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#GrandmothersKnowBest: What Hillary Clinton’s campaign can tell us about age and gender stereotypes

by on April 29, 2015

I guess because there hasn’t (yet) been a female President of the United States, the press coverage of Hillary Clinton’s unofficial campaign hashtag – #GrandmothersKnowBest – has focused on this as playing the gender card. This recent article in The Guardian is a case in point. It notes how embracing her gender as part of her appeal to voters marks a distinct change of tack from her earlier bid when she waited until the day of her concession speech to note how close she had come to shattering ”that highest, hardest glass ceiling”.

But I think it can be argued that the hashtag also plays an age card too, channelling older age as a time of wisdom. We’re all familiar with the gendered stereotype of the ‘wise old man’ / ‘older statesman’. Male US presidential candidates of similar age to Hillary have channelled this stereotype in their bids (and whose age may not have been seen as particularly remarkable). Significantly this hashtag seeks to extend this to older women.  But how interesting that it does so using family roles (mother, grandmother) whereas the male stereotype speaks to more public and less domestic settings.

Rather sadly, the Guardian article suggests a possible reason for this. It refers to research that apparently shows that female candidates can win over voters by relating as women, daughters, mothers and, of course, grandmothers. And for women (but not men) likeability is inextricably linked to electability. So using personal experiences can improve a candidate’s likability by making her appear more empathetic and relatable. Oh dear…

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