Brigitte L. Nacos
During one of Hillary Clinton’s last campaign appearances before the primary in New Hampshire, two men screamed, “iron my shirt!” in an obvious effort to tell Hillary supporters that a woman’s role is that of a house-wife and her place the kitchen and laundry room—not in the White House. If you think that these two guys were rare chauvinist nuts among otherwise enlightened people without gender prejudices, you are living in a make-believe world. Males, white males, are still holding the power in America—including in the media corporations and the news rooms—and they are in excellent positions to influence the public climate—for better and for worse. Which is not to say that women in influential positions, especially those in the media, are free of these traditional prejudices or have chosen to embrace them, if only to prove that they are not weak sisters but as tough or tougher than the boys on the bus and in the news room. Just read the columns of Maureen Dowd and Gail Collins in the New York Times and you get the general picture. According to Reuters, Noami Wolf rejects the idea that “gender will determine whether the U.S. senator from New York and wife of former President Bill Clinton stands or falls… None of the polling or the focus groups indicate that people are ... (snubbing) her because she is a woman but because of a deficit in how she is projecting leadership.” I believe that Wolf is wrong. Neither the shapers of public’s perceptions nor voters will openly display gender bias. But the unbalanced reporting of the last several months and weeks undoubtedly worked on the Democratic side in favor of Barack Obama and against Hillary Clinton.
As Gloria Steinem wrote in an op-ed article in the New York Times, the early stage of this candidate selection process has followed “our historical pattern of making change. Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter)."
Since Senator Clinton’s qualifications for the highest job in the land are difficult to attack, gender stereotypes have been used to trample her personal traits, her character, her sincerity. She has been characterized as robotic machine, shrill, tough, ruthless. In comments below articles on Clinton’s changing fortunes on the Washington Post web site, she was called a bitch, cold-hearted, an “so obsessed with getting the nomination she has lost focus on the issues and her cause.” After a campaign-tired Clinton teared up during a conversation with women in New Hampshire, reporters asked witnesses of the incident whether it was a purposely produced display of her human side. Like Geraldine Ferraro as candidate for the vice-presidency and other female candidates for executive offices before her, Hillary Clinton’s news coverage is different than that of male candidates and affects public perceptions of her and her rivals.
She cannot criticize her male rivals without being attacked by some talking
or writing heads. How is this for an example? One of the talking heads on
yesterday’s MSNBC’s “Hardball Chris” show suggested that
Clinton cannot dare to attack Obama because he is now leading a movement!” Like Gloria Steinem, I do not oppose Senator Obama, former Senator Edwards, or Governor Richardson. But I resent the persistent anti-Hillary bias in the mainstream media and the far kinder coverage of her male rivals.
This state of affairs fits well into the scenario that conservative pundit William Kristol revealed the other day, when he wrote in the New York Times:
"Thank you, Senator Obama. You’ve defeated Senator Clinton in Iowa. It looks as if you’re about to beat her in New Hampshire. There will be no Clinton Restoration. A nation turns its grateful eyes to you. But gratitude for sparing us a third Clinton term only goes so far. Who, inquiring minds want to know, is going to spare us a first Obama term? After all, for all his ability and charm, Barack Obama is still a liberal Democrat. Some of us would much prefer a non-liberal and non-Democratic administration. We don’t want to increase the scope of the nanny state, we don’t want to undo the good done by the appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, and we really don’t want to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory in Iraq.” He then suggests that Mike Huckabee is the one who “could credibly and comfortably make the socially conservative case in an electorally advantageous way.”
In other words, after the female candidate is knocked out, Kristol foresees the same fate for the black male nominee. Who cares about Kristol’s ideas? Obviously the New York Times, who just added him to the stable of her columnists.