Politics Are Women “Rational” Political Actors?
posted by February 2 at 11:35 AMon
You’ll need TimesSelect to follow this debate between two smarty-pants female writers, but it’s pretty interesting. For starters, both writers agree that women could be more of a force in national elections if only they didn’t tend to vote irrationally.
First there’s Linda Hirshman, who, apropos of Hillary Clinton’s run for president, wrote in the Washington Post:
In every election, there’s a chance that women will be the decisive force that will elect someone who embraces their views. Yet they seem never to have done so, and I’ve never seen a satisfactory answer as to why. My own theory is that women don’t decide elections because they’re not rational political actors — they don’t make firm policy commitments and back the candidates who will move society in the direction they want it to go. Instead, they vote on impulse, and on elusive factors such as personality.
And in response comes Judith Warner, who writes today behind the TimesSelect firewall:
The ever-controversial Linda Hirshman had an article in the Washington Post this past week, in which she depicted American women voters – and suburban stay-at-home moms in particular – as politically ignorant, disinterested and ultimately self-defeating.
Citing studies and anecdotes culled from a few conversations with Washington-area suburban moms who appear to spend a fair amount of their time sitting around on their living room sofas and reading People magazine, she painted a rather damning portrait of women who don’t read newspapers, don’t read up on policy, and very often get their information on the outside world from their more tuned-in working husbands. Ignorant of the issues, they cast their votes based on such slippery stuff as “character,” and then, in election after election, blow their chances of being “the decisive force that will elect someone who embraces their views.”
Women are not “rational political actors,” Hirshman writes. “Instead, they vote on impulse, and on elusive factors such as personality.”
Some of what Hirshman has to say is, unfortunately, true. Survey after survey shows the consumers of news today to be disproportionately male. In my own anecdotal forays through the living rooms of America’s suburbs, I’ve often been struck by the degree to which women – particularly mothers of young children – don’t keep up with world events.
The reasons are quite obvious – for stay-at-home moms in particular, who don’t have the excuse of in-office dead time to read the paper or browse the Internet, there are just no free moments in the day. But, however understandable the phenomenon, the results can be worrisome. Hirshman cites a recent Pew Research Center study showing that nearly half the women surveyed said they “sometimes do not follow international news because of excessive coverage of wars and violence”; a New York Times/CBS poll last year found that nearly 10 percent more women than men still believed that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. In an age when Americans are showing a troublesome tendency toward irrational belief (There were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark), keeping up, at least minimally, with the news probably ought to be a prerequisite for the job of childrearing.
That said, while Hirshman’s statistics on female ignorance of the news are worth note, her conclusions about women’s particular irrationality as voters truly miss the mark. These days, all voters vote “irrationally” – if such factors as personal appeal and character can be said to be irrational…