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Gender

‘Many people are just not ready for a female president’

Christine Quinan, assistant professor of Gender Studies at Utrecht University with a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, looks at the USA elections from a gender perspective. “I don’t know where to begin!” she says, shaking her head. Nevertheless, she sums up a few painful gender-related themes for us.

 

Male perspective

“The polls were already dropping even before the infamous tape in which Trump bragged about assaulting women became public. What is interesting here is that many Republican reactions, even if condemning of it, still seem situated from a male perspective: they condemn the language and acts as a father or as a husband. What is striking is how deeply these statements position women solely as connected to men, as if they do not exist on their own.

And to justify it as ‘locker room talk’, as Trump did, is highly problematic because it reaffirms what feminists have termed rape culture, it suggests that it’s normal to talk about women in violent and denigrating terms. It’s also important to remember, though, that if Trump gets a free pass like that, it is damaging to men as well.”

Different standards

“I do think this election is a referendum on American politics as it stands now, and Trump appears to some as the only viable alternative for people wanting change. But that said, Clinton is held up to a very different standard. She is highly qualified, she has the experience, she has, in many ways, proven herself, yet there is still this distrust.

By many, she is perceived as dishonest, untrustworthy, and Trump is not – despite the fact that he is probably the most untrustworthy individual we have ever had as a major party nominee. And there is definitely a gendered component to that distrust as well. These are two personalities many people have been familiar with for a long time. And Clinton has to contend with unpopularity with certain segments of the population, partly due to who she is as a woman with a political career.”

Male narrative

“The depths to which Trump goes has also pulled Hillary in, which has at times allowed him to set the tone. So this male-controlled narrative subsumes the more complicated policy issues Clinton talks about. For her, it is a no-win situation really: there is the sexism plus an opponent willing to steep this low. How do you respond to that? Do you ignore it? Do you respond and become drawn into issues like defending your honesty?

It all feeds into the idea of who people think she is. If it were a male candidate I am not sure there would exist this same lack of control of the conversation. Also, the arguments about physical weakness, illness, stamina, but also secretiveness, untrustworthiness – these would likely not be arguments he would make of a male candidate. It very much plays into ideas of femininity as weak. “

Social class

“Trump has a base of voters who are not going to change their minds, no matter what happens. And class comes in here: social class has been a significant theme in this election, in particular how Trump activates working class populations in specific areas of the US. Part of this may have to do with not being informed, but it is also sexism, it is fear of terrorism, of immigrants, of unemployment. Who he appeals to – the gender component is inextricable from that.

There is also a backlash from the Obama presidency: many people are still unhappy that a black man is president, and now the spectre looms of a female president. For some, it is just too much. A female nominee: many people just can’t get on board with that fact alone. There are many, many people just not ready for a female president.“

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