That’s not a typo in the title of this post, but let me assure you that I have NO interest in trying to persuade anyone to support one candidate over another in this year’s presidential election. Speaking only in terms of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, I’ve heard compelling reasons why each one of them deserves the nomination and I’ve also heard compelling reasons why we should be wary and cautious about each one. But right now I don’t want to discuss policies, platforms, experience, rhetoric, or past mistakes, I just want to talk about one specious argument for not voting for Hillary Clinton that I’ve heard multiple times during the past week. I first heard it at a dinner party over the weekend from a liberal middle-aged woman who describes herself as a feminist, then from a younger woman having a heated discussion with her friends at Farmers Market, then from a call-in guest on a progressive radio talk show, and finally, from a woman’s comment on a very liberal-minded blog I read regularly. Here’s the argument:
Whatever we think about Hillary Clinton, it would be irresponsible to vote for her for President because tensions are so high in the Middle East right now and we’d lose all credibility with Arab and Islamic leaders who would never agree to sit down with a woman to work out the challenges between our countries. It’s unfortunate that those male leaders are so sexist, but darn it, they are, it’s a cultural thing, and this is just not the time to antagonize them further by electing a female Commander-in-Chief. It would be fantastic to have a woman as President some day, but at this critical time it would put us at a serious disadvantage in the world since a woman could never gain the respect of many world leaders and their constituents. After all, look what happened to Benazir Bhutto.
Of all the arguments against Hillary Clinton, and there are plenty of legitimate ones that could be raised, this line of reasoning is so appalling to me that I almost wonder if it was put out by the Clinton campaign itself since my first instinct is to cover my lawn with “Hillary for President” placards. Is such an argument only possible because of the continued dearth of female candidates on the national stage? Would people be espousing it if the majority of the candidates in this election were women (and why the hell aren’t more of them at this point)? While the response to Clinton’s campaign has in some ways been far less sexist than reactions to Geraldine Ferraro or Pat Schroeder’s runs, I find this current argument more outrageous than anything I ever heard about those two. People shouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton just because she is a woman, but they sure as hell shouldn’t not vote for her because Islamic fundamentalists wouldn’t like it. I’m especially stunned that I’ve heard this argument mostly from liberal-minded women who viewed Ferraro’s place on the 1984 ticket as a watershed event for this country. What gives? And how is it different from saying that we should never elect a Jewish President since that would antagonize the leaders of the Arab world (as it surely would)? No doubt an African-American leader would offend some countries as well, and we better not consider electing anyone with an ethnic background that would bother the Chinese since we need to work closely with that important government.
I’m particularly disgusted at the way Benazir Bhutto’s name is brought into the discussion as “proof” that women should not try to lead during these troubled times. When did people in this country start using assassinations as reasons to cease and desist from their own beliefs? Is that how these people felt after the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Bobby Kennedy? Maybe I’m just being hopelessly naïve. Maybe they’re right and we just can’t have women in high positions until things “calm down” over there. After all, we want to make sure that people all over the planet have the same unmitigated love and respect for our next President as they do for George W. Bush, right?