Unqualified or just female?

July 21st, 2016

Off the top of my head, I can think of a number of valid reasons why someone would dislike or not want to give their vote to Hillary Clinton for president. My friends to the left of her are put off by her neoliberalism, her hawkish tendencies, and her relationships with big banks. Others question her decision-making and her character. But I also keep hearing that she is “unqualified” to be president.

Per the United States Constitution, Hillary Clinton is certainly eligible to be president, being a natural born citizen and over the age of thirty-five. In comparison to other presidents and presidential candidates, her resume meets or exceeds their qualifications. If being a graduate of Yale Law School, working on Senate subcommittees and Task Forces, being an elected Senator, and then Secretary of State does not qualify someone to run for President of the United States, I’m not sure what does. Particularly in comparison to the Republican nominee, who has not even served in the military, let alone held elected office, it is hard for me to imagine Mrs. Clinton as unqualified for the position to which she aspires, whether or not one agrees with her positions.

If there is nothing else that could be added to her resume to make her qualified, then calling her “unqualified” serves as a kind of dog-whistle, a way of saying, “I don’t want to vote for her because she’s a woman,” without being deliberately sexist or engaging in thoughtful critique. Surely if a man with similar credentials were running, there would be no doubt about his qualifications.

As Nell Scovell points out in her New York Times op-ed “How To Get More Women into the Director’s Chair,” studies show that women are hired and promoted based on experience, and men are hired and promoted based on potential. This is relevant not only in our national political life but in the church as well. Our culture, even within the church, consistently underestimates female performance and overestimates male performance. In denominations with a search-and-call process, a hesitancy to call a less-experienced woman clergyperson “feels rooted in an aversion to risk, when it’s actually a surrender to bias.”

Women are required to prove themselves in a way that men are not, especially women of color, and when women fail (which happens, because we’re human), it tends to reflect on our entire gender. For example, if a woman minister is not a strong administrator, a church will likely be hesitant to call a woman in the future because “women are not good administrators.”

Season after season, my women clergy colleagues and I watch as young men of similar age and experience are called and placed into positions for which we know we would never be considered by virtue of our lack of qualifications. This is not to say that these men are not talented or a good fit or won’t do great things in leading the Body of Christ, but it is frustrating and demoralizing. We wonder what experience or degree we need to be considered for similar calls. We think about getting out of congregational ministry altogether, even though we see these dynamics play out at the highest levels of our government and know there is no escape. And so every rejection we face, we ask ourselves, “Am I really unqualified, or just female?”

comments powered by Disqus