Sexism Alive and Well

So these historic Dem primaries pose a question: which is the biggest barrier to getting elected president, gender or race?

In all honesty I spend a lot more time ruminating on the inequities of race than I do gender. I can list countless times where I have been made to feel "less" or "other" due to my slanted eyes, and very few times due to my vagina. But what I suspected might be the case, and what is becoming increasingly obvious, is that gender is the bigger barrier, possibly because it is more invisible.

First, there is the more obvious stuff like criticizing Clinton's personal features - her hair, her clothes, her voice, her laugh. These are petty criticisms that for the most part would not be directed at men. I was appalled one day upon entering an online forum to find a (female) member had posted an especially unflattering picture of Clinton, with the challenge to write an equally unflattering caption. But unflattering pictures of Clinton abound in the media.

Then, we had to witness Edwards, Obama, and the supposedly neutral moderator, Charles Gibson, gang up on Clinton during the "debate" on Jan. 5th. "Gang up" is a loaded term but I see no nicer way to put. How else does one explain the debate moderator thinking it reasonable to ask Clinton why so many voters found her "unlikeable"? The animus was so obvious that poor Bill Richardson remarked, "I’ve been in hostage negotiations that are a lot more civil than this."

When Clinton got angry over the attacks - a very human reaction - it was characterized by the media as a "meltdown." She doesn't even get to be called "angry" like a man, instead the media chose a word that implies feminine weakness, hysteria.

The challenge is that a lot of people think that just as long as you don't say, "I won't vote for a woman" then it's not sexism. They don't take into account all the other factors that make them less likely to vote for a woman. A lot of people think their animus towards Clinton is purely personal. I've heard people say, "I'm not against a woman president, just not that woman. On the surface, this seems reasonable, doesn't it? After all, we are allowed to dislike people on an individual level, for their personal flaws, without being accused of sexism (or racism for that matter).

But let's take a closer look at the personal flaws that Mrs. Clinton supposedly has.

I've heard that she's aggressive, ambitious, domineering. All of these traits are considered positive in men, but apparently unacceptable in women. No one accuses Barack Obama of being overly ambitious in his run for president, even tho he's only recently been elected to the Senate and Clinton has been elected twice. Why? Because a man who wants power is understandable, it does not conflict with accepted norms, whether he is black or white. But if a woman shows the same ambition it's perceived negatively. That kind of bias is sexism.

Pundits, in seeking to explain why Clinton won New Hampshire when they had written her off, are now saying that it's because she "cried." In doing so, she showed her human side. "Why," they ask, "didn't she do that before?," as if this were due solely to some personal failing on her part. But Clinton walks a fine line here. If she is hard, cold, and ambitious, she is seen as the bitch. If she is warm and approachable, she is seen as weak - NOT "Commander in Chief" material. If her misty eyes did help Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, the irony is that it came at the expense of what she's been trying to be all her life - strong, self-reliant... the traits that many of us look for in a president.

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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative