What sexism?


Now that Democratic contest is beginning to look more and more like a victory lap for Barack Obama, there is a growing chorus of criticism that Hillary Clinton was undone by sexism and misongyny. Here, for example. And here. I hear it from fellow female journalists too. But I have trouble buying it. Clinton fatigue, yes. But here’s the part that doesn’t add up for me: Obama was beating her among the demographics that seem to be the least sexist or generally bigoted or traditionalist: young people, college kids, people with a higher education, urban dwellers. She tended to win the group that one might expect to be the most resistant to electing the first woman president: blue-collar workers, older voters of both genders, rural voters.

I understand the deep disappointment many women feel about the way things turned out. And yes, there were some sexist things said about Clinton. Yes, hecklers once shouted she should go iron their shirts. But a shockingly large number of voters told exit polls that race was an important factor in their vote against Obama. Some voters told campaign workers openly they would never vote for a black man. A woman I met in Indiana was heckled in a market for wearing an Obama t-shirt. And let’s not forget the white guy. During the Republican primary race, I was surprised by how many GOP voters told me they would not vote for John McCain because he was “too old.”

Prejudices are abounding on all sides. I’m just not buying the sexism argument as a major force behind the result of the race. I’m sure many readers will disagree. But I think Peggy Noonan captures the problem I have with the sexism argument here:

“Tough hill-country men voted for her, men so backward they’d give the lady a chair in the union hall. Tough Catholic men in the outer suburbs voted for her, men so backward they’d call a woman a lady. And all of them so naturally courteous that they’d realize, in offering the chair or addressing the lady, that they might have given offense, and awkwardly joke at themselves to take away the sting. These are great men. And Hillary got her share, more than her share, of their votes.”


What sexism?

  1. I think you’re right about this Luiza. The numbers and the patterns really seem to suggest that Obama’s race was more of a hurdle than Clinton’s gender.
    One aspect of this I sometimes wonder about is the impact that plain, old-fashioned boredom played into Clinton’s decline. I know that’s not a terribly sophisticated analysis. But in a campaign where the word “change” was featured in practically every other sentence, I wonder if Clinton fell victim a little bit to her long-running status as the “presumptive nominee.” People were talking about Hilary as the lead contender as far back as 2006 (or maybe further – you’d know better than I) and I wonder if some Democrats didn’t just get bored with the idea of President Hillary Clinton.

  2. I’m not so sure it’s as simple as what is portrayed here. Exit polls show that either gender or race were factors for many African-Americans and Caucasian voters in the Democratic primaries.

    For some liberal voters this election offers an historic opportunity to demonstrate that they are not racist. (see sites like Slate and Salon and even the NYT for columns espousing this position) That priority automatically excludes other candidates.

    Some of the most sexist stuff on the internet has come from college campuses as well as from the mainstream media. Young, urban and well-educated men seem to be more sexist than what many of us would have expected in 2008. That’s the surprise of this Democratic competition.

    Ironic, isn’t it that the demographic groups whom we stereotype appear to vote in ways that counter our expectations?

    And troublesome that the policies and experience of the candidates is of lesser importance to so many voters.

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