Back in February, the Washington Post published an article examining the key research about whether Americans are more likely to dislike women politicians because of their sex.
"Basically, voters thought about the candidates in gender-neutral ways," wrote Nichole Bauer. "In fact, one study found a slight edge for female candidates. Feminine stereotypes have no statistically significant effect on support for the female or the male candidate."
You might look at that finding and reasonably conclude that voters don’t penalize politicians for being women, and that therefore Hillary Clinton’s gender hasn’t posed too great of an obstacle to her presidential aspirations.
But on the latest episode of The Weeds, Vox’s Matt Yglesias, Sarah Kliff, and Ezra Klein dive into the other ways gender discrimination has hurt Clinton — both in the choices she’s been forced to make and how her strengths may be underestimated because she's a woman. (You can listen below or download the podcast on iTunes.)
For instance, Matt notes that Hillary Clinton’s ambitions have long had to take a back seat to her husband’s career, and as a result she faces ties to '90s-eras politics that have opened her up to criticism throughout the campaign. That vulnerability doesn't appear obviously the result of gender discrimination, but it still stems from our broader societal norms around male and female roles.
There’s lot of evidence that women are held back by various large-scale social conventions that many of the people who are held back by family circumstances are women. That’s why on a society-wide level you see this.
Women who achieve launch velocity do just as well who also do that. But there are big-picture reasons, some related to social norms and some related to structural consequences in work places more generally, why fewer women put themselves forward.
Hillary Clinton’s life story seems pretty emblematic of this. They’re young; Bill and Hillary are both graduates of a top law school. They get married, but they move back to Bill’s home state because Bill is from Arkansas and can be a politician there. Hillary can’t, really. Bill is governor — there’s this "two for the price of one" rhetoric, about how Hillary is a competent professional person who has the skills to be in government, but in a practical sense that means she’s part-timing helping her husband out in his important job.
Eventually, Hillary becomes a senator, a secretary of state, a presidential candidate, but she's at an age where normal people are retiring but is just now reaching this career peak. And by the time she's in a position to do that, she's facing a lot of problems in her political persona that aren’t so much because she’s a woman but because she’s been a high-level political persona for 1,000 years. So she has all this weird baggage from the cultural politics from the mid-'90s.
On one level, she’s facing these problems because she’s been around so long. But the reason why the first woman who can win has been in public life for a bajillion years has to deal with the structural position of women in American society and culture.
- Sarah Kliff’s essay as a 23-year-old for Newsweek during the 2008 campaign
- Her recent revisiting of that essay to reflect on the 2016 campaign, for Vox
- Why Hillary Clinton being the first major party female nominee is a big deal
- Ezra Klein’s article on why Clinton is an extraordinary politician
- A look back at some of Clinton’s '90s-era baggage
- Harvard’s Claudia Goldin on the gender pay gap
- Why Clinton may prove a good general election candidate against Trump