POLITICS

The Man Card: An American Tradition Of Presidents Using Their Gender To Get Ahead

Enough with the big sticks already.

GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump previewed his general election attacks against Hillary Clinton on Tuesday night, accusing the Democratic hopeful of playing up her gender in order to win. 

"If Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote," Trump said at a New York press conference after winning five states. "The only thing she's got going is the woman's card, and the beautiful thing is, women don't like her. And look how well I did with women tonight."

Actually, the vast majority of women don't like Trump -- a fact already giving Republicans heartburn as they deal with the possibility that he will be their nominee in the general election. A recent Gallup poll found that 7 in 10 women have an unfavorable view of him. Clinton meanwhile, retains her strong appeal to women voters

Genitalia jokes dominated the GOP presidential primary this spring. Much has been made about the size of Donald Trump's hands
Genitalia jokes dominated the GOP presidential primary this spring. Much has been made about the size of Donald Trump's hands, with former GOP presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) not so subtly joking, "Have you seen his hands? And you know what they say about men with small hands."

The "woman's card" also isn't the powerful weapon that Trump is making it out to be. After all, in the history of the United States, there have been no female presidents -- despite the fact that women are a majority of the population. 

"Any time a woman is in the race for the presidency, the woman card is on the table," said Ellen Fitzpatrick, a historian who wrote the book The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women's Quest for the American Presidency. "It's just a question of whether it plays high or low -- and for most of American history, it's played low."

What's more powerful is the Man Card. No one talks about it, because it's considered normal and expected for presidents to possess attributes traditionally associated with masculinity: strength, toughness, virility, athleticism and a certain cool charisma. The country even likes its presidents tall, which men more often are. 

President Bill Clinton was tall. And he played the saxophone, which was considered a very cool instrument in the 1990s. 
President Bill Clinton was tall. And he played the saxophone, which was considered a very cool instrument in the 1990s. 

"The American presidency is different, in a sense, from the heads of states in some other nations we might compare ourselves to, in that it does involve the commander-in-chief role. And that, I think, historically has always been a very difficult barrier for women to get over," Fitzpatrick said.

The vast majority of presidents have served in the military. Some of them were renowned military leaders -- such as Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower -- in positions that weren't even open to women. 

George Washington was widely respected for leading American forces during the Revolutionary War. 
George Washington was widely respected for leading American forces during the Revolutionary War. 

Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate of a major American political party, had to confront doubts about whether she was as tough as a man when it came to foreign policy. In 1984, journalist Marvin Kalb asked her on "Meet the Press" whether she could "push the nuclear button" if she had to. 

"I can do whatever is necessary in order to protect the security of this country," Ferraro replied. 

Kalb then asked her whether the reason she was selected as Walter Mondale's running mate was because of her gender. 

"That’s a double-edged sword, so that -- I don't know. I don't know, if I were not a woman, if I would be judged in the same way on my candidacy, whether or not I would be asked questions like 'Are you strong enough to push the button?' or that type," Ferraro replied. 

Over-the-top displays of masculinity don't always work. In 1988, Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis tried to s
Over-the-top displays of masculinity don't always work. In 1988, Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis tried to show he could be strong on defense issues by riding in a battle tank. It was a disastrous photo op that had the opposite of its intended effect.

Fitzpatrick said Clinton seems to have overcome many of the doubts the public had about previous female candidates. 

"Clinton seems to have the opposite problem with some members of the Democratic Party, who see her as too hawkish," Fitzpatrick said. "And then, of course, there are her critics in the Republican Party, who argue that she's incompetent -- that certainly seems to be the implication of her term as secretary of state, the Benghazi issue. They're claiming that she put national security at risk."

“There is some notion that women don’t know anything about defense," said former Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.), who explored a presidential run in 1987, during a press call last year on women and the presidency. "But if you're a male, you just instantly do -- even though people forget even [former Vice President Dick] Cheney had five draft deferments and never served. But he was considered perfectly adequate for defense secretary."

Schroeder also says the public has a certain expectation about what a president should look like, and women have had a tough time living up to it. 

“All of us could advise men on what to wear," Schroeder said. "If you want to look busy, you either take off your tie, loosen your collar, roll up your shirtsleeves, run down some steps, have a phone in your ear."

"There’s no similar kind of uniform for women," she added. "And we tend to either look like unmade beds or look like a model. Trying to find out how a woman looks like she’s working hard through these very important visuals is just not something that there’s a real formula for." 

President George W. Bush often made sure to be spotted doing hard work around his ranch, projecting the rugged image he worke
President George W. Bush often made sure to be spotted doing hard work around his ranch, projecting the rugged image he worked hard to cultivate.

Clinton's team responded to Trump's "woman's card" comments in a fundraising email on Wednesday, warning that more sexist attacks are likely on the way.

"Hillary Clinton has won more than 12 million votes -- that's 2 million more than Trump -- because she has the best vision for this country, the chops to get the job done, and an incredible team fighting alongside her," Deputy Communications Director Christina Reynolds wrote. "But Trump's unpredictable, often dangerous rhetoric has created a volatile atmosphere in this race that requires us to be even more prepared than before."

Although Trump thinks Clinton owes her success to her gender, perhaps a better question is where he would be if he weren't a man. For starters, he'd probably be far less wealthy, since women still make only 79 cents for every dollar a man earns.

What's more manly than renowned outdoorsman Theodore Roosevelt standing with a rifle next to a dead hippopotamus? 
What's more manly than renowned outdoorsman Theodore Roosevelt standing with a rifle next to a dead hippopotamus? 

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