Expert: Gender in the 2016 Election

Melody Crowder-Meyer, assistant professor of politics at Sewanee: The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., says that politics in general are implicitly gendered, but this year’s election has made that gendering explicit, and that actually lessens its influence in some ways.

"One of the challenges of having gender and masculinity as an implicit subtext for all presidential elections until this one is that it’s become how we think about the office without thinking of the gendered aspect,” she says. "That’s why, for example, you see a greater scrutiny of Clinton’s qualifications. When gender is implicit it’s easier to fall into these stereotypes accidentally. Once it’s made explicit, we’re pushed into thinking about why we feel this way and it becomes less powerful."

Though stereotypes are being challenged in this election, Trump’s rhetoric may be changing the way the electorate thinks about race and gender.

"It’s well studied that we change our views as our parties change their views. If a candidate in our party changes views, we tend to change right along,” she says. "Parties have that power. So there’s an interesting possibility that a Donald Trump-style of discourse, which uses much more explicitly racist and sexist types of language, might be normalizing that for people in the electorate."

But will gender stereotypes hurt Hillary in the general election? Probably not, says Crowder-Meyer.

"One thing we know about stereotypes is that they decrease in power as you get more information about somebody. One unique thing about Hillary is that she is so well known. We know more about her than any candidate running for office, ever, and that should help to diminish stereotypes,” says Crowder-Meyer. "That’s not to say that gender is irrelevant in this election – it’s obviously not – but maybe it’s less powerful in hurting her or protecting her. All the violent rhetoric around her suggests she’s not being protected in the way that we might traditionally think she would be.”

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Sewanee: The University of the South
Assistant Professor of Politics