Florham Campus hosts Hot Topics event to discuss sexism in politics and the media
The final Hot Topics event of the spring semester took place on April 26 in Lenfell Hall. The event was called “Are our politics (and media) sexist? Hillary Clinton and the 2016 election.”
FDU’s Student Debate Club participated in the event, which was sponsored by the Student Government Association and the Becton College Dean’s Office.
At the start of the event, students were asked to pick a side of the room.
One side had students who believed that, as it pertained to this year’s presidential election, the media is sexist toward Hillary Clinton and her campaign. The other side’s students believed that the media wasn’t being sexist in this regard and that Clinton’s successes or failures have nothing to do with gender.
The moderator for the event was Bruce Peabody, a professor of political science, who kicked off the debate with a few statements. He mentioned the main topics of the debate, which included the role of gender in politics, what counts as a sexist depiction in the media and matters of access and bias depending on gender.
He also talked about the voting force that women present in elections, despite the lack of many female legislators.
The first pair of debaters, Ore Obiwumi and Ronald Williamson, represented those who believed that the media is sexist toward Clinton and her presidential campaign.
Obiwumi stated her case first, pointing out the criticism that Clinton has been met with as a politician, both now and back in 2008 when she was running against Barack Obama.
The issue of institutional sexism was brought up and how generally when women reach positions of power there is a negative connotation that comes with it. The point being made was that there is usually something about a woman in a position of power that makes people want to distrust her, and because Clinton is a woman, people seem to go looking for reasons not to like her.
Obiwumi continued to say that Clinton’s gender seems to be focused on way too much in the media, as if it’s the center of her campaign. She has been heavily criticized on matters that have nothing to do with her policies, such as her “shrill or nagging voice” when she yells in her debates, even though when Bernie Sanders yells he’s regarded as “passionate.”
Obiwumi said that Clinton’s options are limited; if she is gentle, people doubt her ability to be a tough president, but when she shows any kind of strength, she is seen as bossy.
Clinton is also constantly being reminded of or even blamed for her husband’s actions, when she had no part in them.
Why is it that even though Clinton is the one running, her husband’s actions have an effect on her campaign?
Williamson identified Clinton’s superior qualifications compared to the rest of the contenders. He said that it is not uncommon for politicians to change their minds on certain policies. Clinton is only getting flak for it because she is female. Williamson pointed out that Obama changed his position on gay marriage before, and so did Mitt Romney on the subject of abortion. Bernie Sanders has as well, in regards to his party stance. Williamson said that Clinton’s gender amplifies the scrutiny and criticism she receives.
He also detailed the countless memes and slander about Clinton posted on social media that have nothing to do with her policies, but instead are based on her gender.
Representing the other side of the debate were Audrey Eismann and Jonathan Daverso. Their side believed that any negative opinions of Clinton that have come up during this election season have nothing to do with the fact that she is a woman, and the opinions even have truth to them.
Eismann began by mentioning a percentage of tweets that hurl gender slurs at Clinton that are by supporters of other candidates, not by the media itself. Assumptions are made by outsiders about Clinton’s personal life and people find a way to insult her. She said that Clinton’s actions are indeed secretive and untrustworthy, and having that opinion is not sexist but legitimate.
Daverso added to that point by detailing all of the policies that Clinton has changed her opinion on, such as NAFTA, gun control, gay marriage and the Iraq War. He said that Clinton claims that these changes were made because of new information she received, but he emphasized that most of the information had been the same.
Daverso and Eismann also pointed out that, though Clinton says she is an advocate for women’s rights, there have been reports of a pay gap between men and women in Clinton’s own foundation.
As a closing statement, Daverso said that people should do their research and not vote on a candidate based on gender but on merit instead.
After the debate, students were asked to share their questions and opinions.
One person stood and asked for a show of hands. People on the side believing that the media was not being sexist toward Clinton’s campaign were asked if they were voting for her: No hands. The side believing that the media was being sexist were asked if they were not voting for Clinton, and several raised their hands.
One student made a statement that seemed to properly summarize the majority’s thoughts on the subject: “You can choose to not be a Hillary supporter but also believe that the media is sexist towards her and generally women in positions of power.”