calling Barra “car girl” rather than “boss.”
Boxer’s “disappointment” in Barra’s womanhood came amid a grueling Congressional hearing where the Associated Press said lawmakers accused General Motors of a potentially criminal cover-up of its defective ignition switches and complained that Barra was not forthcoming enough.
Members of a Senate subcommittee also said GM should tell owners of the 2.6 million cars being recalled to stop driving them until they are repaired. Barra gave assurances that the cars, mainly Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions, are safe to use while owners wait for the replacement part, saying she would let her own son get behind the wheel if he took certain precautions.
The automaker has said the ignition switch can move from the “run” position if there’s weight on the key chain. And that causes the engine to shut off, disabling power steering, power brakes and the front air bags.
As she did Tuesday at a House hearing, Barra said many of the answers Congress is seeking will come out in an internal GM investigation that should be completed in 45 to 60 days. She also said she was unaware of certain details about GM’s handling of the problem — an assertion that frustrated some of the senators.
“You don’t know anything about anything,” Boxer said.
*The Associated Press contributed to this report.