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What Do Women (Voters) Want?

For Democrats, it had been pretty clear that the answer to the question above was "Hillary Clinton" - until the Iowa caucuses, when the female vote unexpectedly tipped in favor of Barack Obama. Then, just as unexpectedly, women voters in New Hampshire powered a Hillary comeback. Laura McKenna examines - without tears - how it happened.

by
Laura McKenna

Bio

January 10, 2008 - 1:00 am

What do women voters think of Hillary Clinton? That’s the question of the moment, though it has been kicking around for some months.

The polls show that women voters in Iowa went for Obama, but in New Hampshire they voted for Hillary. Did she gain some new traction with women by misting up on the campaign trail, by seeming vulnerable, or by talking more about the economy?

It’s insane to make generalizations about American women as a whole based on the primary elections in New Hampshire. There was an 8,000 vote difference between Obama and Hillary. We have to use caution when examining the poll results in these states for clues about the nation at large. 

Instead of trying to understand the female primary voter, let’s look at women pundits and the feminist blogosphere. The chickosphere is a smaller sample than primary women voters (though not by much).

Their reaction to Hillary has also been less ambiguous and is easily Googled.

In the fall, many of the prominent feminist bloggers were supporting Edwards. The feminist bloggers are closely tied to the Netroots, the liberal wing of the blogosphere, and the Netroots were in the hot tub with Edwards. The feminist bloggers felt that Clinton was too centrist and that Edwards had a better health plan. Curiously, the opportunity to elect the first women president was less important than those other issues.

With Edwards now running third, it is less clear about where the feminist bloggers are going. Cards are being kept close to the chest.

Hillary is getting much sympathy from pundits and bloggers about the image problem that women leaders face. Most women have had that “shrill and strident” label smacked on their forehead at one point or another.

They also know what it feels like when the young, handsome, Harvard-educated golden boys like Barack Obama take home all the prizes.

These problems aren’t isolated to liberal women. Senior editor at Reason, Kerry Howley, writes,

Add to this useful list of the worst jobs in the world: consultant to any candidate with breasts. Show emotion and you’re weak; show strength and you’re a collection of servos. Respond to attacks with emotion and you’re “angry.” Respond with equanimity and you’re cold and distant. Shy from war and you’re too feminine to lead; embrace it and you’re the establishment’s whore. And the worst thing you can do? Acknowledge, in any way, shape, or form, the existence of sexism in these United States.

Women bloggers aren’t sure if they want to vote for Hillary, but they absolutely don’t want anyone else to bash her. The sisterhood locks arms when nasty remarks are made about her v-neck sweaters or her black pantsuits. When New York Times columnistMaureen Dowd, gender traitor that she is, makes barbed jokes about Hillary being the heroine of a Lifetime movie, then the sisterhood fires back, “There’s really not enough Shutting Up in the world to deal with that sputtered puddle of bile.”

Lessons learned? If you really want women to vote for Hillary, pick on her clothes and her tears. Call her strident. Call her bitchy. But if you take gender out of the equation, then women are going to weigh her other qualities on the same scale as the guys. Hillary is like my little sister. Only I am allowed to beat her up.

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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