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BREAKTHROUGH by Nancy L. Cohen


The Making of America's First Woman President

by Nancy L. Cohen

Pub Date: Feb. 9th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61902-611-7
Publisher: Counterpoint

Is America ready to elect Hillary Clinton?

Although women have led 50 other nations, the United States has yet to elevate a woman to the presidency. Journalist and historian Cohen (Delirium: The Politics of Sex in America, 2012, etc.), a member of the Los Angeles County Commission for Women, asks why—with surprising results. Based on interviews—quoted at length—with such women as Sen. Barbara Mikulski, EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriock, and Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards (daughter of former Texas governor Ann Richards) and analysis of considerable scholarship, Cohen debunks some popular assumptions. She finds, for example, no evidence of “direct gender stereotyping” by the media. “Men and women,” she writes, “both attract comments about their clothes, their looks, their experience, and their behavior….Most importantly, no study has ever directly linked sexist media treatment to voter attitudes.” Are voters, “on some very deep level,” sexist? Again, studies show otherwise: “partisan stereotypes rather than gender stereotypes shaped voters’ views of candidates.” Although the author argues that Americans don’t consider “trustworthiness a distinctly feminine trait or intelligence a distinctly masculine one,” she believes that women are more compassionate and collaborative than men and that their leadership is vastly important. While not fully persuasive that myths about a double standard “are just that—myths,” Cohen does identify other problems: women assume they will be judged more harshly than men and so are reluctant to run for office. In addition, they face “structural impediments” such as a bar to new candidates and a high rate of re-election of incumbents. Rather than gender, Cohen claims, voters apply standards that are “partisan, contradictory, arbitrary, superficial, and…tangential to the job requirements.” But that dispiriting conclusion may work well for women: “American voters subject the men and women who want to be president to the same absurd measures.”

In her brisk analysis, Cohen feels optimistic that the next election will cross “a historic threshold.”