Because She’s a Woman

My almost perfect breakfast with my man on the veranda of our oceanside Santa Monica hotel in sunny 60 degree weather (supported by heat lamps – love ’em!) was marred by the media hype regarding Obama’s lead over Clinton in USA Today’s most recent poll (what do you want, on vacation it’s the nation’s newspaper or bust). Check out Weboy’s post below (maybe he’ll even provide the link for me here – ask and ye shall receive – ed.) and his final emphasis that HRC needs to distance herself from Bill to really charge ahead like many of us want and expected.

I am more saddened by this – hopefully temporary – turn of events than I anticipated. I don’t like Obama, and like my mother, I can’t articulate exactly why. It’s less about the man than the context of his rise – namely, his candidacy vis-a-vis our first serious female contender. This is how I see this race, removing the personalities of Obama and Clinton for the moment. If I was home, I’d take the time to link to the gender research supporting this perspective, but from this hotel lobby, my digital library is beyond my reach.

Clinton is 60; Obama is 46. She, like many women – especially of her generation – has had to wait for “her chance” to lead. She has had to follow on the heels of her husband, and, per our political process, has been able to lead in part because of the path he laid for his equally competent and sharp wife. But there is no question that she has come second, due to the general intersection of gender roles and life chances for men versus women. Now, her chance to lead the nation is seriously threatened by legitimate Clinton fatigue, and this noble if vacuous national desire for “change” that Weboy so clearly describes. Our ability to see her as an obvious choice for change is marred not only by some of her more centrist political stances, but by the sheer fact that she is indelibly linked to her husband’s past leadership. No male candidate – now, or ever, I bet – has to deal with that kind of gendered baggage. Including Obama, who as a light-skinned mixed-race male forty-something, can paint this eloquent picture of being not only unfettered by past personal political baggage, but can also use his race to paint himself as the only one who can unite our racially polarized country. Forgive me if I find his potential nomination less illuminating of this opportunity than if we nominated Jesse Jackson – the oft invoked other former black Presidential candidate (though there have been others), especially given Obama’s high support among people under the age of 35, some of whom are certainly, arguably believe a more racially equitable future is possible.

Then there is the issue of negative campaigning. A great deal of gender research reveals that women are penalized more heavily than men for acting aggressive or assertive; tests show that men and women alike sanction such behavior from women much more strongly. That Clinton is going negative against Obama can have significant costs for her that Edwards or Richardson would not face, that Obama would not face if/when he is negative towards Clinton. They simply do not face the same costs for adopting this particular strategy. According to the USA Today I have in front of me, Obama leads significantly among men, with almost 50% of their support. He is slightly ahead of Clinton among female supporters, in part because of the youth vote. Given the gendered risks of negative campaigning and baggage of campaigning in part on her husband’s record, Clinton’s road to the White House is uniquely difficult in a way that Obama and all the others (e.g., “high road” Huckabee, per Weboy) do not face.

Certainly, there is the reality of HRC’s strategic choices in her campaign, and that she would continue a perhaps-too-recent-for-many dynasty, but remember, we didn’t invoke dynastic fatigue when Dubya ran so soon after his father’s reign, even as it was so obvious we invaded Iraq to avenge his daddy somehow. Whatever people may believe about Clinton’s electability, or their personal feelings towards her, it is impossible to disentangle her gender from whatever outcomes we face in this primary.

And now I have to go walk on the beach with my boyfriend. Over to you, Weboy.


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