Caucusing and Gender
by BDB, Wed Jan 02, 2008 at 08:37:04 AM EST
In her interview on ABC this morning Hillary Clinton raised a question about whether women have difficulty caucusing. Whether they are likely to feel less comfortable standing up in front of others in a social setting and declaring their opinion.
When this was reported on Talking Points Memo, the comments basically suggested that this was nothing more than Hillary bemoaning her future loss in Iowa or otherwise denigrating this suggestion. I think this is a mistake. I don't know the answer, but I think the issue deserves more thought than simply using it to insult Clinton. Although, really, anytime anyone during this election has suggested that gender plays any kind of role in politics in any way that hurts women, they have been attacked, usually by the MSM (as others have documented, compare the hysteria around Clinton playing the "gender card" - which was a highly questionable interpretation of events - to Bush in his flight suit or Rudy pullinig his manly-man schtick, Clinton was seen as a whining complaint for favoritism, the others just good politics without any gender cards being played at all).
I don't believe Clinton indicated that she worried that women might feel constrained from standing up for her as opposed to one of her opponents, but that women might feel constrained from standing up under social pressure for anyone. Given studies that have been done about the relative differences of men and women in how talkative they are (men tend to dominate mixed gender discussions) and in the classroom, I think there is a real issue to be addressed about how women participate in caucuses (see http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.to pic58474/krupnick.html for an example of the classroom studies). Not just whether they show up, but whether they are more or less likely to cave to social pressures in the room than men or any other differences in the quality of their participation.
I don't think this is answered simply by having a woman or two stand up and say that she doesn't care who her husband and his friends caucus for or who her friends caucus for, which is usually how the MSM deal with these kinds of issues. There are always exceptions and we're not talking about every woman, we're talking about a gender difference overall between men and women (which of course might not exist between two particular people). I'm one of those women who never had a problem speaking in class or anywhere else, but I know that that makes me the exception rather than the rule in a lot of circumstances. What I don't know is if caucusing is one of them.
Before the trolling starts, let me be clear that I don't think this is about Clinton winning or losing Iowa. First, I think gender issues in politics is a bigger issue than Clinton, although certainly her candidacy has highlighted how much our society remains screwed up about gender. Second, to the extent the phenomenon exists, I'm not sure it necessarily hurts Clinton. The social pressure could come as much for a woman to caucus for Clinton as against her.
The caucus system completely disenfranchises some voters - first responders, people on the swing shift, military persons overseas. What I'm also interested in is whether there are any gender effects of a system that requires you to be willing to stand and be counted? Either in willingness to attend (women make up the majority of caucus goers, so my guess here is that it does not) or how the person participates (this I think is the real question).
It wouldn't surprise me if there were gender differences, but I have no idea.
I do think that people's desire to simply dismiss Clinton's suggestion is a mistake. I understand why they are doing it, but as I've said a million times before, to the extent sexism drives elections, it hurts democrats, not just Clinton. Because even when we nominate a man, he gets painted as a woman. And because women are part of the democratic base and anything that lessens or hurts their participation is a problem for democrats (same thing for African Americans, unions, and other base constituencies).