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Hillary Voters on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

You don't have to be a "shoulder-pad feminist" to cast a gender-driven vote. Laura McKenna looks at why many women have chosen Hillary.

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Laura McKenna

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March 12, 2008 - 1:00 am

With so few real policy differences between the two Democratic presidential candidates currently slugging it out, unusual issues are motivating voters. I’m not talking issues in a policy sense, but issues in the therapy couch sense. Democratic voters are turning out in record numbers, because they are ticked off about race relations, the party establishment, or status-quo politics.

But let’s not discount the power of age and gender.

Just before the Ohio primary, my husband called his folks in Cleveland. My father-in-law said he would vote for Obama; my mother-in-law — part of Hillary’s core demographic, older and middle-aged white women — was voting for Clinton.

Maureen Dowd
stereotypes die-hard Hillary voters as “shoulder-pad feminists” — women who came of age in the era of shoulder pads and still see sexism everywhere. They are ticked off about injustices in their own lives. They relate to Hillary who jokes about her wrinkles. Their hatred of Obama is intensifying as his success grows: a slick young guy takes the spotlight again.

Dowd claims that younger women think the old bats are crazy.

Perhaps. Personally, I have my issues with shoulder-pad feminists, but I don’t want to get into our differences: I want to point out our commonalities.

Yeah, there is sexism out there. It takes a slightly different form than old school sexism, but it’s a huge problem that hasn’t gone away.

While the gender differences aren’t as stark in political science as in the sciences, they are still pretty bad. Take my profession — academic political science, presumably a bastion of political correctness. Our big annual convention is dominated by men. The leading journals prefer quantitative research over qualitative research. And no surprise, men do the quantitative work. The numbers of women with PhDs have increased dramatically over the years, yet the departments at universities are fraternities. Women get the degrees, but not the jobs. Many schools don’t offer family leave time or child-care centers on campus, something that might help mitigate the situation.

Most women — myself included — don’t experience these forms of soft sexism until later in life. We’re sailing through school work, out pacing men in the classroom. It’s only when the hard realities of family and work hit that women understand that they get the short end of the stick.

As a result, women are mad. And they are carrying that grudge into the voting booth. Dan Drezner found an item in Slate that shows where Hillary’s support is coming from.

Back in January, I discussed women voters and Hillary for here

in which I pointed out the backlash of sympathy from female pundits and bloggers that Hillary received about the image problem that women leaders face.

Most women — of any age — have had the “shrill and strident” label smacked on their forehead at one point or another and they know what it feels like when the young, handsome, Harvard-educated golden boys like Barack Obama take home all the prizes.

Megan McArdle, who is much too young for the shoulder-pad era, wrote,

But it’s far from clear to me that in this race, the benefits of being married to Bill are outweighing the drawbacks of being punished for things that would pass unnoticed in a man. And it’s pretty damn frustrating to think that you may lose a job you want because you’ve got twice the "normal" number of X chromosomes.

Taking a grudge to an empty voting booth may be passive aggressive, but that’s sometimes how we work.

Is a vote for Hillary is really a vote for women? I’m not sure. After all, she was given the early nod from Democratic party leaders, which is essentially an old boys’ network. She hasn’t made women’s policy interests a cornerstone of her campaign.

But the truth is that the shoulder-pad feminists are too angry to care.

This primary season, which has been remarkable for so many reasons, will be remembered as one that shone a bright light on the low but steady levels of anger in women. Older women may be channeling that into a vote for Hillary, but younger women get it, too.

Politicians take note: those issues aren’t going to go away after the Democratic convention.

Laura McKenna is a political science professor who lives in New Jersey. She blogs at 11D.

Laura McKenna is a political science professor who lives in New Jersey. She blogs at 11D.
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