The Role of Gender in the 2016 Election


Melissa Deckman

By Molly IgoeNews Editor
Dr. Melissa Deckman, chair of the political science department, loves nothing more than talking politics, especially when it is with someone she admires as much as Rebecca Traister, writer-at-large for New York Magazine and author of “All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women” and “the Rise of an Independent Nation.” These two women came together to talk about the gendered context of the presidential campaign on Wednesday, Oct. 19 for the third lecture in the series “Who’s Choosing the President?”
Dr. Deckman asked Traister to explain her book “Single Ladies,” which discusses the 2012 presidential election. She said, “The book is about the rapidly expanding number of women who are living outside of marriage, either by delaying marriage or forgoing marriage completely. This is quite revolutionary for women, because in early heterosexual marriages, women were dependent on the institution of marriage, as they had no jobs or education usually.”

Rebecca Traister

Traister went on to discuss how difficult it was to have a liberated sex life outside of marriage because women were dependent on men and were relegated to the private sphere, while men handled the public sphere. Social movements in the later half of the 20th century, like the Civil Rights movement and the women’s rights movement, created more possibilities away from the traditional ideas of marriage. By the 1990s, women were marrying less often and later in life, and now, the average age women get married is 27, even 30 in some cities.
“Women have gained five to 10 years of life outside of that institution. Unfortunately, there are no economic policies in place for women who aren’t married, as there are no childcare options, no paid leave, and a lot of women who can’t get access to abortions. Hillary Clinton talks about unmarried women a lot, and I didn’t know my book would have such a big application to this election.”
Dr. Deckman then referred to her book, “Tea Party Women: Mama Grizzlies, Grassroots Leaders, and the Changing Face of the American Right,” in the context of the gender gap. She looked at national survey data on the role of the Tea Party movement in the Republican party. Since 2010, only one in four women identified as Republican, with no indication that more women will join the Tea Party or Republican Party.
Dr. Deckman then asked Traister about her book “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” where Traister described the “Sarah Palin” effect, which really catapulted the Tea Party women into the national spotlight.
“She called herself a feminist, which seems strange, but there are no entrance exams for feminism; it has always been a flexible term. I think we’ve always embraced people from groups that want to marginalize the groups that they come from, like Phyllis Schlaffly, who was such a powerful Republican woman because she was anti-feminist. Likewise, a mama grizzly is something that conservatives can get behind and use as a tool against women. Palin really was an early version of [Donald] Trump.”
Dr. Deckman then cited the statistic that 83 percent of Republican women intend to vote for Trump, and asked Traister why she thought this was the case.
“There will always be women who support policies that disadvantage women, like married white women are more likely to vote Republican, while young women and women of color are more likely to vote Democrat. There are definitely incentives to support systems that don’t support women, like nostalgia for the past, sexism, and racism. Trump’s slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ appeals to that, and there are always going to be women who support that.”
Dr. Deckman pulled data from the Public Religion Research Institute, with 42 percent of male Trump supporters who said that society punished men for being men, and two-thirds of supporters who believed that society had become too soft and feminine. She asked Traister if she was surprised by these misogynistic views.
“I’m not at all surprised, I am surprised by the audiotapes, though. As someone who’s written about these things for 20 years, I often have a hard time making my case that there still is misogyny and sexism, even if it is more subtle than it used to be. It’s strange to be a female journalist who doesn’t have to convince people that there is sexism. We have to remember that this country was built on systemic inequalities, like slavery and the subjugation of women.”
Dr. Deckman asked Traister if she thought Clinton had learned any lessons from her 2008 campaign. She said, “Her 2008 candidacy was very bad. She was badly advised and ran as a ‘man,’ and didn’t capitalize on her gender. She also ran against President Barack Obama, one of the most gifted campaigners there is. This election she has a much more functional campaign, she got rid of her old advisors who helped Bill win, and I think she felt freer to be herself.”
She also said that Clinton is not a natural campaigner, because she was taught to be a “workhorse” in her political career, and isn’t comfortable being in the spotlight. Traister is hopeful, though, that there are changing ideas of what women’s roles are in politics, and there are more women in politics at the podium, not just in the back working and supporting the campaign.

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