I love Spain and have spent a lot of time there for work and leisure travel. I was, therefore, particularly interested in an article by Raphael Minder in the New York Times reporting that women in Spain have achieved greater parity in their national parliament, the Cortes Generales, than we have made in the US Congress. Women make up 40 percent of the Spanish Cortes while, according to the Rutgers Center for Women in Politics, women hold only 19.4 percent of all seats in the US Congress.
Women in the United States struggled many years to win the right to vote, and we still have not been able to win the presidency. At least fifty-two other countries in the world have had a female head of state—some countries multiple times—but we have not. Hillary Clinton’s recent run was not successful, but she took us one more step along a very long journey for women in the United States.
Examples of sexism are rampant in the United States as demonstrated in our presidential contest, sexual harassment scandals, and other public-sector examples like the gender-wage gap. Let’s be clear—both women and men can hold sexist attitudes about women. Sexist attitudes usually include negative stereotypes that create barriers or unfair double standards for women. I have written about many ways that internalized sexism makes it difficult for women to support strong women leaders in my book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together. Below are some examples of sexist attitudes currently on display.
Every so often things happen in the world that, for a moment, make underlying biases and stereotypes visible that are usually underground and hard to see. I believe this happened in the United States with the subtle, and not-so-subtle, emergence of racism when Barack Obama ran for president, was elected, and tried to govern. I believe gender bias and sexism are emerging now with the first-ever nomination of a woman, Hillary Clinton, by a major party for the presidency in the United States, and with the election of Theresa May as Britain’s new prime minister.
Why is it that when Hillary Clinton stepped down from being secretary of state in 2013, after four years in office, she was the most popular politician in the country? Her approval rating then stood at 69 percent. Yet while campaigning for president in 2016, two-thirds of the voting population said they did not trust her, though according to Nicolas Kristof of the New York Times, this distrust is not deserved. Sady Doyle, writing for Quartz, suggests that “public opinion of Clinton has followed a fixed pattern throughout her career. Her public approval plummets whenever she applies for a new position. Then it soars when she gets the job.”
It is really significant that two women ran as candidates in the 2016 presidential campaign. Kelly Ditmar, writing for Ms. magazine notes that while Hillary Clinton felt she had to prove that she was “man enough” to be commander in chief in the 2008 campaign, both she and Carly Fiorina ran on their own terms in 2016, “disrupting the images, tactics, and rules of the game that have been determined by men.” Neither woman denied the influence of gender on her experience:
- Carly Fiorina talked about how being a woman informed her bid for office. She also shared her own battles to overcome sexism in corporate America as an example of her toughness.
I have been watching the 2016 presidential campaign unfold with great interest. As a feminist, I care about whether candidates have progressive positions and a demonstrated track record of improving the lives of women and girls of all races, ages and, nationalities. Hillary Clinton seems to me to have the best record of demonstrated commitment to these issues, so I have been curious about what appears to be a generational divide among Democratic women: in the New Hampshire primary, women under thirty voted for Bernie Sanders four to one. What are the reasons for this divide? Here are my hunches and the perspectives of a few other authors.