Women politicians

by Eszter Hargittai on February 7, 2004

This makes so much more sense to me than this. I certainly appreciate the goal of getting more women in the White House and other political positions, but I think it’s a stretch to suggest that the gender of a candidate trumps all other factors including a candidate’s position on all issues. (I came across the EMILY’s List Web site by clicking on this ad in the NYTimes.)



Ampersand 02.07.04 at 1:18 am

With all due respect, Eszter, where does The White House Project suggest that nothing matters but sex? They focus on candidate’s sex, but nothing in their website leads to the conclusion that they’d support Bozo the Clown running for office if only Bozo was female.


eszter 02.07.04 at 1:34 am

They don’t say much about the position the candidates take. In this case it’s not so much what they say, it’s what they don’t say. It sounds to me like they’re more interested in having a woman than what that woman might stand for. That’s my understanding. If they have some specific issues in mind, I don’t think they do a good job of communicating that.


Keith M Ellis 02.07.04 at 2:01 am

As long as they aren’t a total loony (Moseley Braun?), I’d almost certainly vote for a woman candidate for little reason other than her sex. I’d do the same for a black person. (Too bad Moseley Braun is a loony.) I feel that the symbolic value of breaking these barriers is enormous and justifies overriding other concerns. I recognize that reasonable people will differ with me on this. But I don’t think my position is unreasonable.

I’ve always liked Elizabeth Dole and I would have voted for her against Gore had she gotten the nomination. I’ve liked her ever since she was the chair of the Republican National Committee during the Reagan era and she single-handedly resisted the inclusion of an anti-abortion plank in the platform. I think she got a bad rap in the media when she was running. And her husband wasn’t very supportive.

Ooh—if only there were a moderate Democrat female candidate who is a veteran. Wow. That’d be so cool.


Ophelia Benson 02.07.04 at 2:41 am

Oy veh. I have only one word to say on this issue – Thatcher. No indeed sex does not trump everything, or much of anything.


harry 02.07.04 at 2:29 pm

Keith, you’re being way too kind. That’s the nicest thing I’ve heard anybody say about Moseley Braun…


mjones 02.07.04 at 10:47 pm

I’d like to echo Ophelia Benson’s timely reminder of Margaret Thatcher. I remember when she first ran for office that feminists across the UK were debating whether it was more important to have a woman in office, than party politics. Many thought that Thatcher would be remembered more for her gender than for her politics and voted accordingly. Boy, I bet they felt stupid!


Keith M Ellis 02.08.04 at 3:33 pm

I don’t know. Thatcher may have furthered the cause of women, worldwide, more than she hurt them by virtue of her policies.

I think that a female candidate for President of the US is now viable. But I don’t think that the general perception is that this is the case. How many fictional portrayals of the UK Prime Minister have been female since Thatcher’s day? How many fictional portrayals of US Presidents have been female?

Especially where legal barriers are removed or don’t exist, self-selection effects can be very large. I guarantee that a female US President would be followed by a large increase in the number of female Senators and US Representatives. And while the benefit of this may be hard to quantify; to me, in a world just now taking the first steps to eliminate sexism, it’s enormously important.


Anthony 02.08.04 at 11:19 pm

Preferring women for political office, merely because they are women, is sexist. Plain and simple. Maybe the historical sexism of the past justifies sexism in response, but that doesn’t make it any less sexism.


Keith M Ellis 02.09.04 at 5:47 am

Depends upon one’s definition of “sexism”. As in the case of “racism”, if it means to “discriminate on the basis of X”, then you’re absolutely correct. If it means “oppression of a class of people on the basis of X” then your are not. Both definitions are useful for different purposes.

In this case, it would have been better had I written “oppression of women” instead of “sexism”.

As it happens, contrary to what you might expect from this exchange, I parted ways about ten years ago with contemporary feminism (as it had become “difference feminism”) and began self-identifying as an “anti-sexist” rather than as a “feminist”. And, as a general rule, I think that the cause of women (and men) in our society is now best served by an anti-sexist agenda rather than a feminist agenda. Even so, there are definitely exceptions where I feel that an explicitly “sexist” (in your terms), pro-woman position is still warranted.

And, in much of the non-Western world, women are still effectively chattel and the focus quite rightly should be upon ending their slavery, not ending “sexism” in its generalized sense.

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