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Women Reflect On The Gender Issue And The Role It Plays In Politics

May 19, 2008

The race for the Democratic nomination can be one that every person in America can feel good about.  Two competent candidates, one a woman and the other an African-American, have waged a titanic struggle to represent their party in the general election.  They reflect what is great about our country, and the realization that our nation is making headway with a variety of issues, even if at times it seems too slow for many of us.  But as the days dwindle down in the primary season, and Barack Obama prepares for the fall campaign, women are reflecting on the political race that many had hoped would have placed the first woman as the nominee on a national ticket, it not actually in the White House.

I certainly want to see the day happen.  A woman as president is long overdue in our nation.  But I have long felt the same about wanting to see a black American achieve the same thing.  The fact that only one of the two proud Democratic candidates can actually win has created all sorts of thoughts for women who have hoped and worked for Hillary Clinton.  It is not easy for them to have come so far and missed the mark.  While I can write ‘that is politics’, I can’t leave it at that.  I fully understand that this race with Hillary Clinton was far more than just another race for the White House.  Just as I know that Barack Obama is not just another candidate running for the top job in the nation.  What we have witnessed this year is historic and we can be darn proud of both for helping to move our country ahead.  Each are transformative politicians that will leave a respectful mark whatever the outcome of the race.

While I have been tough on Hillary Clinton over her tactics and strategy to win, I have nothing but praise for what she has done to show that women are just as good on the campaign trail as any man.  That she was able to wage a fight that very well could have placed her in the Oval Office, in my estimation, is a victory for women everywhere.

The fallout of the failure for Clinton to have secured the nomination will take years to be understood.  But there are some early thoughts in today’s morning newspaper.

“Women felt this was their time, and this has been stolen from them,” said Marilu Sochor, 48, a real estate agent in Columbus, Ohio, and a Clinton supporter. “Sexism has played a really big role in the race.”

Not everyone agrees. “When people look at the arc of the campaign, it will be seen that being a woman, in the end, was not a detriment and if anything it was a help to her,” the presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said in an interview. Mrs. Clinton’s campaign is faltering, she added, because of “strategic, tactical things that have nothing to do with her being a woman.”

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Still, many credit Mrs. Clinton with laying down a new marker for what a woman can accomplish in a campaign — raising over $170 million, frequently winning more favorable reviews on debate performances than her male rivals, rallying older women, and persuading white male voters who were never expected to support her.

“She’s raised this whole woman candidate thing to a whole different level than when I ran,” said Geraldine Ferraro, a Clinton supporter and the first woman to be the vice-presidential nominee of a major party, contrasting her own brief stint as a running mate in 1984 with Mrs. Clinton’s 17-month-and-counting slog.

Ms. Goodwin and others say Mrs. Clinton was able to convert the sexism she faced on the trail into votes and donations, extending the life of a candidacy that suffered a serious blow at the Iowa caucuses. Like so many women before, she was heckled (in New Hampshire, a few men told her to iron their shirts) and called nasty names (“How do we beat the bitch?” Senator John McCain was asked at one campaign event).

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Janet Napolitano, the Democratic governor of Arizona, said the world was different now, especially the political world, thanks in part to Mrs. Clinton. “I never heard anybody say she can’t be elected because she’s a woman,” said Ms. Napolitano, who supports Mr. Obama and like many of his supporters saw less sexism in the race than Mrs. Clinton’s backers. “That’s a different deal than we’ve heard before in American politics.”

But as others watched a campaign that starred two possibly transformative figures, they felt a growing conviction that the contest was unfair. Mrs. Clinton’s supporters point to a nagging series of slights: the fixation on her clothes, even her cleavage; chronic criticism that her voice is shrill; calls for her to exit the race; and most of all, the male commentators in the news media who, they argue, were consistently tougher on her than on Mr. Obama.

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Whatever barriers Mrs. Clinton may have smashed, she left some intact for future contenders to try themselves against. She seemed uncertain how to reconcile her sex with her political persona. Though she projected an aura of authority, said Robert Shrum, a Democratic consultant unaffiliated with any candidate, she variously cast herself as a victim of male domination, a warm girlfriend type and, at the end, an indefatigable warrior. She even made contradictory statements about whether sex should be a factor in the race.

Mrs. Clinton ran into trouble with some of the classic hurdles that women who are politicians face, historians and sociologists said. “It was the same conversations we’ve been having since the ’70s,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Take the need to project toughness and warmth simultaneously. The test is unfair, many say, because men are not subjected to it as harshly and because it is nearly impossible not to err on one side. Still, some say Mrs. Clinton went overboard on toughness.

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6 Comments
  1. May 26, 2008 10:41 PM

    @Hans

    Been there quite a while now. I reserve the right to change my mind, of course. 🙂

  2. Hans permalink
    May 26, 2008 5:44 PM

    @ PiedType

    Well then I welcome you to the Obama supporters camp 😉

  3. May 26, 2008 5:21 PM

    Sexism, feminism, gender. Hillary shouldn’t be considering these. She is what she is, and she’s running for an office where she’ll be representing ALL of us. You don’t hear Obama saying he should win because he’s a man, or because he’s black; nor does he use these as excuses for anything. Ditto for McCain and his age, race, and gender. I’m a 65-year-old white woman, and that doesn’t mean Hillary has my vote in her back pocket (or tucked in her bra). I’m an independent voter, and my vote will go to the person I think will do best job as president of ALL of us.

  4. May 19, 2008 1:33 AM

    I was watching the pundits debate what went wrong in Clinton’s campaign. I think it was the decision not to go after Iowa with everything she had. She was running as the “inevitable” candidate, which is hard to do when you lose the first race out of the gate.
    Of course, I liked one answer I heard. Someone said, to the question of what her campaign did wrong, “Run against Barack.”

  5. borealdreams permalink
    May 19, 2008 1:24 AM

    Very well put and I have to agree with you. Hillary’s downfall 99% traceable to errors in strategic planning made by her & her campaign, and had little if any to do with sexism.

    “I never heard anybody say she can’t be elected because she’s a woman,” said Ms. Napolitano, who supports Mr. Obama and like many of his supporters saw less sexism in the race than Mrs. Clinton’s backers. “That’s a different deal than we’ve heard before in American politics.”

    I think it could be argued persuasively, that people of the Democratic Party base are; educated, open minded & more issue oriented, whereby the gender of the candidate has little if any to do with their decisions in who they believe to be best candidate for what they want to accomplish. The outward displays of sexist attitudes, did not come from the Democratic loyalists, rather they came from the hard right or right leaning independents. And the only reason they made a difference in the Democratic primaries was in the open primaries & caucuses like Ohio & Texas, where cross-over “never caught dead voting Democratic in the general” voted for Hillary to inflate her numbers and keep here in the race.

    Could sexism be called a determining factor in the general if Hillary had won the nomination, which she cannot now, and then was slated against John McCain? Absolutely! All the aforementioned right leaning Independents, necessary to win the General Election, but not the primaries, would have had all they needed to choose a lessor candidate McCain, over a female candidate, Hillary Clinton. This is what is lost upon the pundits, the media and especially the Clinton campaign. Her defeat in the democratic nomination, where where they were closed primaries/caucuses, showed a very accurate judgment of the voters based on qualifications, not gender. Open primaries, now that is another story and that is not the responsibility of the Democratic base.

    For me and the many in the Democratic base, Hillary’s downfall started even before she “started” the actual primaries, by voting to authorize the war. The base was looking for some “apology” on any level, knowing full well, her decision to authorize was based largely on looking strong on National Defense & Military Issues, for future ambitions of being President. Hillary’s staunch decision to ignore what the party loyalists required of her, as strongly stated in the mid-term elections of 2006, was enough for many voters who considered her potential of a strong candidate to make an easy decision to go for Obama who opposed the war from the beginning. Mrs. Clinton’s “slap in the face” of those that brought large changes to Congress in 2006, is the predominate reason for the situation she finds her self in. Her decision to fight the will of the party and “throw in everything, including the kitchen sink” is nothing more but the icing on the cake.

    The Clinton Campaign & Supporter’s claim of “Sexism,” I believe to be the exact opposite of reality. It is not the base that is choosing a male over a female, but rather it is a large portion of her female supporters that are siding with her solely because she is a woman, and that “they have fought for years to break the glass ceiling,” they somehow rationalize they are “entitled” to have a female President regardless of whether she is the best candidate or not. “Sexism” is being used by those who claim they are being slighted by sexism itself! And once again, another contradiction within the Clinton Campaign comes to light which the majority of the party base has already realized.

    Hillary’s downfall is her own making. The Clinton supporters unwavering loyalty is a contradiction in unto itself. The question being, will recognize their own faults and make right, or will they choose to take down the better candidate and entire party in the process because they cannot admit the contradictions & fault are self-made?

    p.s. This originally was only to be a short comment, that morphed into a much deeper thought, so I posted it on my own blog as seen here at Too Much Information Anonymous

  6. May 19, 2008 1:09 AM

    As a woman I was initially happy/proud/joyous that Sen Clinton was running for president. I have been watching this campaign closely and realize that many women have been projecting the qualities they think the first female candidate should have onto Clinton. They have on rose colored glasses. If you look carefully you will see that Clinton is not a heroine.

    Hillary says she is running as a woman, but never gives a speech on gender because angry white men, would not be pleased by this and she needs their base. So patriarchy, or
    sexual discrimination, or the structural hierarchy of masculinity with its racialized and class aspects is never mentioned in her campaign. She never once mentions the unacceptable misogyny of this country, or the sexual hierarchy of the labor force, or any of the great racial and class inequities that define women’s lives today. This is a misuse and abuse of her gender on such a world stage. Hillary should not be allowed to push feminism backwards for her own political ambition.

    It is not surprising that it is older white women who disproportionately support her. They identify with old notions of womanhood — a homogenized notion that all females share an identity, and race and class. This is why younger women and progressive women from the civil rights and women’s movements, some of whom are older, disproportionately support Obama.

    She has never spoken on behalf of women or as a candidate with a woman’s agenda, let alone as a feminist when she was in the White House. Her one speech addressing the exploitation of women was delivered in Beijing, China, as though it is only women outside, but not inside the U.S. who face untold discrimination.

    Now she runs for president and has become a gun-toting, war mongering woman who asks for your vote if you are an angry white Reagan Democrat. Maybe she thinks manly gender is the answer for breaking glass ceilings for women. I would argue that she is not breaking gender boundaries but rather has embraced and extended masculine/misogyny for females. She remains female in body and hence parades as a decoy for feminist claims. And she has turned herself into decoy that takes attention away from women and children issues.

    Hillary is having success with white male support because she is willing to battle, and engage in rough play like one of the boys. She is supposedly willing to “join the brawl” and as such has won their confidence. She has “broke through the glass floor and got down with the boys.”

    Hillary has proven that sometimes the best man for the job may be a female posing to be a man. In other words, Hillary has simply clothed herself in men’s tactics and strategies. She can nuke with the best of them. Hillary not only authorized the war in Iraq but she repeatedly continued to do so for several more years—up until the time she began running for president. She allowed, along with Bill Clinton, the egregious trade blockade against Iraq as hundreds of thousands of children starved to death after the `91 war. She more recently has supported Israel’s terror
    bombing of Lebanon and has newly endorsed “the total obliteration” of Iran.

    But this is just part of the sad story. Hillary’s embrace of a masculinist machismo embraces the very misogyny that most feminists want to dismantle. Instead of challenging the gender divide Hillary simply slides over to the other side of it. Instead of offering a new vision of what it might mean to have a female president she offers us old versions of privilege and war mongering.

    Hillary Clinton should never be demeaned for being a woman. But being a woman comes in all colors and classes.

    Hillary’s manipulation and misrepresentation of her gender reveals her sexual decoy status. Being female is not enough to allow one to claim their gender as a political tactic. Such claims must be rooted in a commitment to end gender discrimination and their racial and class formulations; not pit races and classes against each other in the hopes of being the first woman president.

    Clinton does not share a political identity with women of all classes and colors and nations simply because
    she has a female body. She first needs to claim that body and demand rights for it — reproductive, day care, health, education, etc. She has no multi-racial woman’s agenda because she has no anti-racist agenda.

    Meanwhile she is thrilled that she won big in West Virginia. West Virginia is “almost heaven” to Hillary. She says it shows the country that she can win the “hardworking white Americans” in November. But West Virginia is not heaven, nor is it like much of the rest of the country. It may look like what the U.S. used to be, but that is exactly the point.

    W. VA does not have the diversity of color, age, culture that defines the U.S. today. Neither does Hillary’s vision.
    Hillary is a sexual decoy. She looks like a woman but is not a feminist nor does she speak for or on behalf of most women.

    Please excuse my long reply. I’m sure there are many grammatical errors — forgive me!

    Paulette
    http://www.letustalk.wordpress.com

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