Sunday, June 01, 2008

Ken v. Barbie

Cathy Tinsley, a professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business and executive director of the Georgetown Women's Leadership Initiative has an interesting article in today's Washington Post about the role, if any, that sexism has played in Hillary Clinton's troubles in the current election.

...many in the media and in political circles are debating the role sexism played in her defeat.

How did the once-inevitable candidate, who was destined to be America's first female president, lose this nomination battle? Was it her past? Was it her husband? Or is America just not ready for a female president?

First, I was happy to see that she used the word "sexism" rather than the far more ubiquitous and misused term "misogyny." Again, I will use standard dictionary definitions. Misogyny is the hatred of women. Sexism is prejudice, discrimination and/or stereotyping of a person or group based on gender.

Ms. Tinsley and colleagues have worked on a series of studies involving how the words and actions of men and women are perceived in the corporate world and found that men and women are viewed differently when using the same words to perform the same actions.
In one study, for example, people judged the behavior of a hypothetical human resources manager (alternately male or female) negotiating for a refund on unused hotel space. Female managers were judged as significantly more offensive, and less likely to receive any refund, than male managers, even though all managers engaged in exactly the same behavior.

...The bottom line, again, is that the same male and female behaviors evoke different judgments, with women all too often being forced to choose between being viewed as likable or competent.

Interestingly, the studies also found that people were not generally conscious of their sexism -- yes, that behavior clearly falls under the definition of sexism -- and that men and women were equally sexist in the context of the study questions.
Two other lessons stood out. First, the backlash against women appears to be unconscious. When confronted with the results of these studies, participants were very surprised by their reactions. They appeared to have no idea that they subscribed to these gender stereotypes about appropriate behavior or that they judged women more harshly.

Second, women were as willing to criticize the female executives as men were. This is not a gender war; women are not fighting men. They are fighting our culture, our prescribed set of norms that constrain their behavior into a rigid set of "appropriate" categories.

Then, surprisingly, Ms. Tinsley argues that women are, as a group, sexists who discriminate against themselves, and by implication, misogynists.
Although we may be able to recall vivid examples of minorities who judge their own group harshly, women are perhaps the only "low status" group whose members systematically and every bit as harshly show prejudice toward fellow members.

Isn't that interesting?

Yes, it is, but I'm not so sure it has a lot to do with Hillary Clinton's campaign performance. I don't think it's particularly shocking to see evidence that the words and actions of men and women are viewed differently, or even that they are viewed differently in the same way by both men and women. Although the given examples show negativity towards women, I don't think we can extrapolate from that data and say that women are always, or even usually viewed more negatively than men when acting in the same way. Perhaps they are, but no evidence is given.

Thankfully, I am not a total news junkie. I read a lot but almost never watch television news, though I do seem to read a lot about it. Anyway, I am more than a casual observer and I simply have not seen that much overt sexism in this campaign and no misogyny whatsoever in the mainstream. Again, I am using the dictionary definitions. No one is arguing that Hillary Clinton should not be president because she is a woman.

Granted, as Ms. Tinsley's studies demonstrate, we all have lingering remnants of sexism lodged deeply in our psyches. We apparently have some ingrained expectations that men and women should sometimes react differently in the same situation.

But still, I just don't see that as a major factor in this campaign. Unlike Ms. Tinsley's study, Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama have said and done different things in the same situation. For example, Hillary voted for The War. Obama against it. Hillary took big money from the health care lobby. Obama didn't. Hillary embraced the right wing hate machine. Obama did not. And so on. Examples abound of the ways in which they have conducted their campaign's differently.

Had they spoke and acted identically, if it were simply an election pitting Ken against Barbie, it would be interesting in the context of Ms. Tinsley's studies. But they did not.

I do not support Hillary Clinton because she is a sister. I support her because she is twisted.

And I wonder what kind of studies exist that track people's reactions to a half black guy and a white woman saying the same things? No, on second thought, let's not go there.