Gender Bender

NK Sreedhar is back in action with a timely post on the US elections which has gained a surprising amount of attention in India as well. Please encourage him with your comments. – Sukumar

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Just in case you didn’t get to see / hear the news in the past few months, it’s election year in the US. Hema and I are going to be voting for the first time and we are very excited. One of the best aspects of the US political process is the debates – where the average voter gets to see where the candidates stand and how they articulate their thoughts and ideas. We love the debates. In fact, we debate for hours together after watching the debates.

It’s no wonder then that after watching the VP debate, our conversation turned to Ms. Barracuda (Governor Palin for the rest of you elites). As recent poll numbers are showing, Gov. Palin’s support amongst women is dwindling and most women are starting to say that they wouldn’t vote for her. On the other hand, when we were sitting in the hall for oath taking, there was an African American to the right and left of me. Both of them have been in the country for over 30 years and this was the first time they wanted to become citizens, so they get the chance to put one of their own in the White House. In fact, analysts are predicting that there will be extraordinary turnouts of African Americans at the polls come November 2nd.

For the first time in the US history, an African American has the chance to become the president or a woman has the chance to become the Vice President. I wanted to understand why African Americans are feeling the maternal instinct of protecting one of their own, but, women are not feeling that same instinct in protecting Gov. Palin. No two segments of people have been more tortured, oppressed, denied their rights and treated as slaves than an African American or women. Yet, women who have been oppressed and sidelined since the hunter-gatherer days still won’t support one of their own, if only to elevate their collective condition, but an African American would and does. I find that very intriguing. Of course, I am over simplifying things by leaving out lot of nuances, but, you get the general idea.

I ask every one of the women that tells me they wouldn’t vote for Governor Palin, including my wife, why they wouldn’t. Most tell me that they are unable to identify themselves with the Governor and they can’t understand what she’s saying most of the times. Of course, their opinion of her collectively changed after the now infamous interviews that Governor Palin gave. The answer gets complicated when I ask them if they’d support her if she was eloquent and thoughtful and empathetic. Most of them are unable to point out why they wouldn’t support her even at that point.

Forget for a moment that a President and VP have nearly 3000 people to support them through key every day decisions and wouldn’t have to be great orators themselves – think of George W. Bush. Of all the virtues he had, public speaking wasn’t one of them. It can’t be that we value communication and inter-personal skills so high that it trumps our instincts to protect our own? If so, how did the independent women vote for W. Is gender instinct not as strong and clear-cut as racial instinct?

No matter which way we lean, at least at the outset, it looks as though women are able to overcome their gender-bias and no matter what gender you are, racial bias is much more difficult to overcome. What do you think?


Comments

  1. Quote
    pk.karthik said October 20, 2008, 12:58 pm:

    Interesting Post Sridhar….But what about the men folk…i felt that Ms Palin was to attract the members of the opposite sex and not for women….interesting thing is that she has managed to get the highest rating for SNL in 14 years…I feel men (especially the 20 to 35 segement) could play a crucial role …

  2. Quote

    I am not sure I agree that women are not supporting their gender Sridhar. We all know how much support Hillary got from Women across the country. It’s just Sarah Palin who might end up not getting women votes. This might be because majority of the people, men/women don’t percieve her to live upto the standards of a President.She just exposed herself by trying to bring down the standards of the debate by getting into Obama’s past relationships.
    Another aspect could be that women in America today are very much liberated and almost at par with men. There is no need for them to support a women candidate cos that’s not going to do them any undue favor in the coming days. They perhaps just want to support the best candidate in national interest.
    On the other hand, I feel the African-American population still feels a lot let down and there is still a good amount of visible difference between the two races in the American society. May be this is what forces them to come out in support of Obama, they all (African American community)want things in thier own life to change. And they think Obama might just be their chance to get it done.

    You might have also noted that Obama too has a good amount of support from the white population. If we had gone by the idea of racial instinct then all whites in America should’ve been McCain supporters.

  3. Quote

    Karthik,

    Thanks for the comment. You are right in that she’s appealing to men more so than women now, but that’s not why she was anointed in the first place. She was asked so that the party can attract women who are disgruntled in not having Hilary in the WH, right.

    Yes, men are attracted to her – personally I don’t understand what they see as attractive, but I digress.

    She’s definitely a love/hate relationship person – either people hate her to the core or they love her.

  4. Quote

    Ranjit,

    Good point about women supporting Hillary. I don’t agree with your point about women being liberated being the reason for them not voting for her – who is more liberated than an average white male. Yet, the ones leaning right and is a white male want to vote for a white male and feels strongly about it. If they feel the urge to protect their turf, why don’t women feel that.

    For all the talk about women being liberated in this country, we haven’t elected one women president, have we?

  5. Quote

    Sreedhar,

    The women you have talked who are not planning to vote for Mrs. Palin – what is their education level, which part of America are they from, how long have they been in America?

    I believe a lot of the woman in heartland America will vote for Mrs. Palin just because they think she is one of them. Yeah right – how many of them have been career politicians?

    However, they are taken in by her juggling 5 kids and politics. I do appreciate her for being able to take care of her family and pursue her career path – politics. And this I believe is attractive to a lot of women – both working and stay-at-home moms. The former can empathize with her while the latter admire her for what she is doing. And in a lot of cases, such admiration and empathy boils down to voting for her.

    They do not look beyond this into her belief system, what she stands for etc. They were not separating chaffe from the wheat.

    I would have to agree with Ranjith. There is significant wage differences between African Americans and whites, racism or at least racial tension continues to exist, and in such an environment, perhaps majority of African Americans see Obama as an agent of change, someone who they can aspire to become, someone from their own ilk who has crossed the racial divide perhaps.

    For women, such a strong sentiment does not exist towards Mrs. Palin.

    Also, African American population percentage is obviously significantly less than the percentage of women, and I believe this also has something to do with clanish identification with Obama. Smaller the population, tight knit they will be. Women do not have to identify with Mrs. Palin to feel uplifted.

    Ganesh

  6. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said October 21, 2008, 11:12 am:

    Good post Sreeedhar. Looks like a good discussion is developing.

    I think Ranjit’s point on racial dynamics is spot on. I also agree with Ganesh that because women are a bigger population they don’t have the need to elect one of their own to feel liberated.

    I also think women in America are quite liberated compared to women in countries like India. Yes, the glass ceiling exists and women are not in high profile positions of power (like the Presidency and CEO-hood) as much as they should be. But that doesn’t mean that the glass ceiling has not fallen in many areas.

    i think in the end this election is mainly about “change” and not about either race or gender. African Americans being a minority cannot elect a candidate all on their own. Obama has made race a non-issue in this election and that is commendable.

    Maybe McCain with a different VP on the ticket may have proved to be a tougher competitor. Palin blew the ticket.

  7. Quote

    Sridhar,

    Very interesting post. One comedian, I think it was Bill Maher, who said Obama is a crossover AA. He is like Halle Berry of politics. Like all white males like to watch Halle, many white males dont find anything odd in electing Obama.

    Palin is altogether a different breed. One of my previous managers told that she would vote for Bush second term. When asked why, she told that they told in church to support Bush. So here no logic works. At the same time, there will be millions who will feel ashamed to support Palin/ Bush even from Republican base.

    This year election is a bit different I guess. Obama talks sense most of the time. He also talks about responsibility of families etc. He will be like a nanny of the nation, if he gets elected. So the AA populace thinks he is one of them, where as the white Americans think he is qualified.

    Ganesh’s points are very interesting. The demographics of America are complex. Some areas like South East Florida, West VA which rallied behind Republicans are now not in the same mind set. This would be very critical factor I think.

  8. Quote

    Ganesh,

    Hah! you got me with my poor sampling techniques (being a stat major in undergrad, I have no choice but to admit it). Yes, you are right. If I ask women in heartland, more of them might be open to Gov. Palin. I also understand your reasoning behind why a strong sentiment doesn’t exist in supporting the Governor.

    Your point about being able to identify themselves with the candidate to feel uplifted is right on the mark. I think this is the primary reason behind the difference in support.

  9. Quote

    Sukumar,

    I agree with you on the glass ceiling. However, I doubt if McCain blew the ticket by selecting Palin. Before his VP choice, McCain was getting slammed by the party’s right because he was pandering too much to the middle – from Rush Limbaugh to Fox News. After selecting Ms.Palin, he has gained with the right, but is losing the middle because of how far right Ms.Palin is.

    I think it was a key judgment that McCain made in reaching to the right to get the base vote. Only time will tell if it is a good judgment or an error in judgment.

  10. Quote

    Vamsi,

    Good point about the independent voters swaying more towards Obama in this election and that could be the tip the scale one way or another. Like I said in my previous comment, I wouldn’t write the election off in favor of Obama yet. Democrats are traditionally lax is voting compared to the Republicans and the independents will need something to look up to for them to go vote.

    With all the noise about socialism, terrorist connections etc. I wonder if there are enough in the middle who’d give up and don’t vote. That will change the fate of this election completely.

  11. Quote

    NK

    Good post. As per latest polls, 75% of Americans worried about economy and 72% Americans thinks that this is all because of President Bush’s administration and war policy. So it is clear that if Sen. Clinton got the Democratic ticket, she would be the leading candidate now. The Anti-incumbent wave is the major key here, not race nor gender.

    Gov. Palin has good experience with energy policy and she is a known reformer. Her track record with Alaska state reformation was good. But she clearly lacks main experience. Now question is, what if something happened to McCain (he is 72 years old, had cancer surgery, 20-25 years smoker) can she lead the country? I think answer is big NO. My personal opinion is, we have to stay away from race and gender when voting for next president.

    -Subba

  12. Quote
    Abdul Fakhri said October 22, 2008, 6:05 am:

    Sreedhar,

    Great Post. You raise a very important question about the relationship between race and gender, another recent example being the life and politics of Oprah Winfrey.

  13. Quote

    Subba,

    You make an interesting point about keeping race and gender out of the race when voting for the president, but, it’s never has been and never will be that easy. We are all prejudiced, however noble we think we are. So, it’s not easy to keep our prejudices away when voting.

    one thing is for sure – it has at least made a lot of people take interest in this election and that’s always good.

  14. Quote

    Abdul,

    Thank you for your comment. Yes indeed. Oprah is a really powerful figure and has helped shape politics of many. Another powerful one on the right is rush limbaugh and to a certain extent bill o’ reilly. They can and have often enticed their audiences into a frenzy.

  15. Quote

    NK – Cool post. Unless people are hiding under a rock, they would know about the US elections.

    When Sarah Palin was picked as the running mate for John McCain, there was a lot of hysteria among women. I excused myself from the masses prostrating before their new demigod. And now, I’m ecstatic that most women have recovered from their brief mental illness when they supported Governor Palin.

    I’m shocked that Senator McCain – whom I respect & admire – picked such a non-entity. For one, she’s against abortion. Any educated woman that believes in choice would find that stance repulsive. She’s pro-war. As if the 2 un-winnable wars waged by America are not enough! I have a fear that she may goad America & its allies into a war with Iran. She’s extremely ignorant about economy. She has no knowledge about foreign policy. She hasn’t even traveled much outside the United States. She has negligible experience – As John Stewart exposed in his show, being the Mayor of a small town does not prepare one for presidency.

    Added to that, she’s corrupt. She fires people she doesn’t like, abuses funds to buy herself & her family very expensive wardrobes, redecorates her office in Anchorage when there’s an economic crisis, charges the state an “out of station” allowance when she’s sleeping in her own bedroom, charges the state for her children’s travel – its a long list. Palin is a very unsavory character. Her gender is of no consequence.

    What matters is the suitability of that person for the role. Out of all the capable women around – Carly Fiorina, anyone? – McCain picked HER?

    America & the world has suffered enough with an ignoramus in the White House for the past 8 years. 8 years back, people said the same thing – “Oh, the President/VP have many able minions supporting them. So, why should we look for someone super-competemt?”. Look what happened with Dubya. The President & VP should at least know how to get things done thru their capable minions? And they should know enough to earn their respect?

    Being the President of the most powerful country in the world is not a joke. Even extremely capable people fail in that job. Why pick an idiot from Wasilla, who’s just a heart-beat away from the Presidency? Let’s remind ourselves that McCain is 72 & his running mate may become President, if he passes away. Eloquence & empathy won’t convert a corrupt, inept, inexperienced, lying woman from the backwoods into a capable administrator.

    Yes, I do believe black people are unable to get over their racial bias. I don’t think Obama will make a good president either. But, I’ll pick him over Palin any day.

  16. Quote

    And I agree with Ranjith, Sukumar & Ganesh. Educated women in the US have done a lot better than the average African Americans. Its nor surprising that they won’t bite the bait & support Governor Palin. They don’t think she represents them. As Ganesh said, women from the bible belt will support Palin.

    I think McCain is also losing the right wing. Choosing Palin has eroded his base.

    Of all the elections we’ve seen, I honestly feel this one is less about race & gender than others. Primarily because Whites will vote for Obama in droves, not just African Americans. And many women will be repulsed by Palin.

  17. Quote

    I totally agree with you Priya. People don’t have a choice here to think based on the race or gender. They just have to pick between the two. The choice is between picking Palin or Obama. The country is in a confused state and either of the choices are the best pick but Obama is just a better choice over Palin.
    It is so disappointing to see experienced politicians like Al Gore not ready to run for President, although that is his personal choice and i respect him for his contributions to the Green campaign and environment activist. Politician who have the experience to drive the country through such a tough time should have stepped up and taken the stand.

    I did have great respect for McCain until his VP choice and as you hear more everyday about her you get more irritated.

  18. Quote

    Alec Baldwin put things in perspective, I think – by nicknaming our favorite governor “Bible Spice” 😛 That’s how serious we should take her.

  19. Quote

    Priya,

    Don’t believe in mincing words, do we 🙂

    I agree with you in principle, though I wouldn’t go to the level of calling Gov. Palin an idiot. She has played her limited cards very well for her to be at this level, outside of McCain having moments of stupidity and car-crashing risk-taking approach in picking her. Everyone has skeletons in their closet, and politicians can count only in denomination of 100s.

    Yes, her selection has made McCain lose some from the base (more to the center than from the right – The extreme right are ecstatic about her selection. In fact, the right wants her to the president and Joe the plumber the VP 🙂 Some say she’s already thinking about 2012.

  20. Quote

    NK – I’m appalled at her being chosen. I was furious when Pratibha Patil was chosen over Mohsina Kidwai too – but at least Ms Patil is a lawyer & an experienced politician. And she’s only a figure-head.

    Palin already has more skeletons than a crypt keeper 🙂 That too in such a short period, while wielding very little power. Imagine her tantrums if & when she becomes the VP.

    Yep, the extreme right must be ecstatic. They are generally threatened by anyone with an IQ > 90. So, let me say I’m not surprised. A person with limited cards shouldn’t be running for high office. Palin may not be an idiot, but I think many readers of this blog are better qualified than her for the job.

  21. Quote

    Sujatha,

    I am not sure Al Gore could have won the primary. He comes with too much baggage and have been hit hard by late night shows and comedians for his many gaffes. People don’t have the same respect for him anymore and Independents would have skewered him, if not the Republicans. If it was Gore vs. H.R.C in the primaries, Clinton would have won it in a landslide.

    I can understand your irritation with Gov. Palin. Remember, the Republicans feel the same irritation with Obama and Biden. They can’t understand why there is so much mass hysteria over Obama when he hasn’t accomplished a lot. This is not just a few people, this is nearly 50% of the population.

    There has been numerous articles about how we seem to be hard-wired to be a Democrat or a Republican. Granted, the last 8 years have made us much more cynical about a Republican president, but some conservatives say that the last 8 years are not true conservative thinking. If you look at the Republican / conservative principles

    1. Small Government
    2. Less Taxes (because it’s going to be a small government)
    3. Pro-life (human life, that is)
    4. military might

    These are in somewhat order of priority. If you look at the last 8 years, Government grew an average 18% YoY (today’s NY times), taxes increased as a percentage, nothing was done about pro-life except improving militarily by waging 2 wars. So, the conservatives feel that the last 8 years is a bad example for a republican government.

    The 2 most differing issues between Democrats and Republicans in my opinion are a) pro-life vs. pro-choice and b) fight vs. coalition.

    No matter what we say, it’s the center / independents that decide each election. This time too they would decide the election. Given the economic condition, Republicans can’t come up with a small government (bailout of banks, bailout talks about auto industry, infrastructure investments, completing the war). They look more and more like Democrats with big government and increasing tax rates. That’s why they are getting creamed in the polls.

  22. Quote

    Priya,

    I burst out laughing reading your comment. “IQ > 90” 🙂

    I don’t know if I should be happy or sad with Ms. Palin’s selection. I am a registered democrat, so I am happy that her pick instantly increases the democratic base by alienating the middle. However, I am sad that it slides the scale so low on the position of VP.

    Competence has never been a pre-requisite. It’s been more about likability and who would I have beer with (you may question, prudently, if I will ever have the chance for a beer with the VP / President, but that’s besides the point and we wouldn’t have elected the current one if competence was a criteria).

    David Brooks recently wrote about the Republicans moving away from anti-elitism (of the 80s) to anti-intelligence and he was worried that it’s such a slippery slope for the country. You bring up the same point with your IQ>90 comment.

    Me personally – I’d like more of a fight based on principles. This feels more like beating a dead horse (elephant in this case)

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