The Barbara Lee Family Foundation, formed twenty years ago by Barbara Lee to advance women’s equality in politics, is nonpartisan and research based. Lee, described by Stephanie Ebbert of the Boston Globe as “the Paul Revere of women,” has a foundation that has studied the political campaigns of every female candidate for governor—both Democrat and Republican—for the past twenty years, provided real-time polling data to the candidates, and championed women’s candidacies, such as that of now–US Representative Ayanna Pressley in Boston. The new research report from the Lee Family Foundation explains that this most recent study focuses on governorships because previous research showed that executive offices are hardest for women to attain: voters have long been more comfortable electing women to legislatures than to offices where they can make unilateral decisions.
The new research from the Lee Family Foundation has good news and bad news. The study found that most Americans recognize that women face double standards when running for office. That’s the good news. The bad news is that many people with this awareness still apply double standards to women anyway. The new research is based on twelve focus groups and a phone survey of 2,500 likely voters, which is a substantial study. The researchers asked voters to evaluate hypothetical women running for governor against white men. The study found that
- Voters do not demand the same qualities in male and female candidates. Men are assumed to be qualified while women are not.
- Women are further penalized if they are deemed “unlikable.” The likability expectation is applied disproportionately to women.
When researchers looked closely at the intersections between gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, they found that
- Black women and lesbians face many more challenges than white women.
- White voters in particular do not like it when black, Latina, and Asian American candidates mention their race or ethnicity. These white voters say things like, “Introducing yourself by a particular ethnicity perpetuates the problem.”
- Candidates from different demographics had to use different strategies to prove they were qualified. For example, being “a business owner who creates jobs and balanced budgets” made Asian American women seem likable to most voters but did not help Latinas as much. “Working across the aisle” was a key likability trait for Latina and lesbian candidates from both parties but did not benefit straight white Republicans.
It’s time for all of us to stop applying double standards to women when they are running for office. We need to keep a critical awareness about our own judgments and reactions to women candidates and ask ourselves if we are holding women to a different standard than we do for men. If we stop and reflect on this possibility, we can catch ourselves being unfair and break out of these patterns. Let’s do this!
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash