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The minute I read Nicholas Kristof’s editorial “If Hillary Clinton Groped Men,” I shouted out and taped the article on my refrigerator (NYT, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016). Of course, Hillary Clinton wasn’t groping men. That was the article’s point. It wouldn’t be a political possibility for a woman presidential candidate to do that. Nicholas Kristof was showing readers how to see the double standard at work. Kristof’s basic premise is this: ignore for a second what seems socially given, turn things upside down, and ask how normal and acceptable it would be if members of culturally subordinate groups–like women– regularly carry out unequal and abusive acts against culturally dominant groups–like men–. And then try to imagine a woman candidate for president carrying out abusive gendered acts and pretending that it’s normal.
To add to this line of thinking, we can ask: would it be normal and accepted if African Americans, people of color, and subordinated ethnic groups regularly carried out racist or abusive acts against U.S. whites and other dominant ethno-racial groups? Especially for centuries? Would white people, the racial group that has created and maintained its power, accept racialized and sexualized violence if it were directed against them? Kristof is exploring what it takes for double standards to become apparent, especially to people who accept inequalities. His counter-factual questioning exposes entrenched inequalities and supports the fight for justice.
Before I give examples from Kristof’s article, it’s important to say that this kind of discussion addresses much more than this year’s presidential election. It’s about underlying patterns that have shaped colonialism, enslavement, and social relationships in the geographic area that became the United States. It’s also about wider patterns that became institutionalized in our global system.
In his editorial, Kristof gives about 40 gendered examples of how we can spot a clear double standard in the campaign for the U.S. presidency. All we have to do is to try to imagine Hillary Clinton doing what her male opponent does. Kristof is very effective in helping us do that. For example, what if 15 men came forward and said that Hillary had assaulted and violated them? What if Hillary indicated to the public, after her second presidential debate, that she didn’t find her opponent’s rear end appealing? What if her daughter asked her not to go out with anyone younger than 17 and Hillary jokingly complained that the size of the field was getting too small?
This way of reversing patterns and questioning them from the point of view of those with less formal power generates new questions, deeper questions. Once most people in society see the gendered double standard, do they continue to view traditional male dominated gender relations as a normal and acceptable way for people to relate to each other? Or do they begin to change?
At this stage in the presidential campaign, journalists are showing what happens when you ask questions that members of dominant groups generally avoid discussing in the public square. Recent revelations come out of a questioning of sexism. More women and men newscasters define men’s privileged and abusive behavior as misogyny, sexual assault, and an integral part of rape culture.
Of course, Kristof and his partner Sheryl WuDunn have been proposing and supporting ways to eliminate gender inequality for some time (for example, see their books Half the Sky and A Path Appears). Because he works to support girls and women and promote gender equality across the world, Kristof is one of my journalist heroes.
By posing questions in the counter-factual way that Kristof has, we can encourage others to take off their blindfolds and to further examine sexism, racism, and all interconnected inequalities that undermine democracy and the push for global equality. This is an important step for cross-cultural people to take together because racism involves and impacts all of us. It’s time for more people in historically dominant social positions–men, white people, wealthy people, members of other dominant groups, and even U.S. and Western European middle-class people– to ask hard questions and to deal with the impact of double standards in politics, economics, and social relations.
Double standards are a symptom of a broader problem: institutionalized patterns of structural advantage and structural disadvantage. Exposing double standards is a shortcut way to get people to see that we live in an unequal society. Double standards reflect systemic inequality, which is institutionalized throughout society. Structural solutions are needed to change a society with systemic inequality. Recognizing double standards is one step in this direction.
Note: This reflects the personal views of a guest writer and not the views of the Board of Directors.