It seems clear to me that evidence shows that both have a liability when trying to achieve a position in public office at the highest levels. Both are grossly underrepresented when compared to their respective proportions of the total population. Both suffer from stereotypes that can be acted upon unconsciously by prospective voters. Barack Obama is therefore complimented for being "clean and articulate" and Hillary can't seem to find a satisfactory--to the media--balance between human warmth and strength without everyone raising the questions "Is she strong enough?" or "Is she a cold, frigid bitch?" We should celebrate the fact that both candidates have overcome these liabilities enough to be front-runners in the current primary race.
Meanwhile, those of us who would be delighted to finally see either an African American or a woman as president are presented with quite a quandary in this election season. There are things to like about each candidate--and some of their competition as well--and some liabilities. Hillary Clinton is seen as the establishment candidate while Barack has the liability of lack of experience in a time when the general electorate might fear to take a risk on someone young and fresh on the scene. We are anxious about this election as we were about the last, given the grave problems our nation at war faces. We want a good candidate on the issues as well as someone who seems electable against whoever the opposing side chooses. Would Barack Obama be able to win out over McCain's experience? Would Hillary Clinton be able to take on the reassuring persona of a war hero? Would either of them fare well matched against the "aw shucks" persona of Mike Huckabee, who also positions himself as an outsider to the Washington establishment? And does John Edwards have a chance, being as inexperienced as Obama? Will South Carolina give him enough of a bump to keep him in the race? (And it's too bad that Biden has the charisma of a carrot because he does have great ideas and a wealth of experience, and also too bad that Kucinich doesn't know how to present himself in a more credible fashion. Maybe he saw a UFO, but it isn't a good idea to talk about it when you're running for president.)
I like each candidate based on some of their ideas and positions on the issues, so the issue of how they play in a national campaign looms large in my mind. I vote on Feb. 5th and I still haven't decided.
Perhaps it's good that we're having a national debate about how sexism and racism affect our choices. It would be even better if we could talk about classism too.
Some of the talk in the media:
Gloria Steinem's piece: "Women are Never Front-Runners."
Salon's Broadsheet in response.
Broadsheet quotes Glamocracy's Caille Millner regarding Steinem's essay.
Ariel Werner responds to Gloria Steinem and explains why she supports Barack Obama.
ETA: an interesting quote and link from Shirley Chisholm (who I previously wrote about), the first black woman to run for President (and I hope very much not the last):
In 1972, when she entered the presidential primaries, she did not expect to capture the Democratic nomination, which ultimately went to George S. McGovern. "Some see my candidacy as an alternate and others as symbolic or a move to make other candidates start addressing themselves to real issues," she said at the time. She did not win a single primary, but in 2002, she said her campaign had been a necessary "catalyst for change."
She was also aware of her status as a woman in politics. "I've always met more discrimination being a woman than being black," she told The Associated Press in December 1982, shortly before she left Washington to teach at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. "When I ran for the Congress, when I ran for president, I met more discrimination as a woman than for being black. Men are men."
I still make no claims about whether in the present day women or black men are more discriminated against. This was simply a snapshot of how Ms. Chisholm viewed it at that point in time.