Would a ‘Henry Clinton’ face the same opposition?

Ori Wiener-Blotner | SIPA Class of 2018 | November 3, 2016

Election Day is just around the corner and a lot of people are at a loss choosing between their options. Both the main party candidates have faced a lot of heated critique for their policies and past, and there seems to be no “lesser of two evils.” When the lesser of two evils is still evil, the reasons behind why we vote for whomever on Tuesday are very important, and we need to focus on the details. Yes, the devil is in the details. This election definitely has a theme.

There are certain psychological phenomena that likely prevent many potential voters from addressing the details, and it’s not only that many details are withheld, and it boils down to something as simple and shocking as gender difference.

Unfortunately, women are often cast into general social roles, which can affect how they are perceived. Thomas-Hunt and Philips ran an experiment in 2004 whereupon they split groups of men and women to plan certain tasks. Both men and women were randomly “deemed” experts in the area of their tasks, and afterwards, groups rated the influence and perceived expertise of each group member. While men who were deemed experts rated high in both perceived expertise and perceived influence, women experts were rated high only in perceived expertise and low in perceived influence. In fact, even non-expert women out-rated women experts in perceived expertise. Similar results ensued even when rating actual women experts in their fields.

What’s happening here? I refer you to the Stereotype Content Model, which argues that stereotypes can be determined across two dimensions, warmth and competence:

When we associate a group with high warmth and low competence, we tend to treat them as a group that needs to be protected. When we associate a group with high warmth and high competence, we look upon them very favorably. Low warmth and competence are associated with groups towards whom we feel contempt, and low warmth and high competence is associated with groups of people we envy.

The final piece to the puzzle is Role Theory, which considers everyday activities to be associated with a particular role or category. When that role or category that we are supposed to occupy is defied, we are viewed unfavorably. Women in the expert study mentioned earlier are an example of what happens when they step into more competent roles. The study and perhaps the personal experiences of women readers are examples of what women face beyond the challenges of men, when breaking social norms.

Back to Hillary Clinton. What if people feel uncomfortable with a woman taking such a dominant role – in fact, the most dominant role – in the world? How much more is Hillary up against compared to so many of her male counterparts? Many people are satisfied with Premature Cognitive Closure, or finding enough evidence to support a preconceived notion that we are content to stop exploring for answers. I don’t ask that anyone support Hillary because she is a woman. I only ask that people take an introspective moment, and don’t oppose her because of it. Our country deserves a well thought out vote.