As the post-mortems of the Hillary campaign gear up, one of the things I'm starting to hear discussed is who suffered worse: Hillary from sexism, or Barack from racism?
I suppose you'd expect me to say this, but my vote goes to sexism. I think it is much harder to be perceived as a leader when you're a woman. Women always walk a fine line between looking weak and looking bitchy--indeed, I'm not sure the line's even there in upper management positions. Women have had a harder time making it into the CEO's office. Everyone watched Carly Fiorina's ascencion to the head of Hewlett Packard and her spectacular implosion, with the subtext that maybe a woman just can't run an important company. By contrast, how many of you knew that Stanley O'Neil had stepped down as CEO of Merrill Lynch after criticism of his performance--much less that he was black?
I don't mean to belittle the racism that clearly still exists, and there really do seem to be an appalling number of people who will not vote for a black man. But we don't have any cultural problem with images of black men as leaders--think of any of a hundred movies where black men are military leaders, politicians, family patriarchs, and so forth. By contrast, there aren't very many images of strong women successfully and sympathetically holding a traditionally male leadership role.
We've heard a lot of worry about what Barack Obama believes--is he a closet black nationalist? But much of the focus on Hillary Clinton is about who she is: a controlling ice queen, a petulant weakling using her tears to garner false sympathy. I've heard more than one man say to me that he couldn't vote for her because she reminds them of their mother. This carries with it a cultural presumption that we don't want a president with maternal qualities. Personally, I don't agree with her message. But I can think of worse things than having the president tell the federal agencies to clean up their damn rooms.
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