Kinds of sexism?

The following quoted passages are from Hana Schank, Salon, Mar. 2,2016. I’m quoting her observations for a number of reasons. One is that they deeply resonated with me. At one point in her essay she says,

Then a few weeks ago I heard a clip on the radio of a young man questioning Clinton at a town hall meeting in Iowa. “I’ve heard from quite a few people my age that they think you’re dishonest,” he said. “But I’d like to hear from you on why you think the enthusiasm isn’t there.”

It was subtle, but there was something in his tone I recognized. It was not a tone you would use to speak to someone who was a former secretary of state and senator. It was the tone you reserve for that dumb chick in your meeting who probably doesn’t know what she’s talking about. It was a tone I’d heard countless times over the course of my career, and in that moment I suddenly saw Hillary Clinton in an entirely different light.

I cannot be the only one who is sick to death (as it is said) of such treatment. And it happened again to me at the Pacific APA 2016, though the specific APA form is better described in the italicized passage below.

A second reason for thinking about the passage is that she rather casually refers to two kinds of sexism, and it is worth asking how complete her distinction is. Is she looking at kinds of sexism principally experienced by white women, for example? And might we also put domestic violence against women in a very different class? I have also thought it could be profitable for us to look at the sexism Hillary Clinton is now encountering. At least one kind is “Cut her absolutely no slack.” I’ve seen this sort of sexism at work in job interviews, but women were always the targets. Perhaps that is just my experience.

A third reason is to bring out the interesting ideas in this passage, “And the female politicians we “like” are few and far between, because they remind us of our mothers or wives or that girl you hated in gymnastics class. We don’t have a frame of reference for what it looks like for women to be running the show, so if she’s not a man, she comes across as all wrong.” I am reminded her of Dr Johnson’s comparison of women who think with dogs walking on two feet. Roughly, “It isn’t that it is done well; the remarkable thing is that it is done at all.”

The larger passage; let me stress here that I am not endorsing her diagnosis of the millennial women supporting Sanders; I am rather concerned the sexism that is surfacing in the media:

And in that moment… I knew I would support Hillary. Not just because we both have a uterus (thank you, Killer Mike). Not because I’m afraid of going to a special place in hell (thank you, Madeleine Albright). I’m supporting her because as a member of Generation X, I’ve lived through enough to understand that if Hillary were a man she’d be the front-runner hands-down. I haven’t suffered the overt sexism of earlier generations, but in its place has come a more oblique, more insidious variant. It’s the kind that makes you question whether the fault might lie with you and your abilities. It gives rise to questions about why people aren’t enthusiastic about you, why they didn’t like it when you took a strident tone with them and then, when you adjusted course, complained that you weren’t aggressive enough, or why there’s something about you that just feels wrong. In politics people call this likability. And the female politicians we “like” are few and far between, because they remind us of our mothers or wives or that girl you hated in gymnastics class. We don’t have a frame of reference for what it looks like for women to be running the show, so if she’s not a man, she comes across as all wrong. In the tech world people don’t talk about “likability.” Instead they say, “Mike is going to present to the client because he’s got a great style. But don’t worry, you’ll still have a few slides that you can really own.”

I suspect that the millennial women who are supporting Bernie may simply not have gotten to a place in life where they’ve experienced this kind of chronic, internalized, institutional sexism. In order for someone to ignore you at a senior level, you need be old enough to have reached that level, and most millenials [sic] aren’t quite there yet. They’re still where I was in my early 30s, hopeful that we’ve come through the other side to a post-sexist world. Because nothing says “sexism is dead” like a woman voting for Bernie.

As much as we may want the battle to be over, the truth is that there is still much more to fight for. I understand that Hillary may not feel to voters like the perfect candidate in the same way that I don’t feel to clients like the perfect technology consultant. I understand what it’s like to be the most qualified person in the room and still be overlooked in favor of the charismatic guy just because, well, you’d rather have a beer with him. And I know that until the world sees what it looks like for this country to have a female president, we’re going to forever be finding reasons not to vote for one. I’m done finding those reasons. I’m voting for Hillary.

Hana Schank

5 thoughts on “Kinds of sexism?

  1. Just a minor fact-checking point: Johnson said that about women who *preach*, not about women who think. The context is Boswell’s reporting that he had seen a woman preaching at a Quaker meeting (*Life*, 31 July 1763).

  2. Regarding the final passage: I suppose one quick comment is that the gender relations involved in Clinton’s campaign are far too complicated to sum up with “if Hillary were a man she’d be the front-runner hands-down.”

    For one, she *is* the front-runner. Hands-down. She’s way ahead in the Democratic primaries, and she’s defeating both of the top Republican candidates in polls for the general election. That’s a front-runner, and I can’t think of anyone else in the presidential race right now who has even close to as much a chance as Clinton of becoming the next President (the betting markets say the same thing). But, second, I can’t imagine Hillary Clinton as a man, and so I have no intuitions there. Her political history is inextricably tied to her gender, as far as I can tell. She has good experience at holding office (e.g., a term as Senator, a term as Secretary of State), but much of her experience comes from her unique perspective as First Lady in the White House and in Arkansas. That’s a unique skill set that only a woman could have in American politics in 2016.

  3. Matt, Nice points.
    I am not sure what, if anything, is the literal meaning of ‘If Hillary were a man…’, but I think we can read it as saying ‘a man with Hillary’s experience would be … ‘. And even here we’d have to read it as a generic; that is, it doesn’t mean “all men with Hillary’s experience would be front-runners”. I’m rusty on generics, so I’d have to look up the literature for a plausible positive reading of the conditional.

  4. Well, I’m not sure the lit on generics would help much. It’s more than Clinton’s experience is unique in American politics in part because of how it’s gendered. And Hillary Clinton is literally the only living American with her experience set. I mean, some of it crosses over well (8 years a senator, secretary of state for a term, corporate boards, lawyer, etc.). But a big part of her executive experience is that she transformed the role of First Lady by playing a very active part in her husband’s first term as President and his governorship in Arkansas. No man in the US has ever done anything like that (no woman has either, with the possible/probable exception of Eleanor Roosevelt).

    But, anyway, part of why I raised the issue was that the Democratic Party ran three candidates in the 2016 who are exceptionally well qualified by conventional US political norms: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley. All three are uncontroversially more qualified than Barack Obama was in 2008. It just seems like the exercise that author was running fit much more clearly with the 2008 campaign than this one.

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