Stereotypes and candidates

This article from the Boston Globe discusses racial and gender stereotypes and how they may be playing into the ongoing primary elections in the US. Citing various pieces of psychological research, it describes how gender stereotypes are apparently fairly entrenched, while those based on race shift more easily depending on the context. (Good news for Obama, bad news for Clinton.) Evidently there is something about people’s ideas of womanhood that often makes it hard for women to be seen as both strong (assertive, competitive, smart, a good leader) and likable. This brings up an interesting feature of sexual stereotypes: many of them are not negative in the way that racial stereotypes are. After all, what’s wrong with being kind and gentle? Unfortunately, however, the pedestal that “nice” women are sometimes placed on is not a seat of power.


  1. Hi Mary, excellent post! And it talks about exactly the thing we discussed over lunch a few weeks ago. One thing though:

    Wouldn’t it be fair to say that sexism is not considered as bad a quality as racism in this country? I mean the following are accepted fairly well [much to my chagrin, I must add]: “boys will be boys (when a kid is obnoxiously loud, untidy, etc); women will also do coz they’re women”, etc. …

    Contrast this with racism: people in talk shows are not sure if they should laugh at a racially incorrect joke; people are scared to say anything racially based (even if it’s the truth).

    I believe this is the case. And this is one reason, I believe, Obama has been accepted more freely than Hillary (apart from their individual strengths and weaknesses–of which Cliton IMHO has a few more as well compared to Obama).


  2. Ah so what I trying to say might sound like I am trying to make a new point: but I was just saying yes I agree with the author of that article, in my long winded way :-)

  3. This election season forms a very poor experimental ground for testing such hypotheses, so I would just like to debunk this idea that it is really related to the question of racism vs. sexism. Sexism vs. racism may be a very interesting question in evolutionary psychology, but the test case you’re looking for to explore it simply isn’t the 2008 Democratic primary.

    Hillary is a conservative (DLC); she is the status quo candidate (entrenched Dems love her); she says that “lobbyists represent citizens”; she doesn’t promise to end the Iraq war (in fact, she started it); her campaign completely imploded on February 6th (simple bad management); prior to 2/6, her campaign was constantly apologizing for bizarre attacks against Obama (“I’m sorry my state chairperson said he’s a Muslim — he isn’t”); her husband is one of the most divisive figures in politics; …

    On the other side, Obama is an amazing public speaker (he riles up an audience); his campaign is amazingly well-coordinated (when’s the last time you remember them issuing a retraction?); he is the only candidate running on a “platform of change” (not that he’s earned this reputation); he is young; his campaign has played the media narrative *brilliantly* without even appearing like they’re being manipulative; he doesn’t talk seriously about ending the Iraq war (but at least he didn’t start it); …

    Say what you want about psychology but the major factors influencing the poll results have been the ability to control the media narrative and campaign strategy (such as get-out-the-vote efforts). Changes in the status of their campaigns have caused (or at least immediately preceded) swings in the numbers. From watching polls (especially “internals”) and primary results trickle in, it is obvious that the voters are paying attention to the substance of the campaigns (though more like a sporting event than an issues debate).

    I’d love to present evidence that her recent inability to control the media narrative is not based merely on her gender, but I don’t want to bore you. It suffices to say that she used to have that ability, and we loved her for it; now her campaign has imploded and she is just issuing petty attacks (plagiarism!).

    But most of the media meta-coverage asks: Which is scarier? A woman or a black? That’s a great question — I’d answer “woman” any day (A white man and black man sit silently at a bus stop, thinking they don’t have anything in common to talk about. One grumbles about his woman giving him a hard time. The gap is bridged. All men are brothers.). It simply isn’t the question that has influenced voters.

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