Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tokenism and the GOP ticket

By Chloe Angyal

Back in June when Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign came to an end, my women friends and I were disappointed that such an historic campaign hadn’t ended in victory. We all agreed that it would have been a remarkable step forward for women, for this country and for the world if Clinton had been chosen as the Democratic nominee for President.

We were disappointed to see Clinton’s campaign end, but we were thrilled that she had gotten so far. We were thrilled that she had put up the tough fight she did, that she had proven herself so capable and that she had left the door to the Oval Office ajar for women. “Now”, we thought, “we just have to wait a little longer for another woman to come along and throw that door wide open.”

But three months later, and having a woman in the Oval Office is starting to look like a terrible idea. Not because there are no women who are qualified to hold the office, but because the woman now closest to doing so is so woefully unqualified.

Research into tokenism - being the only member of a minority group in an arena traditionally dominated by another group, like being a woman in politics, or a Jamaican in bobsledding - reveals two consistent phenomena. The first is that members of the majority group assume that the token will conform to all of the stereotypes they hold about the minority group.

In an extreme example, men politicians might expect the few women they come across in politics to be weepy, manipulative and incompetent – all stereotypes our culture tends to hold about women.

Secondly, based on their experiences with the token, the majority members generalizes about others member of the minority group in the same arena.
As a result, when you’re going to be the first minority to do something, or when you’re one of the only minorities in a given field, the burden you carry is huge. Not only do you have to fight what are usually negative stereotypes about your minority group, you are also charged with the responsibility of establishing expectations for how well all subsequent members of your group will do in that same field.

Is this fair? Of course not. Is it an unfortunate reality? Absolutely.

Sarah Palin has revealed herself to be unqualified in a way that is now beyond parody (although the parodies are hilarious, if a little depressing). If a man running for Vice President couldn’t name a single Supreme Court Case other than Roe v. Wade, or couldn’t name even one news publication he frequently read, or couldn’t summarize the foreign policy doctrine established by his party’s current Presidential administration (“in what respect, Charlie?”), he’d be laughed off the ticket.

The fact that some people within the Republican Party are now calling for McCain to drop Palin from his ticket is an indication of how dire the situation is, and it makes the future for women in politics look very dim indeed. In June, it was possible to believe that people would look at a woman running for office and say, “Hillary Clinton did it, and so can she.” Now they’ll say, “Sarah Palin couldn’t do it, and neither can she.”

As a proud Obama supporter, and a firm believer that Sarah Palin is almost comically underqualified to be the Vice President of the United States, I don’t want the McCain-Palin ticket to win in November. I do, however want Palin to hold her own in Thursday’s debate, and for the rest of the campaign, so as not to wreck the chances of a woman - a qualified woman - ever making it to the Oval Office.

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