On the stump in Ohio this week, President Obama directed a crucial part of his speech to men:
In particular, he asked us to search our feelings about Hillary Clinton — and ask ourselves why they’re often, in his view, disproportionately negative.
“You know, there’s a reason why we haven’t had a woman president before… I want every man out there who’s voting to kind of look inside yourself and ask yourself: If you’re having problems with this stuff, how much of it is, you know, that we’re just not used to it. When a guy’s ambitious and out in the public arena and working hard, well that’s OK, but when a woman does it, suddenly you’re all like, ‘Well, why’s she doing that?’ I’m just being honest. I want you to think about it.”
A sitting president asking half of the electorate to examine their own prejudices against a current presidential candidate is a pretty unprecedented move.
Not only has a woman never led a major party ticket before, but asking men to search their souls about their unwilling, unconscious participation in structural discrimination against women in general is not something that, historically, has gone over particularly well with… you know, men.
Predictably, there was outrage, notably in the conservative press.
A Breitbart report on the speech claimed the president was “ridiculing” Trump supporters and suggesting that “men are sexist if they support Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.”
Hot Air’s Allahpundit found Obama’s speech patronizing and mocked the president for “politely scolding them for their sexism towards poor, crooked Hillary.”
There are, of course, valid reasons to dislike Hillary Clinton other than sexism.
You might be a conservative-minded person spooked by some of her left-of-center policy ideas. You might be irked by her close ties to Wall Street. Her 2002 vote for a pivotal Iraq War resolution might give you pause.
But implicit gender bias is a real thing, and the fact that it’s unconscious is what makes it so hard to acknowledge and fight.
And science backs up the notion that it’s a particular problem for women seeking positions of authority or applying for jobs in general.
A University of Texas study found that women applying for fellowships in geoscience were 50% less likely to receive “excellent” recommendations from their references, compared to their male peers.
A McKinsey/Lean In analysis found that women’s share of the workforce declines at every subsequent level of management — while 46% of entry-level employees are women, only 19% of C-suite executives are. Women in the study reported feeling unfairly treated, and a majority felt promotions in their workplace were not awarded based on merit.
The notion that ambitious women are untrustworthy and unlikeable isn’t just a Hillary Clinton thing either. Elizabeth Warren, frequently held up as the ideal “if only” candidate for left-leaning Democrats, was subject to many of the same attacks when she ran for senate in Massachusetts.
Now that a woman is applying for the most important job in the world, President Obama is right — we should at least ask ourselves the question and be honest with ourselves.
Not to flagellate ourselves for being bad, sexist idiots, but to try to identify a small, unconscious piece that might make life subtly harder for the women in our lives — and in public life.
If it’s not there, then great! But it can’t hurt to try and know one way or the other — and to work on it if it is.
It doesn’t mean you have to vote for Hillary. It just means … think about stuff. You know?
Like, just think about it. A little.
The stakes are too high not to at least wonder.