The Double Standards on Female Politicians
By: Rachel Benbrook
This election has been groundbreaking, and possibly extremely disenchanting for many viewers who are sick and tired of the rhetoric that has been spouted from both sides during this contentious, confusing, and monumental campaign. Despite the facts of this years election, which may seem harrowing to many, it is important to note the symbolism of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as the first female to ever be running as a representative of a major party. Carly Fiorina’s presence on the Republican side also made a huge impact, as there were two females in the race for the presidency this year.
This new groundbreaking event has shattered glass ceilings, yet it has also stirred up a great deal of sexist rhetoric that I believe must be addressed in order for women to move forward.
Politics aside, I believe that female candidates are held to an unfair double standard when it comes to physical appearance, demeanor, and attitude. It seems that a woman who gets upset or passionate is automatically labeled as cold or unfeminine. I believe that we need to begin to recognize these double standards and begin to change the conversation.
I can recall watching one of the first debates, and wondering why several male announcers kept remarking that Hillary needed to smile more, and that she came across as unfriendly and cold. However, during her acceptance speech, she had to stifle her tears when she hugged her daughter Chelsea, as she commented later to news reporters that she was afraid she might tear up, as it was such an emotional moment. How can she or any other female in politics or the public eye win with such double standards? If she is too emotional, she will attract criticism saying that she is unfit for the presidency as she cannot control her emotions, yet she is also lambasted for not being emotional enough.
I think that first of all we must acknowledge that traits that are typically attached to females, such as high emotional and nurturing qualities, can also be applied to men. Additionally, we need to realize that feminine traits can bring positive changes to policy, social issues, and our political system. For example, a female perspective on reproductive rights, healthcare, maternity leave, and childcare- just to name a few- can definitely enrich the conversation, and provide first hand experiences that can help enable better policy decisions.
Numerous other nations currently have female leaders, for example England and Germany. Theresa May and Angela Merkel have successfully handled policy decisions, as well as national security questions. This year’s election was fortunate enough to have two female candidates seeking the nomination, with one succeeding. This is a huge testament to how far we have come; however I believe that we need to begin nationally changing the conversation on women.
Yes, we may have made huge strides in the workforce, and many other aspects of society, but it is important to know that not all women are the same. Women should not have to be constantly worried about their appearance or demeanor in the political realm when they are judged against their male counterparts. Of course, all politicians come under scrutiny for numerous things, personality included, but I don’t remember the male candidates being scrutinized as heavily as Fiorina and Clinton. Acknowledging this is the first step to changing our mindsets and dialogues as we move forward and embrace more equality. I believe that being aware of this is the first step in creating a national conversation, and that the more women we see stepping into high profile positions of power, the more normalized this will become. Then we will be able to begin conversations on issues, and it will be commonplace to see a woman as president, or anything she wants to be for that matter!