Sunday, December 14, 2014

Age, women and the presidency

Hillary Clinton may be the next Democratic nominee for US President. She also may become the next US president. Or, maybe not either one. But whatever happens, we’ll see an extraordinary double-standard about female politicians.

Hillary Clinton is presently 67 years old, which means that if she wins the Democratic Nomination and the presidential election, she’d be the same age Ronald Reagan was when he was first sworn in as president. Reagan’s fans never suggest that Reagan was “too old to be president”, yet that’s said of Hillary all the time.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, who’s also considering another run for the White House, is six months older than Hillary. Republicans have plenty of reasons why they don’t like Mitt, but his age isn’t one of them.

Women have long had to battle this double-standard around age, so this is nothing new. But that doesn’t make it any less silly, even if its persistence is kind of baffling.

On Friday (US time), the Washington Post suggested that Hillary shouldn’t delay her announcement, if she intends to run, because momentum is building for US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Warren is around two years younger than Clinton, but I’ve seen her described as “too old”, too.

I think that if Hillary—and/or any other female candidate—does run, we’ll see a barrage of ageist (and other sexist) comments. Sadly, I also think that’s only for starters.

For the past six years, we’ve seen constant racist commentary, sometimes veiled or coded, about President Barack Obama. To me, that means that sexist comments are inevitable, not just if a woman is nominated, but, especially, if she actually wins.

I think that politics in the USA have become so poisoned and bitter that irrational, mean-spirited and even vicious comments will be directed against whatever woman becomes the first female presidential nominee for either major party—but given the harsh partisanship in US politics, I bet it will be much worse if the first female candidate is a Democrat.

The media perpetuates double standards, too, of course. Recently, ThinkProgress published a sort of thought experiment: “How Would The Media Cover Leonardo DiCaprio’s Partying If He Were A Woman?”. This is just one small example of how female celebrities are treated differently than men by the US media. Why would politicians be treated any better?

We’re a long, long way from a society in which we judge people by the content of their character. It’s inevitable that a woman will be the nominee of one of the two major US parties, and inevitable that one day a woman will be elected president. But I think we shouldn’t be under any illusions about how bad the rhetoric can—no, will—get.


rogerogreen said...

NO DOUBT about the sexism of Hillary's age.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Yep. And for anyone who doubts that, without looking it up, they should know how old Mitt Romney is, or Rand Paul, or Christ Christie, or any of the other Republican men who may be running for president. If they don't (and hardly anybody will) it's because the men's ages are never talked about, while Hillary Clinton's age always is (Elizabeth Warren's age is often mentioned, too).