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June 13, 2008

“Racism is deeper, but sexism may be wider in America today. In polls, more Americans say they would be willing to vote for a black candidate for president than for a female candidate, and sexist put-downs are heard more publicly than racial ones.

Presumably in part because of sexism (and also because of self-selection), women today are still hugely underrepresented in the political arena. Women constitute about 23 percent of legislators in the 50 states, a proportion that has risen only slightly in the last decade. In addition, the political commentariat is overwhelmingly male, which is one reason that Mrs. Clinton’s supporters felt unfairly battered.

We aren’t always aware of our own biases. Some of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters are sure that she was defeated by misogyny, while those who voted against her invariably are dismissive: The reason I didn’t vote for her isn’t that she’s a woman. It’s that she’s a dynastic opportunist who voted for the Iraq war and…

The catch is that abundant psychology research shows that we are often shaped by stereotypes that we are unaware of. Many studies have presented research subjects with the exact same C.V., alternately with a male name and a female name. Usually, the male is perceived as a better fit for executive posts–even among well-meaning people who are against gender discrimination, and even among women.

At the end of the day, none of this proves or disproves the thesis that gender bias played a role in the election. But if Mrs. Clinton was hurt by gender, her problem wasn’t misogynists so much as ordinary men and women who believe in equal opportunity–but also are conditioned to think that a president speaks in a gravelly voice.”

–Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

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