Hillary Clinton has continued her national speaking on what the Democrats should do to win back the White House. For many, Clinton’s advice after losing to the most unpopular presidential candidate in history strikes a certain dubious note. However, there was an interesting component to some of her last appearances: referring to women as better or at least different leaders because they are women. It raises a glaring but rarely discussed issue in the media. The question is whether a male politician would be allowed to claim that voters should vote for him because men govern differently and have special leadership skills do to their gender. It is a view rejected by many women who voted against Clinton — women who Clinton promptly dismissed as controlled by their husbands. It seems like a verboten debate. It is considered fair for politicians to say that being a father or mother makes them a better leader. However, Clinton and others have gone further in suggesting that there is a gender difference to leadership and governing. Activists have argued that women are superior to men as leaders for such reasons as “They know how to spend and save money even when money is scarce.” Even academics are now arguing that women are inherently better leaders.
Clinton was asked whether female leaders govern differently than men. She immediately responded “of course” to the rapturous applause of the audience. She then pointed to Jacinda Ardern who, after the New Zealand massacre, “showed the heart not only of a leader, but of a mother.” At a time when “Founding Fathers” is viewed as sexist, it is hardly consistent to say that “Founding Mothers” would be celebrated.
Clinton previously raised gender as a something that voters should consider in voting and it was an element of the “I’m with her” campaign in 2016. Nevertheless, according to the New York Times, Clinton carried only 54 percent of the female vote against Donald Trump. However, nearly twice as many white women without college degrees voted for Trump than for Hillary and she basically broke almost even on college-educated white women (with Hillary taking 51 percent). Trump won the majority of white women at 53 percent.
Ironically, Clinton previously stated that she viewed herself as one of the main characters in the series. I assumed that the character would be such tough women as the Dragon Queen and “Breaker of Chains” Daenerys Targaryen or perhaps the fierce warrior Brienne of Tarth. Instead, Clinton picked the one character that every focus group would likely tell her to avoid at any cost: Cersei Lannister, a loathsome and incestuous character who has no qualms in using torture, murder, lies, and betrayal to attain power. Indeed, for Clinton critics, Cersei seemed to sum the Clinton era with her statement that “Everyone who isn’t us is an enemy.”
In her book “What Happened,” Clinton described the hate that she encountered from Trump supporters: “Crowds at Trump rallies called for my imprisonment more times than I can count . . . They shouted, ‘Guilty! Guilty!’ like the religious zealots in ‘Game of Thrones’ chanting ‘Shame! Shame!’ while Cersei Lannister walked back to the Red Keep.” Clinton was referring to a scene where Cersei was forced to walk completely naked through the streets by the High Sparrow as a “walk of atonement.” Of course, Cersei’s status as a mother hardly gave her more “heart” in killing off anyone who stood in her way and ultimately causing the death of her own son.
I personally fail to see the difference and I have long objected to people who vote with reference to the gender of candidates as I do their race or religion. Whether politicians are playing a macho or maternal angle, it all strikes me as low-grade effort to claim inherent superiority. I have long viewed all politicians as being crushingly similar in their motivations and actions. It is self-advancement that tends to guide their positions. Indeed, Clinton was ridiculed as changing positions once they became unpopular from opposing same-sex marriage to the Iraq War. Trump has shown the same relativism and self-advancement.
Clinton lost the election because she was the second most unpopular candidate to run for the presidency and has long had low polling for authenticity. Clinton was also viewed as hawk who not only pushed the country into the disastrous Libyan War but supported the Iraq War. In her case there was no evidence that gender meant “ many women will govern and lead differently.”
My interest in the statement however is more one of consistency than contentClinton. It seems that the reference to gender is only worthy of condemnation when made by or about men – unless it is a negative statement about the flaws of male leaders. Consider this hypothetical: a male politicians is asked whether he thinks males govern differently and he says “Of course. Men are fathers and look at problems differently. They must be strong and leaders.” That politician would be torn apart. He would be accused of dog whistling sexists and suggesting that women do not have those attributes. Yet, when Clinton says that women govern differently because they are mothers, it suggests that men categorically are by their gender less compassionate or lack the same “heart.”
Many in the audience would likely be appalled by a male politicians saying his gender allows him to govern differently or better but they were thrilled by the use of gender by Clinton.
I frankly do not care if people argue that their gender gives them different strengths or insights or values. I only believe that the use of gender-based qualification arguments should not also be tied to a refusal to allow the same gender arguments by others. The media did not raise a single concern over whether the statement that women govern better or differently is sexist or unfair to men. The fact that Ardern reached out to the Muslim community is hardly distinguishing despite Clinton’s comments. After 9-11, George Bush reached out to the Muslim community as did Barack Obama and even Donald Trump after attacks. I considered such efforts to reflect their humanity rather than their gender.
Once again, I am not sold on gender as a criteria or consideration for office. I think it reflects not just an inherent sexism but an overgeneralization of such elements. Nevertheless, I do not object to people discussing their views of gender so long as they show the same tolerance for such gender-based arguments by male politicians.
What do you think?