Gender, Race, and the Presidency

Two great tastes that taste great together on the NYTimes' op-ed page these last few days. First comes Reason's Kerry Howley with "It Takes a Family (to Break a Glass Ceiling)":

[W]hile there are plenty of reasons not to vote for Mrs. Clinton (as an antiwar libertarian, I could happily list them for you at length), her marital journey to power is not one of them. The uncomfortable truth is that political nepotism has often served feminism’s cause well. ...

Social psychologists have found that women in leadership roles are typically seen as either warm, likable and incompetent, or cold, distant and competent. To be a strong, competent woman is to be something culturally unattractive, which probably says something about why few American women even aspire to political office. Worldwide, even popular female politicians — Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Angela Merkel — are slapped with the moniker “iron lady.”

Granted, women who rely on their last names to ascend to power are not especially likely to pursue explicitly feminist policies. They may even be less likely to do so, in order to seem worthy of office.

But their chief function to the cause is outside of policy. By their very existence, these women attack the norms and assumptions that bar other women from ascending to power on their own. ...

The best way to convince voters that women leaders are fully human — likable and competent at times, unlikable and incompetent at others — is to fill the world with more of them.

Next we have Ms. Man-Fish-Bicycle herself, Gloria Steinem, with "Women Are Never Front-Runners":

Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House. ...

Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter). ...

So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects “only” the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more “masculine” for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren’t too many of them); and because there is still no “right” way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what.

All that said, even if I was a voting kind of person, I don't think I'd be able to bring myself to vote for either Clinton or Obama, given their policy positions. Still, for the indirect effects their successful candidacies would have on the culture at large, I wish both of their campaigns well.

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Then in 2012 you can vote

Then in 2012 you can vote for Oprah.

Seriously, this is nothing culturally new. Argentina has a woman (la Kirchnerada, god have mercy), Chile has one too. Both cultures are much, much, much, more machists than US culture where feminism is going very (too) strong.

As for a black US president, come on, how many movies, how many shows have already featured one?  It's nothing new.

Same with South Asia

India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka have all had female heads, and women's rights/equality before the law is much better in the US.


The downside of a socially liberal leviathan is that it can more effectively, and seemingly legitimately, take on even more institutionally illiberal acts while claiming, rightly, to be a progressive state doing it. Yes, the Drug War and the corporatist state are vicious, but as long as I can see a woman or a black man at the helm - much less a black woman! - then it's all, well, ok I guess.

(Is my "Marxism of the Right" showing?)

The most integrated military in the world is also the world's police force. Watching Thomas Friedman gleefully describe an Iraqi man's reaction to a female US military officer on C-Span was telling.

I'm not sure I follow the

I'm not sure I follow the thrust of your argument, Dain. Is it better to pursue illegitimate ends using illegitmate means, so as to not risk untarnishing the illegitimacy of the ends with the legitimacy of proper means? I suppose there's something to the cynical, pessimistic claim that things have to get much worse before they get better, but I just can't convince myself to wish for injustice and misery in the short term for beneficial results in the long term. Feel free to call me an unrealistic idealist; I'll take it with pride.

Illegitimate Ends are Paramount

I'm arguing that I very much DO NOT wish Obama or Clinton well simply because they make some kind of indirect, symbolic figurehead for social emancipation. I'm not even sure that they do, in the way you mean. If your intention is to say that the success of Clinton would "spill over" into the culture at large and indirectly lend support to women pursuing all kinds of positions of LEGITIMATE power, such as a doctor or high profile intellectual, I'm suspicious. The examples brought up by other commenters are cases in point. Perhaps it would more likely send the message that "I can be the uber-boss of everyone too!".

What O/C would represent is the changing face of an increasingly illiberal government ("illiberal" defined as violations of individual, natural rights). I don't think that "well, since we have leviathan, we ought, at least, to have multi-cultural masters". I can defend voting and participating in politics on defensive grounds, but Obama and Clinton hardly represent that viewpoint. Libertarianism would be set back by the perception that the state is legitimate because it allows women to rule...other women, and everybody.

Besides, if a Hillary Clinton presidency were to motivate any woman to muster up the courage to seek out high political office, that woman would probably spring from the same demographic that produced the first round of "progressive" and noble women: upper middle class and white. (Think Rory Gilmore of the Gilmore Girls, whose fawning for Hillary Clinton was amusingly portayed as a cliche among aspring female Yale graduates).

I suppose my POV is similar to Emma Goldman's and Lysander Spooner's views on the ethics of participation in domination. There is nothing progressive (well, perhaps there is given the true history of the progressive movement, ala Charles Johnson) about full and open participation in that which is wrong, regardless of race, gender and sexual orientation.

>I just can't convince myself to wish for injustice and misery in the short term for beneficial >results in the long term.

Neither can I. I'm not a utilitarian, act, rule or otherwise.

Okay, I understand your

Okay, I understand your position a little bit better now, but I'm still optimisitic that a Clinton/Obama presidency (or even successful candidacy) will have positive spillover effects on the culture, assuming their influence on actual policies don't turn out that much worse than their Republican counterparts. And given the Republican track record in recent years, this isn't un unrealistic assumption.

Suppose we can seperate out the defensive attributes of voting for a moment. Clearly, no one has a legitimate "right" to vote to rule over and make decisions about the lives of others. But given that our current society grants people this power, are there any independent reasons--apart from defensive ones--that might lead us to favor widespread, universal, non-bigoted voting "rights" over voting rights restricted to land-owning white males? My gut tells me there are such reasons, but I don't have time right now to think about it further; dinner awaits. Perhaps voting itself isn't a good topic to explore this issue since it's so closely tied together for us with defensive justifications. Maybe public school curriculum content, gay marriage, or anti-discrimination laws imposed on government hiring are better examples?