LESSONS FROM HILLARY’S DEFEAT
by Myriam Miedzian
THE 2008 PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY campaign saw overwhelming excitement about the prospect of Obama as first African- American president, and minimal excitement about the prospect of Clinton as first woman president. Why wasn’t the recognition of the momentousness of a first woman president in our 240-year history remotely comparable to that of a first black president? Why did the vast majority of women not care?
This question loomed much larger in the 2016 election, in which 62 percent of female, white, non-college graduates, and 45 percent of female, white, college graduates voted for Trump. Much has been made of Clinton’s campaign mistakes — but how could even the most egregious of them lead women to vote for a totally unqualified, pussy-grabbing, megalomaniac man instead of a highly qualified woman?
Neither in 2008 or 2016 was Clinton given much credit for her accomplishments. By 2016 she was viewed by many as an incompetent, untrustworthy liar with no political accomplishments whatsoever. Ignored among other achievements were:
• her eight years as a U.S. senator, which included her key role in securing financial and health aid for 9/11 workers;
• her eight years as a highly influential First Lady. According to Senator Ted Kennedy, the 1997 Children’s Health Care Insurance Program, providing health insurance to six million children, owes its existence to Clinton. Kennedy’s senior health advisor Nick Littlefield explained: “We relied on her, worked with her and she was pivotal in encouraging the White House to do it.”
• Her important role in the enactment of the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act; as a young attorney at the Children’s Defense Fund she worked on the report crucial to its enactment.
• Her success in making women’s rights part of U.S. foreign policy. By the time she ran against Trump, she had been secretary of state for four years. In a May 12, 2013 New York Times article, Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Isobel Coleman states that “One of [Clinton’s] lasting contributions . . . was her indefatigable effort to make women’s rights a central component of U.S. foreign policy.” At the State Department she implemented important structural changes “to ensure a sustained focus on women’s rights into the future.”
NONE OF THIS was part of those women’s awareness. Their focus, instead, was on:
• her use of personal email — but the fact that Colin Powell, the first secretary of state to use email regularly, had used his personal email, suffered no dire consequences, and told Clinton about it, never came to their attention.
• her alleged responsibility for American deaths in Libya in 2012. That the House Select Committee on Benghazi, with a majority of Republicans, found no evidence of wrongdoing by her, did not come to their attention, either.
• her alleged constant lying, about which Carl Bernstein, in his 2004 book, A Woman in Charge, writes, “Hillary Rodham Clinton has always had a difficult relationship with the truth. She is hardly different from most conventional politicians in this regard [my emphasis]. But she has always aspired to be better than conventional.” For Bernstein, it is Clinton’s tendency “to obfuscate, omit and avoid” that constitutes her lying — nothing like the ongoing flagrant lying typical of Trump that led his special adviser Kellyanne Conway to come up with the concept of “alternative facts!” And as a CNN election commentator, Bernstein strongly supported Clinton for president.
IN 2008, the overwhelming excitement about a black president led many women — and men — to pay little attention to Obama’s record and qualifications. Of the three U.S. presidents who went directly from the Senate to the presidency, he alone had only served two years when he started his campaign. Kennedy served seven; Harding six. Had attention been paid to his seven years in the Illinois State Senate, it would have been clear that he was quite middle of the road and pragmatic — a lot like Hillary Clinton.
In 2016, the lack of excitement about a woman president facilitated women voting for a man whose severely pathological traits lead millions around the world to consider his presidency dangerous. It also facilitated accepting Trump’s fallacious and outrageous accusations against Clinton — from her being a traitor deserving to be “locked up” to her being part of a pedophile ring!
Why this lack of excitement about a woman president? Why the extreme double standard in judging male and female candidates?
These questions led me to examine research and educational data that might provide some understanding.
MANY AMERICAN WOMEN HAVE FAR MORE RESPECT FOR VIEWS EXPRESSED BY MEN
For years studies have indicated that college students systematically give better evaluations to male professors. Two recent studies strongly confirm this bias. According to the analysis of these studies carried out by members of the U.C. Berkeley Statistics Department, in conjunction with a University of Paris researcher, and reported in a January 7, 2016 Science Open Research article, “Student Evaluations of Teachers (SET) are biased against female instructors by an amount that is large and statistically significant.”
While a five-year French study and earlier American studies did not permit control for teaching style differences, a 2012 North Carolina State University study did. Data was obtained from an online course in which students never had any visual or auditory contact with the two teaching assistants, one male and one female. The female and male instructors used a female name with one group of students and a male name with the other and gave identical feedback. American female students rated instructors perceived as male significantly higher than those perceived as female in all areas. Even though assignments were returned at exactly the same time, female instructors were rated significantly lower with respect to promptness! (In the University of Paris study, female students did not give higher ratings to male instructors.)
U.C. Berkeley Statistics Professor Stark now expects class-action lawsuits against universities that rely on SET for employment decisions. There are no class-action lawsuits possible for gender bias in presidential elections, however. Yet these research findings provide insight as to why so many women exercised no critical thinking when confronted with totally negative, at times absurd and outrageous, depictions of Clinton, while glossing over Trump’s negatives.
More than a dozen women who voted for Trump were interviewed by New York Times reporter, Susan Chira for a January 14, 2017 article. Most exhibited much forgiveness toward Trump — for example, Paula, a retired business owner, deplored all his insulting, inappropriate comments — “all of it was so egregious. I hated it” — and then continued, “All of that was bad, but it didn’t stop me.” But there was not an inkling of understanding or forgiveness for Clinton’s supposedly bad behavior on the part of any of the women. Paula was typical again — she went on to say “Benghazi. The emails. The IRS. She’s a liar.”
Tangie, who works for Blue Cross of Tennessee, even gave credence to the allegation that Hillary had killed Vince Foster, the assistant White House counsel who committed suicide in the 1990s.
This is not to deny that some of the concerns expressed — including those about the neglect of the middle class, and fears about terrorism — were justified. Accepting Trump’s demonizations, the women believed that Clinton favored allowing millions of Syrian refugees into the U.S. without vetting, when she supported accepting a limited number after in-depth vetting. It blinded them to the fact that her past actions and political positions during the campaign were much more supportive of the poor and the middle class than his.
WOMEN’S HISTORY AND STRUGGLE FOR EQUAL RIGHTS GETS LITTLE ATTENTION IN MOST HIGH SCHOOL HISTORY BOOKS
As a result, many women lack historical awareness of themselves as having been an oppressed group, have little knowledge of women’s achievements, or the battles fought by 19th- and 20th-century feminists, do not recognize the need for vigilance with respect to efforts to reverse enormous 20th-century gains won on their behalf, and are not excited about a woman president.
I recently examined some high school history books used in California, one of the more progressive states that does not buy conservative Texas textbooks. Only one covered women’s history and the struggle for equal rights at all adequately. The others covered the topic with a page here and there. Not one devoted an entire chapter to the subject of the subjugation of one half of the population.
When San Diego State University Professor of Education, Ronald Evans, asked a class of thirty students how many had studied a good amount of women’s history in high school, only one or two answered in the affirmative. It’s a topic that’s doesn’t get much attention in California schools, he told me: “It’s the occasional teacher who does it.”
Nothing has changed since the 1990s, when Drs. Myra and David Sadker, authors of How America’s Schools Cheat Girls, documented the extreme absence of women from high school textbooks.
The disparity between the roughly sixty to a hundred pages devoted to slavery and the post-Civil War oppression of black people, and the scant attention to women’s oppression and the more than one hundred-year struggle to put an end to it, sheds light on the huge disparity between the difference in excitement about a first black president and a first woman president.
For centuries, women were subjugated to fathers, brothers, and husbands with virtually no rights of their own. While not as extreme as the oppression of black people, it was severe enough to warrant more than a few pages scattered in 900-page history books.
IN HIS People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn has a chapter entitled, “The Intimately Oppressed.” Zinn points out “It is possible, reading standard histories, to forget half the population … the very invisibility of women … is a sign of their submerged status. In this invisibility they were something like black slaves (and the slave women faced a double oppression).” He describes the status of women to be “something akin to a house slave in the matter of intimacy and oppression,” and concludes that “an oppression so private would turn out hard to uproot.”
A deeper understanding of why so many women are far less critical of men than of women, leads to the fact that from the earliest age women grow up and live in a world in which men have always been the dominant respected figures whether it be in politics, the economy, the arts, music. Even God is male!
In spite of progress, the picture remains lopsided. In 2015, Congress was 80 percent male. Many women continue to unconsciously assume that men are better in all the areas they have historically dominated.
Without a deep understanding of women’s history, and women’s long struggle for equality, this underlying attitude is not likely to change much. Most women will continue to lack awareness of how extremely women have been hampered by rigid roles assigned to them, how much they have been disparaged and made fun of for their aspirations, how much they were able to achieve in spite of these rules, and how little focus there has been on their achievements. They will take for granted the greatly increased status they enjoy with little awareness of the enormous struggles that led to it.
Educational reform is not around the corner, but the response to the Trump presidency, starting with the unprecedented millions of women joining Women’s Marches around the country, and grassroots confrontations with Republican members of Congress, make it likely that there will be some increase in enthusiasm about a woman president. This level of citizen’s involvement augurs well for the 2020 election. Millions who didn’t bother to vote are likely to do so. A Trump presidency is likely to cure leftwingers who won’t vote for a candidate on their side if they consider her or him flawed.
Four years of Trump might also provide “a teachable moment” in helping many women overcome their underlying tendency to respect men’s opinions more.
IF ELIZABETH WARREN is the Democratic candidate, liberals and progressives will need to come out in droves to support her. Hopefully, in four years they will be ready to do so. A poll conducted February 9 and 10, 2017, indicates that Trump trails a generic Democrat, but comes in ahead of Warren in a 2020 election!
Could it be that she is viewed by some as an angry, loud-mouthed, irritating woman…?
Dr. Myriam Miedzian (myriammiedzian.com), a contributing writer to Jewish Currents, is a former philosophy professor who writes frequently on social, cultural, and political issues. She is the author of Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking The Link Between Masculinity and Violence, among other books. This article was published at Huffington Post and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.