The Upcoming Genderal Election for President
What will it mean for a feminist to run when girls are already outpacing boys?
Posted Apr 30, 2016
No, that’s not a typo in my title. If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for President in 2016, which right now seems extremely likely, then the general election for President on November 8 could just as easily be called a genderal one. There seems to be little doubt that gender will be an issue discussed again and again, especially given Donald Trump’s inflammatory statements about women in general and Hillary’s gender in particular. (Indeed a headline on the nytimes.com website today – April 29, 2016 -- is “Trump and Clinton Gear Up for a Race Defined by Gender”). But with the possible election of Secretary Clinton as our first woman president – and one who has outspokenly sided with women and girls – gender could hardly be kept out of the dialogue in any case. In fact, the issue has come up even in the race between Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton.
And a focus on gender would be especially likely if Ms. Clinton selects a woman as her running mate. As a recent New York Times story says, in reference to one possible choice, Sen. Amy Klubochar of Minnesota, “An all-female ticket could supercharge the women’s vote and would be seen as a powerful statement.”
As a man with three grown sons and four young grandsons, I wonder what this “powerful statement” would be, and what it would mean for boys and men, especially given the fact that on most measures, boys are not doing as well as girls. (In fact, any parent of sons, or grandparent of grandsons, might wonder about this as well.)
Actually genderal elections are already happening, and have been for some time. Consider this headline in the Times from the day before: “White Man or Black Woman? Senate Race Tears at Maryland Democrats.” Of course, race is a major issue here as well, but gender seems to be just as big. Emily’s List is -- as always -- supporting the woman in the race, but some women have dropped their association with that major fundraising organization because they find the male candidate at least as strong (and liberal) as the female one.
Sadly for me, in the mid-1970s my interests in psychology shifted from the psychology of language (the subject of my doctoral dissertation and a new course I developed within a couple of years of my taking a teaching position at a college) to gender. That is a story for another time, but suffice it to say that, like many turning points in one’s life, this one happened through a veritably chance encounter. I say “sadly” because I have watched over the last 40 years as gender hostility has grown.
It is almost inconceivable that gender will not be a major issue if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for President, especially if she chooses a female running mate (and if she does not, I can foresee some feminist groups protesting). Writing about the race for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008, bestselling author Lorrie Moore said in a New York Times oped piece titled “Last Year’s Role Model," “The political moment for feminine role models, arguably, has passed us by. The children who are suffering in this country, who are having trouble in school, and for whom the murder and suicide rates and economic dropout rates are high, are boys…”
Now, more than eight years later, boys’ issues still have not really been addressed, and one wonders if the first female president would be the one to address them. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but thus far Sec. Clinton has not said anything that would imply that males of any age are a specific concern of hers.
But if Ms. Clinton does not do this, and embraces the support of women that she has already received, at least from those over the age of 40, then the gender war which has long raged in our country, could escalate. In a recent piece in the Washington Post, titled “What Some Men Have Against Hillary Clinton," Max Ehrenfreund wrote, “Perhaps more than in any previous presidential election, a contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump could turn into an extended national debate about women's place in society. If nominated, the two candidates could divide the electorate along lines of gender more than ever, said Kira Sanbonmatsu, a political psychologist at Rutgers University. While some women might be eager to elect the country's first female president, polls show Trump does poorly among women, even GOP women.”
What is particularly interesting is that this is not a simple gender gap in political preferences, but one that interacts with a generation gap. One of the reasons so many younger women have shown more enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders than for Hillary Clinton is that in their world, discrimination and lack of opportunity are far, far less of an issue than they were for the world of their mothers. Of course, a major concern for Democrats is whether or not these young women – along with male supporters of the Sanders candidacy – would simply not press a lever for either candidate on November 8.
But back in December 2015, before any of the primaries, an ad by the Clinton campaign, titled “44 Boys Is Too Many,” (the number 44 for the number of presidents we’ve had, though the actual number is 43), tried to show that even girls had much to gain from her presidency. In the ad, young girls are shown with encouraging letters they’ve written (or allegedly have) to Sec. Clinton, and saying, along with these letters, why it is so important that she become the next president. In one of these letters, which just appears for a second or two are the words, “Girls are smarter than boys. Boys drool, girls rule."
The problem here is that all the evidence indicates that on virtually every positive measure, boys and young men are lagging behind girls and young women, whereas on negative statistics such as high school suspensions, incarceration, and suicide, they are way ahead. So had this genderal election been held, say in 1980, the idea of helping young women get ahead would make a lot of sense; today it does not. The candidacy of President Obama was an entirely different story, since there was no strong evidence that life for African-Americans, especially among young males, in 2008 had much improved from what it was in 1980.
Is it time for a woman president? Absolutely. In fact, it’s past time – and that’s a possible problem for Hillary Clinton. Perhaps those young people saying they are voting for the candidate and not his or her gender would be more comfortable with a female candidate whose stand on issues other than gender is her hallmark, one who didn’t insist on saying, as Sec. Clinton did in a debate against Bernie Sanders on February 11 in Milwaukee, “I believe that it’s most important that we unleash the full potential of women and girls in our society.” It’s the word “girls” that got to me, and, I suspect, many other parents and grandparents of boys.
If it is going to be a genderal election, it might be better to keep the gender of children out of it. But if we do include them, surely it is boys today, at least as much as girls, whose full potential needs to be unleashed.