Open Doors Lead to More Open Doors... Right?

October 17, 2016 / Jongjin Park

A recent poll by NBC suggests that Hillary Clinton has a 10-point lead over Donald Trump, and most analysts think Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States. Politics aside, if she does become President, this will be a new benchmark for U.S. history. Jodi Kantor for the New York Times has written that Hillary Clinton’s acceptance for nomination already encourages equal rights for women. Hillary Clinton has already made history by becoming the first female presidential candidate for the United States. Many, including Kevin Necessary (see cartoon below), believes that this will open more doors for more young girls to become the President of the United States the same way President Obama supposedly opened the possibilities for young black boys to become the next President. And this is the proposition we have in mind: that opening doors (concerning race, gender, etc.) would open more doors of possibilities. But there’s a reason I used the word, “supposedly,” when describing President Obama opened the possibilities of black boys to become the next President.

Picture by Kevin Necessary

Anna Merritt, Daniel Effron, and Benoit Monin* were psychologists who pioneered the idea of “moral licensing.” To state the official definition of moral licensing, “Past good deeds can liberate individuals to engage in behaviors that are immoral, unethical, or otherwise problematic, behaviors that they would otherwise avoid for fear of feeling or appearing immoral.” In 2009, these psychologists did a study to see if Barack Obama supporters were more racially open and/or willing to be progressive in other areas. The study found that Barack Obama being elected President of the United States mostly had the opposite effect. To most, supporting Obama was used as an excuse to give themselves permission to express racially questionable opinions. In other words, these people, after “proving” that they are good people, went back to their old, intrinsic self of doing more bad things. Opened doors, instead of leading to more open doors, were closed by those who felt comfortable doing so.

Amos Elon* wrote a book called, “The Pity of It All,” exploring this very concept. It mentions Germany, a country that was known for its prejudice against Jews, but that has welcomed specific Jews on multiple occasions. In the 1600’s, There were some Jews who were called, “court Jews,” who were the only Jews allowed to work and live within the cities, whereas every other Jew were restricted in every way possible by law. In the 1730’s, the king of Prussia, who hated Jews, decides to banish 140 Jewish families out of Berlin, but keep 120 families. In the 1700’s, Jewish philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn, was considered one of the most brilliant men in Europe. He lived in Berlin, but he’s not prejudiced against. People come from all over Europe to meet him, and the King accepts him exceptional status to live in Berlin. Elon states that Mendelssohn was the “unjewish Jew.” In the 1800’s, a similar instance happens with Berthold Auerbach, a Jewish man who was the widest read German novelist of the time. He’s called the “German Dickens,” and the only person immune to the enormous anti-semitism of his day. Richard Wagner, the passionate anti-semite, loves Auerbach. Germans of that time, due to thinking they demonstrated egalitarian actions by loving Auerbach, feel free to prejudice cruelly and despicably against any other Jewish person. Their reasoning was, “How can they doubt how progressive we are, when we love Auerbach?”

To give one last example, I want to mention Julia Gillard, the former prime minister of Australia. If you’ve been keeping up with international politics, then you probably know what this paragraph is going to mention: Gillard’s misogyny speech***. In 2010, Julia Gillard was elected the first female prime minister of Australia after 110 years of that position belonging to someone male. What should’ve happened is that this historical benchmark should’ve opened doors for more women to become the next prime minister. The idea of a female prime minister should start to become unremarkable the same way the idea of a male prime minister is. Unfortunately, nothing even close happened.

The public would call her a “b*tch,” and a “witch.” Her political opponents would make sexual cartoons of her circulate in the media. Instead of being addressed by her last name, she would be addressed by her first, as if she was some celebrity. The media would constantly refer to the outfits she wore, the cleavage she showed, and the tone of her voice. Near the end of her tenure, a prominent member of her own party is known to have sent sexist text messages. The public puts the blame on Gillard for condoning sexism. This is the day Gillard speaks her famous misogyny speech. It’s addressed to the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, who was known to be extremely sexist towards Gillard:

Coincidentally, Hillary Clinton herself spoke on her speech:

Love her or hate her, she’s absolutely right about this. “There [isn’t] a place for sexism in our politics.” And there also isn’t a place for misogyny or racism, but I’m digressing.

If this speech was a debate tournament or any kind of competitive sport, Abbott would have been losing. Gillard clearly mentions every remark Abbott and sexists have said and appropriately responds. Momentarily, this feels like a triumph of… something. It feels like, for once, Gillard is winning something. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

Tony Abbott, the man Gillard “eviscerated,” became the next prime minister of Australia. Australians felt free to be sexist because they acted in a way that was not sexist by voting for Julia Gillard in the first place. This is the excuse that, time and time again, people have found themselves into. Australia is not alone. Brazil, Germany, Costa Rica, Croatia, Nicaragua, Latvia, Panamá, Bolivia, Ecuador, Pakistan, Poland, Turkey, France, and Canada are all countries that have broken the gender barrier concerning their leaders and never went back. They all opened the doors, but refused to continue opening them.

This isn’t always the case, however. 1947, the year Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in the major leagues, led to more than 150 black baseball players in the major leagues within the span of five years.

This entire point isn’t to discourage anyone, but to encourage people to be wary of what happens next. Hillary Clinton has already been criticized in sexist ways. Electing Clinton as our next President, won’t guarantee that people will now be more open to electing a female President or guarantee that young girls will now feel more hopeful about becoming the next President. But the reason race of a baseball player is now unremarkable isn’t just because of Jackie Robinson. It were the people who decided that Jackie Robinson will be the start of a new era, in which the major leagues will be more open to black-skinned baseball players. This is what we constantly need to keep in mind: opened doors don’t lead to open doors, but we can always open them ourselves.


* Study by Merritt, Effron, and Monin about moral licensing

** The Pity of It All by Amos Elon

*** Julia Gillard’s Misogyny Speech (Transcript)

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