Hillary’s Bias Problems Have Deep Cultural Roots
By Elizabeth L. Keathley – WeNews commentator
(WOMENSENEWS)–Earlier in the primary contest, when comedian Chris Rock quipped on “Saturday Night Live” that Barack Obama was more disadvantaged than Hillary Clinton because “everyone loves white women . . . except other white women,” he might have been channelling the mid-20th century philosopher Simone de Beauvoir.
Beauvoir famously argued that women had difficulty uniting and supporting each other because their livelihood and status depended on a “good” marriage. Their competition for husbands engendered envy and hindered female bonding.
Although Chris Rock’s joke sparks a laugh of recognition, we should acknowledge that white women are actually the ones showing Hillary the greatest love at the ballot box, voting for her in primary after primary.
That suggests that other women are not the enemy of Hillary nor, for that matter, of all other women. Rather, the enemy is culture and history.
The socio-economic changes of 19th-century Europe and America gave momentum to the international women’s movement. Urbanization stripped unmarried women of their traditional, agrarian occupations, while numerous wars depleted the population of available husbands to support them. Women sought traditionally male occupations and civil rights, but these “first wave” feminists of the late 19th century reaped opprobrium and physical abuse for violating the ideals of domesticity, humility and deference to men.
Two centuries later, the ideal of separate spheres for men and women still holds sway in the public imagination and fuels the petty media criticism of Hillary that gets so much attention.
…Hillary’s double bind plays out for women across this country. I see it in my own experience as a college professor as well as that of my female colleagues. Even though professional competence should matter most, we are excoriated for failures of femininity. Students, for instance, expect us to be more nurturing and indulgent. When we hold them to academic standards–in other words, when we do our jobs–we are often labelled harsh.
Interviewing Hillary after the New Hampshire primary, Katie Couric–a woman who should understand the double bind–pressed Hillary to be more “humble” about her chances to win the Democratic nomination. But similar bravado by male candidates has gone unquestioned. The cultural code is clear: The confidence of the public campaign is masculine; women should stick to the humility of traditional femininity.
Gender, of course, also inflects the perception of age. In spite of decades of criticism of this practice, the visual delectation of female bodies remains the dominant pop-culture lens for viewing women: Age is a liability for women, an asset for men.
This perception of middle-aged women as hopelessly out of date assists the media’s easy dismissal of Clinton after every setback, most notably her loss at the Iowa caucuses.
Pundits rationalized their wrong predictions in several ways, but the idea of Hillary as a has-been was preconditioned by a long tradition of late-night television jokes about her putative lack of sex appeal. For example, last week David Letterman remarked sarcastically that Hillary’s pantsuits make her look “even hotter.”