REPUBLICANS have often been indignant at being portrayed as waging a “war on women,” and the rhetoric sometimes was, indeed, a bit over the top. Until Donald Trump showed up.
Trump seems to be trying a strategy of what Ted Cruz would call “carpet bombing,” insulting Carly Fiorina’s face, Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle, Heidi Cruz’s looks and now Hillary Clinton’s “woman’s card.”
This is the card that in the United States earns women just 92 cents to a male worker’s dollar, less than one-fifth of the seats in Congress, a bare 19 percent of corporate board seats, an assault every nine seconds — and free catcalls and condescension! Frankly, I’ll stick with my MasterCard.
Yet many on the right passionately believe that Clinton and other women get a pass because of this woman’s card (Rush Limbaugh, even more blunt, calls it playing the vagina card). Really? A twice-elected senator and former secretary of state is benefiting from a gender shortcut, even as her male opponent would be the first president in history never to have held elective, military or cabinet office?
To me, it looks as if Trump is playing the man’s card!
The evidence is that the woman’s card is less than worthless: There’s abundant research showing that men and women alike tend to judge women more harshly than men. One of the best-known experiments is called the Goldberg paradigm, and it asks research subjects to evaluate an essay or speech. In countries all over the world, both men and women judge the same piece more negatively when they are told it is by a woman, more positively when they believe it is by a man.
In a more recent experiment, more than 120 scientists around the United States were asked to evaluate an application for a job as laboratory manager. In half the cases, the name on the application was Jennifer, in the other half it was John, but everything else was identical.
The scientists recommended John more highly than Jennifer, were more willing to mentor John than Jennifer, and on average suggested a salary for John that was 14 percent higher than the one they suggested for Jennifer. It didn’t seem to matter whether the scientists were male or female.
Likewise, female musicians are rated more highly when they perform in gender-blind auditions from behind a screen. One study found that conducting auditions from behind a screen increases by 50 percent the chance that a woman will advance out of preliminary audition rounds.
The problem isn’t exactly misogyny. We’ve come a long way since President Richard Nixon told an aide why he wouldn’t appoint a woman to the Supreme Court: “I’m not for women, frankly, in any job. I don’t want any of them around. Thank God we don’t have any in the cabinet.”
Today it’s not a clear-cut case of men oppressing women. It seems to be more about unconscious bias, a patriarchal attitude that is absorbed and transmitted by men and women alike — which is one reason women often aren’t much help to other women.
“Women aren’t particularly nice to women,” notes Esther Duflo, an economist at M.I.T. who has studied gender issues. She observes that in Spain, researchers found that having more women randomly assigned to a committee evaluating judiciary candidates actually hurts the prospects of female candidates. A similar study found that on Italian academic evaluation committees, women evaluate female candidates more harshly than men do.
A central challenge is that it’s difficult for women to be perceived as both competent and likable: If they’re seen as competent, they’re grating nags, while if they’re perceived as nice, they’re airheads. There’s no such trade-off for men.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Harvard Business School professor, has conducted pioneering studies of women in the business world and says that the first women at their level tended to be stereotyped in one of four ways: as a mother figure, as a sex object, as a cheerleader or as a tough-as-nails “iron maiden.” “If you have to be stereotyped, that’s the best one, the iron maiden,” she adds.
Indeed, the first women as leaders in democratic systems — people like Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel — have often been tough, hawkish figures, and Kanter says it may be easier for voters to support this kind of woman rather than one who is more traditionally feminine. Hillary Clinton also fits into that hard-bitten, hawkish archetype.
So what do we make of this research? I’d say that if Clinton leads Trump in the head-to-head polls, maybe it’s because of gaps in experience, policies, temperament and judgment. It’s certainly not about the “woman’s card,” which is like a credit card that isn’t accepted anywhere but carries a $3,000 annual fee.
It has been said that Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did — just backward and in high heels. Now that’s the woman’s card.