Opinion » Column | Oct. 15
By Duncan Hosie
Sexism thrives at Princeton and in America. Yet misogyny is particularly forceful in one domain of our campus and society: politics.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, hecklers confronted Hillary Clinton, encouraging the then-senator to “iron my shirt” and “make me a sandwich.” Marc Rudov, a contributor to Fox News, argued on national television, “When Barack Obama speaks, men hear: ‘Take off for the future.’ And when Hillary Clinton speaks, men hear, ‘Take out the garbage.’ ” The blatant bigotry wasn’t limited to a few isolated reactionaries. Respectable newspapers regularly included updates on Clinton’s hair, dress and makeup. (I don’t recall any stories about John McCain’s ill-fitting suits.) Clinton had to deal with charges from mainstream reporters that she was “shrill” and “emotional.” Lamentably, misogyny continues to follow Clinton. Just last week, elected delegates at the California Republican convention circulated anti-Clinton buttons that declared, “KFC Hillary Special: 2 Fat Thighs, 2 Small Breasts … Left Wing.
And it’s not just Clinton. In 2008, prominent liberals dismissed Sarah Palin as a “good-looking beauty queen” and a “dumb twat” instead of focusing on her policy proposals. Ostensibly serious reporters asked Palin about whether she received breast augmentation surgery and whether she was neglecting her children by running for vice president.
Personally, I believe Senator Clinton lost her 2008 campaign because of sexism from the media and voters themselves. I also believe that sexism contributed, in part, to the resounding defeat of the McCain/Palin ticket. But this sexism does not just impact Clinton or Palin. The double standard that female candidates face, and the lack of popular outrage over the egregious treatment they receive from the media, sends a dangerous message to all American women. It suggests that the highest offices of American government are reserved for men, that women would be better off pursuing other careers and that politics itself is a men’s sport.
American politics remains a men’s sport. Consider any level of American government. Municipal level? Among America’s 100 most populous cities, only 12 have female mayors. State level? Five states have female governors. Nationally? One out of every five members of Congress is female. According to the UN 2012 Women in Politics report, the United States is ranked 78th internationally in terms of the number of women elected to legislative or parliamentary bodies. We’re tied with Turkmenistan.
Unfortunately, this is Princeton’s problem, too. With upcoming USG elections, it’s time to have a conversation about the role sexism plays in our own campus politics. According to the 2011 report of the Steering Committee on Undergraduate Women’s Leadership, there has been only one female USG president since 1994. In other words, Princeton has only had one female USG president in my lifetime, even though elections occur every year. Additionally, the report notes, “in the past 10 years, a woman ran for USG president only in 2003, 2007 and 2010.” Since then, Catherine Ettman ’13 ran for president in 2011 and faced criticism during the campaign that she was shrill. The report also observed that class presidents “tend to be male,” as do other prominent positions in campus life (for example, the editors-in-chief of this newspaper). Each current Princeton class president is male. And just last week, the freshmen voted in Class Council elections. They elected four males and one female. The one woman elected also received the fewest votes out of the five winners.
If we want to increase women in government on the national level, we have to start on the collegiate level. By the time women are in college, they are much less likely to run for office, to win that office if they do run and to consider pursuing politics in the future. According to the Women & Politics Institute at American University, men aged 18-25 are twice as likely to have considered running for office later in life “many times.” The same study found that women aged 18-25 are 20 percent more likely, relative to men, to have never considered running for political office. The study contends that these gaps don’t fade over time; they persist for women’s entire lives.
This is not just a women’s issue. I’m a man, and I am equally harmed when our elected public servants, whether they be at Princeton or the marbled halls of Congress, don’t represent all of us. I believe that representative government needs to be, well, representative. Democracy depends on diversity. Ultimately, without full female representation, I don’t think USG or any elected body can truly reflect the people.
Women of Princeton: We need you. I hope all undergraduate women reading this column will consider running for USG office. This University has made enormous progress in becoming more accepting of women. Since 1973, graduating classes at Princeton have been co-ed; since 1991, all eating clubs have accepted female members. We still have work to do, though. Of course, misogyny manifests itself in many forms on campus other than just USG elections. But making sure that the public face of undergraduates truly reflects all students is an important, and powerful, place to start.
Duncan Hosie is a sophomore from Belvedere, Calif. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.