Christine Quinn Didn't Lose Because of Sexism

The New York Times is asking "questions" about the "role of gender and sexuality" in Christine Quinn's loss in the Democratic primary to be mayor of New York. Our answer: the numbers show that Quinn didn't lose because of sexism.

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Christine Quinn could have been the first woman (not to mention the first lesbian) mayor of New York City, but she wasn't able to make it happen. Exit polls show that in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, she didn't carry the gay vote, Bill de Blasio did. She only got 16 percent of the women's vote, finishing behind de Blasio and Thompson. But Kate Taylor and Jodi Kantor at The New York Times are still asking "questions" about the "role of gender and sexuality" in Quinn's loss. Our answer: the numbers show that Quinn didn't lose because of sexism.

The Times admits that there are a lot of reasons why Quinn didn't best de Blasio, but then they go on to provide anecdotes of voters talking about Quinn's clothes, anyway:

Critiques of Ms. Quinn’s physical attributes came from many corners, even the wealthy Upper East Side women who helped raise money for her mayoral bid. “Why can’t she dress better?’” they would ask Rachel Lavine, a Democratic state committeewoman who was on Ms. Quinn’s finance committee . . . "Why isn’t she wearing a size two St. John’s dress?"

Lavine noted, “You don’t hear that about de Blasio — ‘Why can’t he buy better-looking suits?’ ”

According to Molly Ball at The Atlantic, however, the long-held belief that talking about women's clothes is sexist and hurts their chances in elections isn't true. A study by political scientists Danny Hayes and Jennifer Lawless that shows that out of "4,000 articles about congressional races in 350 districts; just 4 percent of the stories, they found, mentioned a candidate's appearance, and women were just as likely as men to be described in such terms." So, men get called out for schlubby outfits just as often as women do. 

Gloria Steinem, who endorsed Quinn, told the Times, "if you’re tough enough to run New York City, you’re too tough to be considered acceptably feminine." The Times reports that Quinn's supporters were worried "that the very qualities that had brought [Quinn] this far — drive, ambition, toughness — could make her unlikable to many." 

But according to exit polls, Quinn was unlikable because she campaigned to be Michael Bloomberg's fourth term. Seventy-five percent of voters said the new mayor should move away from Bloomberg's policies. Quinn, according to those polls, "held a broad edge among the 20 percent who preferred to keep the city moving in Bloomberg's direction." De Blasio carried about half of the vote among those who were seeking change for the city. 

Steinem also admits that de Blasio's policies better appealed to women. She says he "took over the language of gender" when he proposed to expand preschool programs with a tax increase. Taylor and Kantor point out that de Blasio bested Quinn on the stop-and-frisk issue. 

Despite a few Upper East Side ladies questioning Quinn's fashion choices during the campaign, it's pretty clear that Quinn didn't lose because she wasn't wearing a St. John suit. De Blasio just proved to be a better politician.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.