It’s a sad, sad state of affairs for the American people when we have to boil our presidential election down to questions of race and gender. And yet, we’ve arrived: Are Americans more racist or sexist? We have to wonder aloud, so that we send the most able opponent up against the Great White Hope, suckled straight from the Bush camp’s teat, John McCain.
Why do we wonder? So that we don’t make even more war, kill more of our own soldiers and people from Iraq and possibly Iran, and so that we start looking to the problems on our own turf, like that seriously-disabling fact that we have a nasty FOR-PROFIT healthcare system that is literally to die for if you’re not rich and just happen to get sick (not so incidentally, McCain will take us backward on that issue).
I’d bet my next check that this election is only going to get a whole lot dirtier than we can even imagine yet. The Bushs aren’t going to give up the Strict-Father family model of government without some hardcore down-and-dirty tactics, and I’m not so sure the Dems have the properly “dirty” arsenal to fight back. “The Left must get much better, not just at placing its issues in a compelling moral frame, but at exposing and holding the radical Right accountable for its lies and deception – without, and here is the tricky part, making those who have been manipulated feel ridiculed and put down” [Frances Moore Lappé].
–Excerpts below from “Black Man vs. White Woman” by Drake Bennett in The Boston Globe
“Gender stereotypes trump race stereotypes in every social science test,” says Alice Eagly, a psychology professor at Northwestern University…
As Clinton has discovered, gender stereotypes are stickier. Women can be seen as ambitious and capable, or they can be seen as likable, a host of studies have shown, but it’s very hard for them to be seen as both –
…When psychologists talk about bias, they use three technical categories: stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. Stereotyping is cognitive bias, the tendency to ascribe people a set of traits based on the group they belong to (e.g., “black people are good at sports,” “Jews are cheap”). Prejudice is an emotional bias, disliking someone because of their group identity. And discrimination is how we act on the first two.
…”We’re finding that racial stereotyping and prejudice are extremely contextual,” says Correll. “You can see real reductions in prejudice, and sometimes it actually reverses,” crossing over into a sort of stereotypic affinity.
And this, Correll argues, works to the advantage of someone like Obama. “You look at Obama, and he represents himself incredibly well,” Correll says. “There are a whole lot of contextual cues that tell us this is someone you don’t need to worry about.”
…The researchers didn’t see a similar effect for gender. According to Tooby, “People can cease to notice ethnicity as a factor in how they conceptualize somebody in a way that they don’t seem to be able to with gender.”
…Women in these studies are typically judged to be less capable than men with identical qualifications, but it’s not impossible for them to be seen as competent. The problem is that if they’re understood to be capable, the majority of respondents also see them as less likable.
“The deal is that women generally fall into two alternatives: they are either seen as nice but stupid or smart but mean,” says Susan Fiske, a psychology professor at Princeton who specializes in stereotyping.
And unlike racial bias, there’s little evidence that these attitudes are softening.
According to Eagly of Northwestern, the problem isn’t that women aren’t traditionally understood as smart, but that they traditionally aren’t understood to be “assertive, competitive, take-charge” types. More than intelligence, she argues, this “agentic” quality is what we look for in leaders, and, as both surveys and experimental studies have shown, we find it deeply discomfiting in women.
“That’s what Hillary Clinton is up against,” argues Eagly. “She’s had to show her toughness, then people turn around and say she’s too cold.”
Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She co-edited with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edits the anthology series, Bettering American Poetry, and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.