Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Man vs Woman

I recently saw a short article related to remarks made by President Obama concerning the closeness of the presidential race (according to the latest polls), and the possibility that sexism is at work.  His point was that while Hillary Clinton has been involved in the difficult decisions of the recent past, whether via her votes in the Senate or as Secretary of State, Donald Trump has no experience in world politics, and seems unconcerned with his lack of knowledge of the intricacies of recent global events, generally falling back on his all encompassing phrase, "trust me, I know more about (fill in the blank) than the experts".

In some ways, Obama's comments support those made about him when he first ran for president in 2008.  While there is clearly no warm up position for being President of the United States, I believe that Obama is admitting both his struggle to learn while on the job, and the importance of having some experience in this incredibly challenging job.  I would imagine that a truthful account of the Obama Presidency, once he publishes it, will include multiple accounts of how he wished he had had more experience in dealing with his foes, both domestic and international, and hopefully, how he learned from his missteps.

Of course, Trump spent much time and energy questioning Obama's nationality and religious affiliation, while, despite their sometime rancorous nomination battle in 2008, Obama and Clinton have worked well together in the last 8 years.  The fact that Obama would support someone who he has worked with, and who respects his leadership, over someone who questions his very patriotism, not to mention rights as an American, should come as no surprise.  The question is, how much sexism still exists in America, and is it at work at some level in this election.

Whether sexism still exists in America, seems without a doubt.  The battle over equal pay for equal work, or precisely the fact that there should even be a battle, is a good start.  The fact that women occupy 20% of the seats in Congress yet comprise over 50% of the population, that a similar percentage exists for women who are CEO's, and that women who risk their lives while serving their country yet are sexually harassed at a shameful rate, all point to the premise that women are seen less as individuals, more as female, where female indicates traits not as attractive as those associated with men.

Even our language is full of prejudice.  Synonyms for female are words like dainty, tender, gentle, soft, docile, submissive.  Certainly not words that promote confidence in a world portrayed as full of evil and terrorism.  Conversely, synonyms for male are tough, virile, robust, potent, vigorous, heroic. When we have a baseline which leans so heavily in favor of male over female candidates, it is easy to see how questioning the health of the woman finds a ready audience, just as linking irrational responses to a women's monthly cycle can find nodding heads among some of the electorate.  The fact that Clinton has probably passed through menopause, and that Trump routinely demonstrates a wide range of emotional reactions when challenged or questioned, doesn't seem to eliminate the unconscious belief that men are logical and stoic, women emotional and reactionary.  Even more ironic, Clinton is sometimes criticized for her lack of emotion; she is called cold when she acts as a man, irrational when she responds with emotion.

Clinton has a long history of public service, has been in the public eye for much of her adult life. Unlike most people, the details of her life have been fodder for public discourse, from her days as the wife of Governor Bill Clinton, through her times as a lawyer, her struggles with Bill's infidelity, her work as First Lady, her time as a US Senator for New York, her work as Secretary of State and now her run for the president. Obviously, there have been mistakes and errors in judgement, all revealed before our eyes.

Trump, on the other hand, while also being in the public eye, has controlled much of that exposure as is the option for someone in the private sector.  We know he was divorced twice, yet do we remember those divorces, know the details of the break-ups?  We know his businesses have declared bankruptcy numerous times, which means that many of his vendors, small businesses as well as large, were never paid for services rendered, but do we know just how many companies his failed ventures hurt?  Both are wealthy, yet Clinton has to apologize for her wealth, goes our of her way to pay the highest tax rate possible, while Trump brags that he is a billionaire, and that he pays as little taxes as possible although we don't know how much that is as he has refused to make his returns public.  Is this double standard merely due to one being a public figure, one a private one, or is there a bit of sexism involved that allows a man to bend or break the rules while requiring the women to follow the law to the letter?

Clearly, if the histories of the two were compared, most objective observers might conclude that Clinton was the least tainted.  (Although not perfectly unbiased, the Wikipedia entry on each has some interesting facts).  I am the first to admit, no desire, that politicians maintain a cleaner record than business people, even though there is much patronage in both professions.  Are we giving Trump a pass because, as he has readily admitted, he donated to both parties knowing they would answer when he called in a favor, while ridiculing Clinton for her associations with special interests, because we expect more from our public servants, because we turn a blind eye to the realities of Big Money in politics, or because we expect men to play the game but want our women to remain above the fray?

I have recently evolved to an electoral litmus test that says, all else being equal, vote for the woman.
I believe we need less testosterone in politics, less rough men who espouse tough love for those living in poverty while holding thousand dollar a plate dinners to fund their next election.  Less bravado which sends young people to foreign lands for reasons never fully explained.  Less concern about being seen as virile, and more concern for those the most vulnerable.

I don't envy Hillary Clinton, or anyone who is trying to be the first at something as the asterisk goes both ways, with some postulating that the first was chosen because of the trait that made them different, not because of their qualifications.  The good news is that with every first, the populace becomes that much less sensitized to noticing one's race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.  Will we soon see a black, gay, atheist woman in the White House?  Perhaps not, but I believe that more women at the helm of American businesses, and our democracy, will go a long way to making America even greater than it is today.


No comments:

Post a Comment