Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"Look at that Sexism!" A Look into the Double Standards of "Likeability" in Female Candidates

“When was the last time that you cried?” “What did she wear to the debate?” “How are you going to balance being a grandmother and running for office?” “She seems so cold.” “Why is she being a bitch?”

 Within society, women are constantly being examined under a sharper lens of public standards. In a society where women in the professional world still “startles” the norm, any woman in a professional environment undergoes far more criticism than their male colleagues and experiences sexist biases on a number of different grounds or topics. What clothing she is wearing, how short/long her skirt is, the amount of makeup she wears on a typical day, how she carries her weight, her physique, questions pertaining to her personal love life, her family life, her parenting choices, there seems that no area is “off limits” for intrusive questions and every area of her life is open to criticism or remarks.   But why has this become a standard of accepted behavior? Why should female candidates prepare themselves for debate on an additional front: their appearance?

The idea of having a candidate that is personable and likeable is not a foreign concept or one that is only applied to female candidates. Voters want to have a “feel good” vibe towards their elected officials, trust that their vote is being cast towards an individual that they would not mind being “friendly” with. Maybe it’s in contrast of dictatorship or communism; the “spirit of democracy” is friendly, warm and personable. Maybe “warmth” is some indicator of the quality of politician that the candidate is, I’m not too sure, but for whatever their reasoning, voters want somebody who is “likeable.” Achieving a status of “likeable” is very much so an easier task for male candidates than female. The patriarchal power structure and “traditional” gender roles for men and women are very much to blame for the expected perceptions we have of politicians. 

When men assert typical “masculine” qualities, wit, intelligence, and assertiveness, they are identified with terms such as “ a strong leader.” When women attempted to breech the gender- role binary and exhibit those exact same qualities, she is instantly demeaned with the labels “abrasive” “rude” and “cold.” Gendered expectations of behavior are coupled with the coinciding behaviors and qualities. On the opposite side, men are also subjected to scrutiny for exhibiting “feminine” characteristics, showing emotions, crying, or appearing too “soft.” In the world of political presentation, to be feminine or exhibit those feminine qualities is to be weak and not taken seriously. The stark difference between the male and female candidates that are scrutinized is that females are already a minority in the field and are already at a disadvantage because of their gender. Women are already “playing in the wrong game” and need to prove their worthiness far before any stance or platform is ever discussed. Amongst a stage of male candidates, any female will already stand out starkly, she’s already on the radar of criticism and any side step away from the expected behavior, will cause a storm of feedback. 

The discriminatory standards for female politicians are not exclusive to one side of the aisle or another. Former Secretary of State and current presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is subjecting herself to the same wrath of criticism as republican hopeful Carly Fiorina. Experience in the game does make a difference in handling the comments, but both Clinton and Fiorina have pioneered as women in traditionally male-dominated fields. This hurdle, preparing to be subject of extreme criticism, can prove to be a deal breaker for younger women; they change games. This barrier is one entirely constructed by society and its gendered behavioral expectations. Fortunately, it is one that can be changed, but not simply overnight. 

One stride towards improvement stems from a mutual respect for the battle that other female candidates are facing. GOP Presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina has recently stated that she would not make any “low blows” or “personal comments” about female Democratic opponent, Former Secretary Clinton. Vowing to only question legitimate facts and records, Fiorina is offering an olive branch of sorts to her fellow colleague. However, these peace understandings only extend so far. If November 2016 comes down between these two women, the gloves will come off and the rounds will be messy. While it is comforting to believe that women can be above the bloody fray of “men’s politics,” it is impractical and naïve to believe that these women will not do everything in their power to win the election and become the next President of the United States. Everybody in this sphere, men and women alike, understand that when the “rules of the game” are written by and standardized by men, women have to make sacrifices to be able to play. 

-Anastasia Yogas