A Woman in the White House? An Interview with Professor Sanghvi
Given the political climate of this election, it is hard to avoid the discussion about gender. Professor Sanghvi of the Management and Business Department recently gave a lecture on women and politics in relation to the upcoming election. The tell-all title of the lecture was “A woman's place...is in the White House: Gender and the 2016 Presidential Election.” After the talk I interviewed Professor Sanghvi on putting together her talk.
Professor Sanghvi focuses her research on gender and politics and explained how “the issue of gender runs a lot deeper than people think, and it impacts women in significant ways. I gave a similar talk to Franklin and Marshall and was like, if Franklin and Marshall is talking about gender and politics, Skidmore should be too.”
She heard the conversations happening around this election and the political process in general and felt that, “People were not necessarily talking about gender, and that’s a critical piece in this election. It’s not just the fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman; it’s also the misogyny of Trump. His need to talk about his masculinity, his penis size, his bankable daughter, all of these things are part of the election.”
She dove into her analysis on gender and its major part in the election, arguing that it is “easy to understand that Clinton is a woman and Trump is a man, that part is easy. But there are lots of nuances to the issue.” She discussed how men automatically get positive coverage, while women constantly have to prove their ability to lead and their strength to make tough decisions.
To display a seemingly harmless example, Sanghvi noted how Clinton gets referred to by her first name because Bill Clinton was a past president. Though it helps to differentiate the two candidates, Professor Sanghvi explained the sexist undertones to this, saying how “It diminishes the woman’s substantive value when you talk about her clothes, hair, age and refer to them by their first name. When Trump talks about stamina and his broad shoulders, all of these are sort of subconscious cues that trigger people to think, oh, he’s a strong man who will keep me safe, and Clinton is a weaker person because she’s a woman.”
Trump’s voter base was on the table for discussion, specifically regarding what characteristics of his message appeal to them. Professor Sanghvi first addressed the fact that there is a large population of white, uneducated men who are supporting Trump for a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons is because they see women doing better. She stated, “There’s research that 40% of households have women as breadwinners, so you have women doing well, a black president in the white house, and gays getting married, so white men feel like they have been left behind.”
She explained the underlying connotations behind Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” in that, “Again, there are undertones of racism and misogyny that are involved. It’s not a statement that’s sexist, but it’s a statement that harks back to a time when white men were on top. They [white men] are yearning for those days when they were on top of the ‘pyramid.’”
She discussed another component affecting gender and the election: the recession. “With the recession a lot of white men lost their jobs, and the jobs they’ve gotten since then are not suitable jobs with pensions. Therefore, you’re stripping away what feels like their masculinity, manhood and ability to provide for their families.” On top of already feeling emasculated, a woman wanting to be president further feeds into the frustrations and feelings of failure on behalf of some white men in this position.
If Senator Clinton wins, Professor Sanghvi predicts that “we’re first going to see a lot of backlash toward women in general, and we’re already seeing that. But it’s going to get easier for women to run for president, vice president. We’re passing one threshold with the idea that there might be a woman in the white house, but we’re still a long way away from having a lesbian Muslim woman run for president.”