Thursday, August 23, 2007

Leona Helmsley--The Marie Antoinette Syndrome Revisited

Leona Helmsley died on Monday at the age of 87. Every article covering her death mentions in the first paragraph that she was renowned as the "Queen of Mean" because of her reputation for cruel treatment of employees, and her statement, "only little people pay taxes." This statement is a "tumbrel" remark, which I wrote about a few weeks ago in reference to Lady Black, or Barbara Amiel, and how certain remarks that powerful, wealthy women make incite class warfare--Leona's famous dictum was one such remark, and it summarized her image in the public's mind even at her death.

Leona married Harry Helmsley in 1972, and he appointed her president of Helmsley Hotels in 1980. In the 80s, she cultivated the image of herself as a "queen" by appearing in a highly successful series of hotel ads saying such things as the Palace was the only place where "the queen stands guard."

As Gail Collins wrote Tuesday in an op-ed in the New York Times, the hatred for this woman was totally out-of-proportion to her bad acts. Why was she so hated? Because she was a woman who dared to be greedy, as Collins put it, to want more than her share. Gail Collins calls this the "Leona Helmsley rule": "If you are a woman, you do not want to be caught demanding way, way more than your share. We cannot get away with greed."

Again, just as in the case of Barbara Amiel Black, it's the case of a woman demonized for conveying an unrepentant desire for wealth and material possessions. She was too proud, and too greedy, and this behavior is not tolerated in women.

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