Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Human Side, or the Female Side?

Election years are always interesting in their coverage of candidates - and since I'm something of both a news and politics junkie, it's tailor-made news heaven. This year proves to be an especially interesting one with Hilary Clinton's run for the White House, not necessarily because of her politics or even that she's a Clinton, but because she's a woman, and it really lets us see the double standard the media, and perhaps the public, have towards men and women.

As is being reported in quite a lot of places, Clinton won New Hampshire because she emoted - something, her lack of emotion, she has been criticized heavily for in the past. Now this in and of itself is an interesting thing; when is the last time you can remember a male presidential candidate being skewered for his lack of emotions? Most male candidates don't get choked up, don't cry on camera, keep very firmly in control of their emotions - in fact, to this day many people think that Howard Dean's "famous Iowa scream" is what ultimately cost him the Democratic nomination. A showing of too much raw, uncontrolled emotion.

A negative thing in a man.

But in a woman, not showing emotions seems to be a negative trait. We, as a matter of fact, have some rather unflattering terms for women who're viewed as carefully in control of their emotions, from frigid or ice queen and on.

Yet on the flip side, although apparently her teary exchange with New Hampshire voters did Clinton a world of good, her campaign staff was nervous about how it would play. How would people perceive a woman teary and tired, talking about how exhausting campaigning is? The concern was that it would badly undercut her messages of being experienced, that she is strong, that she can handle the demands of the job.

Do men on the campaign trail face similar damned if you do, damned if you don'ts? At the moment, I'm hard pressed to come up with an example that fits, but that also could be because I'm seeing this very clear example for a woman being damned no matter what she does in front of me. What about you - do you think male politicians face these same issues? Or are we really seeing a nasty side of ourselves that we thought that, as a society, we had passed beyond, where in the same situation women are judged against standards and qualities that men are not?

Perhaps most to the point, I think we have to ask ourselves a simple question: if Obama or Edwards had become teary-eyed in front of voters, talking about the same concerns, would Maureen Dowd of the New York Times have written an article entitled "Can Obama/Edwards Cry His Way To the White House"?
-Kelly

7 comments:

SabrinaW said...

Regardless of how this election turns out, I am thrilled that we have a woman (finally) running for President, because it forces us to openly discuss these issues as a nation.

I am amused that so much is being made of it - Clinton just got a little choked up because she was talking about something heartfelt and passionate - and Jon Stewart pointed out the extreme exaggeration very well the other night.

I think the jury is still out on this - on the one hand, a woman who shows emotion is seen as being a "typical woman", but if she doesn't show much, then she is seen as being artificial. This still stems from the initial assumption that woman are naturally emotional (or that people expect them to be).

Regarding Maureen Dowd, she has previously written on the "girl" factor as it relates to Clinton - I recall a column on how Clinton observed that she was the only woman in a gaggle of men at one of the debates, and how she was lampooned for crying foul for "guys beating up on her". I think that Dowd's focus is more of interest, rather than of critique.

Anonymous said...

The intersting thing is by an large it was women who were swayed by the show of emotion and changed position..not men. An example for men, how about Howard Dean destroyed for showing emotion and John Kerry for being emotionless and flat. I agree it is about time we have a female president. As the father of two daughters I see the double standard and discrimination in a whole different light, but Clinton's trreatment is as much just the way the media works as it is an attack on Clinton because she is female.

Kelly Hills said...

Anonymous - I have to admit, while I am not guilty of being swayed by Clinton's show of emotion (to be honest, living in the NYS capital, I've liked her for a while), I did have a conversation over dinner the other night where I said that I thought if she grew her hair out, her appearance would be softer and make her more approachable.

I can't decide if that was sexist of me, or just the typical thing you do when judging people - that colour is all wrong, s/he needs a new haircut, etc.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

"when is the last time you can remember a male presidential candidate being skewered for his lack of emotions?"

Dukakis - when asked if he would support the death penalty if his wife were raped and murdered. But it's true that the range of emotions that men are expected to show is different from the range of emotions that women are expected to show.

Anonymous said...

Two words "Al Bore" he was heavily criticized for having no emotion and being boring, when he tried to show emotion he was laughed at...I think all politicians are damned if they do and damned if they don't O'bama has been criticised for being to black and to white, while I don't feel it is right to vote for someone just because of their race or gender anymore than it is right to vote against them, I hope we have a female president as soon as possible. It seems that 1st breakthrough is so long in coming but it opens up the flood water of change. As the father of two daughters, that change can not come soon enough. The day when we do not vote for a male or a female, but most qualitied and the best choice...will be a great day. To get to that point we have to get that break through whether that be Clinton or someone else...

wreese said...

Clinton's was most definitely the "tear drop heard 'round the world".

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