Sheila S. Kennedy

Don’t Stereotype Me, Bro!

Filed By Sheila S. Kennedy | January 14, 2008 8:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: election 2008, feminism, gender, Hillary Rodham Clinton, politics, sexism, women

I’ve had it. And the 2008 election system has just started.

According to the pollsters, I am one of those “older female voters” who can be counted on to support Hillary Clinton because, after all, we’re so much alike. We share a gender.

This may come as a big shock to the so-called “analysts” who like to slice and dice the electorate into “interest groups” and “market niches” based upon some wonky version of identity politics, but women - even those of a “certain age”- are not a monolithic voting bloc.

Not long ago, I wrote about my irritation with negative gender stereotypes: the South Carolina (female) Republican who employed a sexist term for Clinton, and the patronizing (male) commentators who applied a gender lens to every tactic employed by her campaign. I think many women feel the same impatience with that sort of one-dimensional approach to her candidacy.

But guess what? Many of us are equally impatient with a candidate who seems to feel entitled to our votes simply by virtue of a common gender, and with pundits who give that entitlement legitimacy. When Barack Obama was asked whether he anticipated getting a major share of the African-American vote, he sensibly replied that he expected he’d need to earn every vote. He clearly recognized what the “chattering classes” seem unable to grasp, that women, blacks, Latinos, young people and all the other groups into which voters get lumped consist of individuals who are more - and more complicated - than those labels reflect.

In both the Republican and Democratic primaries, we have seen strong signals that voters are tired to death of the poll-centered politics of the last few election cycles. Both Huckabee and McCain have based their appeals to GOP voters on straight talk; Mitt Romney, vastly better financed and clearly more acceptable to the business wing of the party, has dutifully designed (or changed) his positions on the basis of his polling. Conventional wisdom favored Romney, but so far, actual voters haven’t.

Among Democrats, as Frank Rich observed in the New York Times, it is the Clinton campaign, led by pollster Mark Penn, that is following the older script. “In Mrs. Clinton’s down-to-earth micropolitics, polls often seem to play the leadership role. That leaves her indecisive when one potential market is pitched against another.” If those polls also tell her she can count on women’s votes, she’s in for a surprise. This election won’t be decided on the basis of gender or race. They won’t be irrelevant, but they won’t be decisive, either.

This is an election about the future, about where we are going as a nation. It is about who can best bring a sour, fractured, dispirited citizenry together again, about who can best heal the deep divisions created by wedge issues and culture wars and pandering to political bases. It’s about vision and hope—and yes, change.

It isn’t about identity politics. Candidates who think it is are part of the past we so desperately need to change.


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The old saying never judge a book by its cover applies even more on people and how they will cast there votes.

This is a great post, Sheila. We need to stay level-headed about this historic election, and keep in mind that when we talk about "constituencies", etc., we're talking about real people.

He clearly recognized what the “chattering classes” seem unable to grasp, that women, blacks, Latinos, young people and all the other groups into which voters get lumped consist of individuals who are more - and more complicated - than those labels reflect.

Mm-hmm. And if Larry Craig were running for office again, I wouldn't vote for him at all!

It always irritates me to read or hear:

Women want Hillary to be President or Blacks want Obama.

I always think, "So where does that leave a black woman?"

People try to simplify without regard to the complexities of life.

It always irritates me to read or hear:

Women want Hillary to be President or Blacks want Obama.

I always think, "So where does that leave a black woman?"

People try to simplify without regard to the complexities of life.

Good candidates avoid making sweeping assumptions on individuals.

But I do think that people have a belief that if they have something in common with a candidate, then that candidate is more likely to think/act like them, and they are more willing to trust them, especially if everything else seems the same.

In a time when candidates seem to say anything to get elected. When journalism is giving less and less news but more and more sensationalism. The average person does not have much to rely on when voting, except maybe those traits or experiences that they have in common with the candidate.

I don't know if that's as true as it used to be, David. The average person now has access to much more information about politicians and the political process of all kinds than ever before. With the advent of the blogs and online media, a misstep by a candidate or politician can be public knowledge just hours later, regardless of whether the mainstream media chooses to cover it or not.

I think the bigger problem is the laziness of the American voter. Not enough people make the effort to seek this information out. Hopefully, that'll change over time as more people become involved with the political process this year.

Rebecca,

You are right that there is more information available. But is the information accurate? Can it be trusted? How credible or knowledgeable is the source? Everyone seems to have an agenda and an opinion. Knowing which sources of information are accurate and which are opinions is becoming more and more difficult.

Although bloggers have brought things to the forefront, (and I enjoy reading some) I think blogs overall have made the issue worse. Bloggers know they have to have something a reader wants. So they start with some truth. They also know that if they add some opinion with it, it will motive like-minded people to read it and respond positively and opponents will read it to respond negatively. The result usually is not discussion or an exchange of ideas but an argument with neither side listening to the other.

The final result is more partisanship and less problem solving.