"Don't lose your head and win." That's what my father used to tell me, only half in jest, whenever I went out to play tennis with a boy. I grew up in Virginia, where the message was clear. Women could succeed, but never by beating men outright. Drew Faust, the first woman president of Harvard, had a similar tale about growing up in Virginia. In an interview shortly after being named, she explained that her mother had simply told her: "honey, it's a man's world." Southern women get what they want by indirection, by being steel magnolias, soft on the outside and seemingly pliable, but never giving in and ultimately finding a way around any obstacles.
I thought of this recently with all the crowing about how Obama is beating Hillary with southern white men. Indeed, in Ellen Goodman's recent column identifying 10 pieces of conventional wisdom that have been debunked in the election thus far, the only one left standing was that "Southern white men still won't vote for a white woman." In other words, many white men in the South may be voting against Hillary more than they are voting for Obama. That's not good news for the Clinton campaign. But it isn't necessarily good news for the Obama campaign either. Just because these voters prefer Obama to Hillary does not mean that they will vote for Obama over McCain, no matter what the polls say. It's very hard to believe that when the chips are down they're not going to vote for the guy who looks like them.
Hillary lost her head and won, again and again. And a lot of white males, particularly in the south, can't stand her for it, and for the qualities that she has had to develop to succeed in what, for much of her career, was still largely a man's world. Obama may well be able to convince some of those voters to cross racial lines, which would be great. But the depth of their antipathy to Hillary should warn all Democrats that the south has not yet been won.