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Gender Stereotypes Hurt Hilary More than Racial Stereotypes Hurt Obama, Scientists Say

Posted Jun 03 2009 12:23am

I've had enough of George Bush and his systematic un-doing of the environmental legislation enacted by the Clinton administration. I'm terrified at the prospect of another president who places corporate interests far above citizens' interests and way way way ahead of environmental interests.

I want a democrat yes, but this election has much more at stake then that. Our country will take a giant step forward, culturally and politically, if we can elect anyone who isn't a white male.

We've had 43 white males in a row as president. Right now, the ideal candidate would be a non-white female. But since that's not one of the choices, democratic voters will be choosing between a black male and a white woman to run against McCain.

I like Obama. What's not to like? He is reminiscent of the idealism and romance of the Kennedys, as everybody says. I have loved the Kennedys since I was a kid, and I still do greatly admire RFK Jr's prolific record of environmental accomplishments. When he wrote an endorsement for the jacket of our last book, I was so proud.

But....how can I not root for a candidate who is the first representative of my own gender to ever be a serious contender for the office of president? I pretended for awhile to weigh the merits of Obama and Hillary intellectually, and then one day, in one moment, it became crystal clear. I could never vote against Hillary. To do so, for me, would be a vote against women, against my own gender. Against this extraordinary chance that may not come for another 100 years.

If Hillary were not a woman, she would have bagged this nomination long ago.

In a country still beset by gender and race stereotypes, which one is more of a liability?

"Gender stereotypes trump race stereotypes in every social science test," says Alice Eagly, a psychology professor at Northwestern University.

Bias researchers such as Eagly have found that racial bias is strikingly changeable, and can be mitigated and even erased by everything from clothing and speech cadence to setting and skin tone.

Professor Eagly says that attitudes about women are harder to change.


Clinton's campaign has discovered for themselves that gender stereotypes are less changeable. Women can be seen as either ambitious and capable, or they can be seen as likable, but it's very unlikely for them to be seen as both. "The deal is that women generally fall into two alternatives: they are seen as either nice but stupid, or smart but mean", said Susan Fiske, a psychology professor at Princeton who specializes in stereotyping.

Although racial attitutes appear to be softening, there's little evidence that gender biases are.

Amy Cuddy, a psychologist at Northwestern, suggests the durability of gender stereotypes stems from the fact that most people have more exposure to people of the opposite gender than to people of other races. They feel more entitled to their attitudes about gender. "Contact doesn't undermine these stereotypes and it might even strengthen them," says Cuddy. "Many people don't believe seeing women as kind or soft is a stereotype. They're not going to question it because they believe it's a good thing."

Is it a good thing? Kindness and softness are good things in both men and women. But it's not a good thing to hold a candidate to impossible standards. I hear women I know talking about how mean or cold Hillary is, how much they "hate" her. Is she meaner or colder than George Bush or John McCain or Barack Obama or any other male candidate? Hardly. We want her to be momma and the general at the same time. It's the hardest task any candidate has ever faced. But some woman, some time, will have to break through and create a new precedent for female presidential candidates in the future. Most female heads of state around the world have had a family member who preceded them in office. We know that. That much precedent has already been created. Now is the time we can pop that glass ceiling. We're almost there! If not now, how much longer will it be until another opportunity arises?

I believe Hillary's presidency would profoundly change the status of women in this country. I for one am on-fire ready for that. How bout you?

Source:
Drake Bennett. Feb 19 2008. Gender vs. Race: Historic race may show biases of the American mind at work. The Boston Globe.

Key words:: Hillary, racial stereotypes, gender stereotypes, Barack Obama
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