Fear Factor: The cognitive dissonance of change and the Republicans who hate it

Protest signs at 2009 Tea Party rally. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

In the September issue of More Magazine, Hanna Rosin has a piece called “Why Testosterone is the New Estrogen.” (I can’t find a link on their site, drat!) In the piece, the author of the new book The End of Men argues that our culture has shifted so much on gender issues — more women graduating from college and becoming the majority of breadwinners (PDF), for instance — that the qualities that once embodied power itself are also shifting. And these shifts are not easy to accept. I would argue that the Republican National Convention was a virtual testament to a fear and denial of such changes.

In the More piece, Rosin cites the 2001 Harvard study that made headlines for heralding women as better performers on the stock market than men. (Better after the crash, too, it seems.) The key, it seems, is that men are over-confident and the result is bad decisions and lower net returns. Women did better in the study because they were cautious and tend to keep their egos in check. Rosin writes in More, “The traits that used to be considered hallmarks of leadership — the ability to act quickly, to remain in a state of pumped-up confidence — are being recast as liabilities.”

But, as Rosin points out, we as a culture are deeply conflicted about this shift. She argues that the 2012 election’s War on Women rhetoric is not nostalgia for a sexually repressed era but a reaction to women’s burgeoning power. Keep reproductive rights at bay, and you stem the tide of women in power. I would add to that the recent debates about the definition of rape and rape exceptions to abortion bans. Rape itself is an act of taking someone else’s power. To politically nullify rape or to remove stigma from rape seems very symbolic of a fear of female empowerment.

She also cites a Pew Research Center study in which respondents were asked what traits embody a leader and then asked them which gender embodies those traits. Women did better than or equal to men in the traits. But when asked outright which gender is a better political leader, only 6 percent said women. As Rosin writes,

That doesn’t make any sense except psychologically, as the kind of confusion and cognitive dissonance that proceeds a massive paradigm change. If women have more leadership traits, why aren’t there more women political leaders? A majority of respondents (56 of females, 46 of the males) said Americans simply “aren’t ready” to elect a woman to higher office. In other words, we aren’t ready for a woman because we aren’t ready.

I would actually push this thinking a step further. Look at the Republican National Convention, which presented a largely white, male package and audience. For years the question has been raised: Why isn’t there more diversity in the Republican party? One factor is philosophy, I’m sure. But at the same time, I have no doubt there are some anti-choice, anti-gay people of various ethnicities and races other than white. Why aren’t they leaders? And why is it so obvious when the RNC plays tokenism? (Note to Republicans: Every time you tell me you are diverse because you had Marco Rubio there, it is like saying you are not a racist because you have a black friend.)

It is almost impossible for a party to win an election on white votes alone. And that makes me think that Rosin’s cognitive dissonance point plays out here, too. The Republican party itself becomes an escape hatch for people who are unwilling to face the reality of our time — that America is growing more diverse and that leadership is (however slowly) reflecting that diversity. For white people, the time has come when we do not always see our image reflected back at us from our leaders. I think that’s wonderful. It’s progress. After all, isn’t it time that others enjoy the same privilege of seeing people like themselves and representing their cultural identities in office? We are not a homogenous country. It is only a matter of time before all facets of our culture begin to reflect that. But I know there are people who feel quite afraid of that change.

I am deeply worried that the Republican party, now essentially hijacked by the Tea Party, is becoming nothing more than a denial island. We already have seen the subtext of racism in the birther nonsense. Not only are Tea Party members in denial of change, but they want to deny those changes. Nowhere does this play out more insidiously than the rash of new voter ID laws, which seek to disenfranchise whole populations in our society including blacks and Latinos, the homeless, the elderly, ex-prisoners, and more. We have already witnessed what happens when our voting process is broken. It is not hyperbole to say blood has been shed for each American to have the right to vote. And we must honor that extreme sacrifice by ensuring that no person, law, or party ever impedes this most precious American right. If you do not see that voter ID laws are actually voter suppression laws, it is time to lift the veil from your eyes.

The reality is that in terms of gender, race, and sexuality, our society is moving toward a cultural identity that is in stark contrast to old models. We do not always get it right. There is still sexism, racism, and homophobia. But we have made dramatic progress even in my own lifetime. It is important that the college freshman class this year has never known a time when there was not a female secretary of state. It is important that we have elected our first black president. And it is important that pro football players — ensconced in a sport that is considered a bastion of testosterone and machismo — are coming out in favor of same-sex marriage.

The times, they really are changing. The question now — for all of us — is are we ready?

2 thoughts on “Fear Factor: The cognitive dissonance of change and the Republicans who hate it

  1. Nice post, thank you. I’m a blogger too and was hoping for a link to Hanna Rosin’s interesting article from More. Will share this instead. 🙂

    I thought her article was extremely insightful and gave me access to facts and figures I knew nothing about. For example “Nationwide, about one in 18 women who work full-time earned $100,000 or more in 2009.”

    Was having a similar discussion with my girls, ages 9 and 10, who are both feeling already that they have many more options in life than their male classmates. My 10 year old summed it up “Boys seem to have their lives planned out for them already”.

    And as you say, the Republicans are headed towards ‘denial island’. Not ONE woman I have talked to in my circle of friends is in any way desirous of any legal backward changes to contraceptive controls or abortion laws…

    Interesting times we live in. Looks like my girls are ready!

  2. Pingback: Clarity in an Age of Dis-Information « The Sin City Siren

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