Apples vs. Oranges: Sexism vs. Racism

Today while browsing on Facebook, I ran across this charming group:

Hillary Clinton: Stop Running for President and Make Me a Sandwich
"Dedicated to keeping Hillary Clinton out of the Oval Office and in the kitchen"
It's funny how overt sexism is so much more accepted than over racism. This got me thinking about some stuff...

Racism vs. Sexism

Much as I enjoy my little urban bubble where I don't hear extreme racist or sexist remarks on a daily basis, a quick perusal of Facebook shows me that that's woefully not the case. Any large group quickly turns into a discussion of why {insert race, gender, sexual orientation} sucks. Oops - did I say discussion? I meant punctuation-less rant, LOLs and all. Racism and sexism permeate our society in advertisements, jokes, and in each and every person's minds.

Though they both permeate our society, racism and sexism are different beasts. They have different histories, different present day struggles, and different futures.


Historically, black people have won certain rights before women - namely, the right to vote. Black people won the right to vote in 1870, while women didn't receive this for another fifty years. Additionally, if my college legal professor is to be believed, the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1977 only narrowly added in the gender clause. The ADA was really targeting at eliminating racial discrimination - protection for genders was afterthought.

While black people obtained certain rights before women, the struggles were very different. Black people were slaves - (white) women in this time period may have very limited freedom, but there was still pressure to "respect" women. The civil rights movement was marked with more violence than the women's rights movement.

Present Day

Currently, at least in my urban bubble, sexism is more condoned than racism. Take, for example, that facebook group (which I sadly discovered one of my own family members joining) and let's flip it around to race. Which would be more offensive:

Hillary Clinton: Stop Running for President and Make Me a Sandwich


Barack Obama: Stop Running for President and Go Pick Me Some Cotton

I'd argue the second one would be more likely to elicit a jaw-dropping response, whereas the first one might get a little chuckle. Racism is a big no-no, but sexism is kind of ok. [Disclaimer: I've never lived in the rural south. Things might be very different in other parts of the country.]

Let's look at the stereotypes facing each group:

Black People: Lazy, Violent, Unintelligent / uneducated
Women: Irrational, Emotionally Weak, Un-opinionated

What's interesting is that while black people and women both face some sort of "stupid" stereotype, the tone of it is a little different. According to the stereotype, black people are uneducated whereas women are educated and yet un-opinionated (they don't really "think" about things).


Races blend, but genders do not (generally speaking). What steretypes would a person who is 1/4 Black and 1/2 Chinese and 1/4 Caucian experience? People are not, generally speaking, part-male and part-female. Gender has a strict binary divide: you're either male or female. There is no such divide for race.

Socially, we might eventually treat different races equivalently but we will never treat genders equivalently. The fact is that the vast majority of the world is attracted to either men or women, but not both. You might regard a black, hispanic, asian, etc person as "just anyone", but men will identified as men and women will be identified as women. Gender will always be a thought that is front and center in your mind.

The flip side of the social point is that even if you're a man who thinks women are stupid / crazy / some other offensive stereotype, you still probably want them around (unless you're gay, that is - I wouldn't want to be heteronormative ;-)). The extremes of sexism probably won't result in a thought of "I hate this group so much that I don't even want them around." The extremes of racism do. Sexism leads to superiority, violence, etc. Racism leads to all that, and to elimination / exclusion.

Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama: Who's More Impacted by Prejudice?

Suppose Clinton and Obama try to leave the race / gender issues behind by acting more like the typical politician (eg, white male) - how does that impact how people view them? That is, what happens when a person violates the stereotypes of their race or gender?

Obama would be a black person acting "white". Some people might resent him for betraying "his people," but the general public probably wouldn't hold it against him too much.

Clinton, however, would be a woman acting like a man. Women who act like men are seen as cold bitches. Every candidate has opposition, but people hate Clinton on an emotional level that you don't see with other politicians. Ask someone why they hate George W. Bush, and you'll probably hear something about the war, economy, etc. With Clinton, you'll often get an articulate arguments such as, "I just hate her - she's a nasty person."

Damned if you do, damned if you don't. If she acts feminine, she's too weak to be president. If she acts masculine, then she's a bitch.

Does that mean that Clinton faces more severe sexism than Obama does racism? No. The problems are just different. Sexism is more condoned in society, but racism can be more severe.

Then again, this is all coming from a white girl who lives in a city in the northwest. One should never forget how their race, gender, sexual orientation, etc affects their experience with prejudice.