Women who venture into preserves formerly considered male get used to sexist put-downs. There has been progress; females attending law school today are unlikely to encounter the sorts of accusations that were routine when I was one of a handful of women students in the 1970s: I was taking a place that should have gone to a man. I was just a bored housewife amusing myself with tort law. My children would become drug addicts.
People—okay, men—who should know better still say remarkably stupid things, of course. Just last year, Representative Steve Buyer told The Hill that women "don’t fight fair. Men do very well at focus, well at what’s in front of them. Women bring their memories to the debate and bring in things that may not even be relevant… They bring in external things that may have occurred in the past. So you have to come in, nod your head and be a good listener." But most politicians—whatever their private prejudices—have learned to avoid such patronizing buffoonery.
And then Hillary Clinton decided to run for President.
Now, Hillary is not my favorite political figure, but there are plenty of reasons to oppose her candidacy that do not rest on gender. If the polls are correct that she has a significant lead among women, it may be in part because women resent the gender-based putdowns by some of her opponents. The most recent episode, and the one that has gotten the most attention, was the exchange between Senator John McCain and a (female!) supporter who asked him “How do we beat the (rhymes with witch)?” McCain just laughed at the use of this time-tested epithet for “uppity” women.
McCain’s response can at least be dismissed as political. But what about what passes for professional commentary from our increasingly irrelevant chattering classes? Chris Matthews, commenting after one of her appearances, said “We were watching Hillary Clinton earlier tonight and she was giving a campaign barn burner speech, which is harder to give for a woman. It can grate on some men when they listen to it. Fingernails on a blackboard..” Another time, he characterized her voice as “shrill” and her body language as “judgmental,” terms unlikely to be applied to a male.
In a recent column, Maureen Dowd reported on some telling research. In one recent study, Columbia University professor Ray Fisman confirmed the staying power of certain long-standing gender biases. As he put it, “We males are a gender of fragile egos in search of a pretty face and are threatened by brains or success that exceeds our own.” Catalyst, an organization that studies women in the workplace, found that “women who behave in ways that cleave to gender stereotypes — focusing on collegiality and relationships — are seen as less competent. But if they act too macho, they are seen as ‘too tough’ and unfeminine.”
There are plenty of valid reasons to vote for someone other than Hillary Clinton. “Rhymes with witch” isn’t one of them.