Through The Static

May 19, 2008

Testosterone is Not to Blame: Why Hillary Clinton’s Loss Has Nothing to do With Sexism

Filed under: Culture,Elections,Government,Politics,Race — disciplepete @ 5:42 pm

This is a good article by Tim Wise about the role sexism has played compared with the role racism has played in the Hillary vs. Obama thang. I’ll quote it at some length, but do read the whole thing if you’re so inclined.

Hillary Clinton is finished, and contrary to the insistence of many of her supporters, sexism has had virtually nothing to do with it…

…Please understand, when I say that sexism has had nothing to do with Clinton’s electoral demise, I don’t mean to suggest that there were no men out there who voted against her because of sexist, even misogynist views. I have no doubt there were. And it is certainly true that Clinton faced repeated denigration by male media pundits who played upon gender stereotypes and sexist imagery in their criticisms of her…

But the media’s sexism, and even the sexism that resides to some extent in all men in this culture–not because of some inherent evil, but because of the conditioning to which we’ve been subjected and to which we’ve usually capitulated–had almost no effect on the overall vote totals in the Democratic primaries. In most states, Clinton received roughly half the male vote: about what you’d expect in any primary where you have two candidates whose policies are so similar, and where the ideological differences between them are so small. And in almost every state, Clinton won more than half of the white male vote, often much more. Though she failed to win very many black men to her side, it’s hard to chalk this up to sexism, given the presence of a black candidate in the race, whose chance at victory naturally has excited folks in the African American community, just as Clinton’s chances logically fired up millions of white women.

To believe that her defeats were due to sexism–as if to say, but for sexist male voters, she’d have won–would require one to believe that in the absence of such a pernicious bias, she could have expected to win, say, 6 in 10 male voters: a result unlikely in any primary season, where voters are choosing between two pretty equally liberal candidates

…there is simply no evidence to suggest that gender played a significant role in tipping the balance of votes in his favor and against her. Indeed, in several states (like Pennsylvania, for instance), among men who said that gender mattered to their votes, most actually voted for Clinton. In other words, there were at least as many if not more men who liked the thought of electing the nation’s first woman president, as there were those who repelled from the concept.

And now we turn to the race issue…

In fact, here’s the biggest irony of all: what Clinton’s acolytes ignore is that had her final opponent this year been a white man, she would likely have received fewer votes from white men than she has received against Obama. Meaning that, if anything, Clinton has benefited more from white racism in her quest for the nomination than she was ever harmed by male chauvinism and misogyny…

To wit, exit poll results from several states, including California, Arizona, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana, all of which indicate that the margin of Clinton’s victories in all of these was either equal to or smaller than the numbers of white voters who admitted that race was relevant to their vote, and then cast their votes for Clinton. In California, for example, Clinton beat Obama by 416,000 votes, but based on the percentages from the exit polls, there were 442,000 for whom race was important to their decision and who voted for Clinton…

In other words, but for the votes of whites who were willing to admit that their votes were at least in part cast for racist reasons, she may well have lost all of those races, and the nomination battle would have been over far sooner. There is simply no way to interpret the vote of a white person who says “race matters to my vote” and then votes against the black candidate, other than as an act of racism, just as there is no way to interpret the vote of a man who says “gender matters to my vote” and then votes against the woman, other than as an act of sexism. When you consider the likelihood that far more whites voted against Obama for racial reasons than would be willing to admit it–a proposition bolstered by decades of research indicating that whites typically downplay their racial biases to pollsters–the relative importance of racism compared to sexism in this race becomes readily apparent.

If we assume that two similar candidates would, in typical circumstances (that is to say, yet another race in which two men were vying for the nomination), roughly split the vote among white voters, as they would among men, then we can see quite clearly the effects of racism on Obama. Although he managed to win roughly half the white votes in a few states, in most places he received only about a third, and sometimes quite a bit less. In state after state, this racial gap amounted to tens of thousands (often hundreds of thousands) of votes, totaling more than enough in several cases to cost him victories in those places. Even if we allow that every white woman who voted for Clinton had understandable, non-racist reasons for voting for her, rather than Obama–and indeed, most would have voted for her had her opponent been a white man, just as they did here–the numbers of white men whose votes were cast for racial reasons would have, in at least some states, been sufficient to alter the outcomes of the elections.

None of this is to say that racism is a more important social problem than sexism: both are entrenched and pernicious impediments to equal opportunity, and both relate to one another in any number of ways. This, it should be noted, is especially true for women of color, whose status as equal partners in womanhood (and whose unique experience as women in a racist society), is often ignored by white feminists.



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