How We Can Elect a Woman President in 2020

It’s happening again. We were told that Hillary Clinton did not win in 2016 because she was “unlikeable.” Now six amazing women are running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and none of them seem “likable” either. What is going on? Claire Bond Potter, writing for the New York Times highlights the discrepancies in women candidate coverage:

  • None of the exciting female presidential candidates has yet led in the polls.
  • Men keep joining the race and receiving glowing press coverage while the women are described in the press as follows:
    • Kamala Harris is “hard to define.”
    • Amy Klobuchar is “mean.”
    • Elizabeth Warren is “not likeable enough” as a “wonky professor.”
  • The press overlooks the fact that Harris raised the most money at the opening of her campaign while they exclaim over the lesser amounts raised by male candidates.

Jennifer Wright of Harper’s Bazaar writes that while “four very nice white men”—Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders—are all on covers of magazines, women and men of color are also running but are hardly visible. Instead, she notes several differences in news coverage:

  • Vanity Fair gushes over how much O’Rourke likes to read but ignores that Warren has written eleven books.
  • The press exclaims that Buttigieg speaks Norwegian but doesn’t mention that Kirsten Gillibrand speaks fluent Mandarin.
  • While Warren and Gillibrand have never lost an election, O’Rourke is best known for losing to Ted Cruz and Biden lost in 1988 and 2008, yet the media keeps discussing whether the women are “electable.”
  • Women running in the campaign have solid national leadership experience and policy plans but are discussed as standing no chance against less-qualified men.

Let’s be clear, both women and men have internalized the notion that women can’t be leaders and judge women harshly for aspiring to executive office. In a previous article, we cited Nilanjana Dasgupta of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who explains that “when people are consistently exposed to leaders who fit one profile [male], they will be more likely to notice leaders who fit that same profile in the future.” This is an example of unconscious bias. In other words, even when a woman acts like a leader, her talents are less likely to be noticed or identified as leadership because the generally accepted profile of a leader is a man.

Perhaps because we have never had a woman as president of the United States, both women and men in this country cannot imagine or feel comfortable with women in the role of president. It does not help that the women candidates get very little coverage in the media and we do not get to know them. We also all need to examine our unconscious bias about women leaders and the “likability” factor. Potter challenges us to stop focusing on likability, a “nebulous, arbitrary and meaningless” standard, and instead vote for candidates who you trust to do the work of leading our country and our world. She notes, “If Americans can learn to like and trust women in Congress in record numbers, maybe they can learn to trust women as presidential candidates too—and maybe even like them.”

It’s really time to dismiss and eradicate the likability factor as relevant and focus instead on ability and experience.

 

Photo by Hunters Race on Unsplash

Sexism in Politics in Spain and the United States: Is There a Difference?

Mayor Ada Colau of Barcelona, Spain.[/caption] I love Spain and have spent a lot of time there for work and leisure travel. I was, therefore, particularly interested in an article by Raphael Minder in the New York Times reporting that women in Spain have achieved greater parity in their national parliament, the Cortes Generales, than we have made in the US Congress. Women make up 40 percent of the Spanish Cortes while, according to the Rutgers Center for Women in Politics, women hold only 19.4 percent of all seats in the US Congress. Nonetheless, female politicians in Spain complain of having to counteract entrenched sexism. I understand that Spain has a deeply embedded culture of machismo, so I wondered whether female politicians in Spain have different experiences than their US counterparts. Minder interviewed a number of female politicians in Spain who reported

  • Sexual harassment is common, which includes inappropriate touching, leering, and sexualized comments.
  • The women receive insults for daring to express opinions that differ from those of male colleagues. Last year a group of female colleagues held an open meeting under the banner “We Haven’t Come to Look Good” and read aloud insults they have received on the job. These remarks tend to mix political criticism with personal insults. Legislator Anna Gabriel explained, “What we hear has to do with our political stance, but the comments almost always include something about our bodies, sexuality, sex lives, and whether we’re beautiful or not.”
  • Ada Colau, the woman mayor of Barcelona, reports that she has been told she should sell fish or scrub floors instead of being mayor.
Minder notes that sexism and sexual harassment are not limited to Spain, and I agree. In fact, I don’t detect any difference between these reports from female politicians in Spain and my previous article about the double standards women face in US politics. We see these same sexist dynamics in Donald J. Trump’s many demeaning comments during the 2016 presidential election about the appearance, attractiveness, and body parts of his female opponents and of other women who dared to challenge him. A recent article by Amber Phillips of The Washington Post about Hillary Clinton’s loss cites research from the nonpartisan Barbara Lee Foundation, which studies women in politics. Phillips includes the Lee Foundation’s suggestions for candidates:
  • Voters (both male and female) care whether their female politicians are likable, an attribute that is not something they need from their male political leaders.
  • Women candidates should not pose for a head shot. Instead, circulate more candid, informal photos of the candidate engaging with her community—say hanging out with children on a playground. “To show likability, a woman doing her job among constituents is effective,” the study’s authors say.
  • Women candidates should not take credit all the time for their accomplishments, which men are expected to do.
  • Women candidates need to recognize that their hair, makeup and clothes will be scrutinized by voters much more than a man’s.
  • If the candidate is a mother, voters worry about the impact her public-office job will have on her children. They do not hold men to this same standard.
  • Voters recognize this is all a double standard, and yet they “actively participate in it and are conscious of doing so.”
“Time and again, we found that women candidates still bump up against the gendered expectations voters have (for politicians),” said Barbara Lee, citing research her foundation and the nonpartisan Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University will release this spring. As for a woman running for president, Lee comments, “After all, for 228 years, the presidency has looked decidedly male.” Not enough American voters were able to accept a woman in that role. The misogyny displayed during the 2016 election has energized a record number of women to run for office in the United States in 2018 and 2020. Let’s work together to support our women candidates by pushing through this culture’s entrenched misogyny. Photo courtesy of Barcelona en Comú. CC by-nd 2.0]]>

Hillary Clinton and the Goldilocks Syndrome

Why is it that when Hillary Clinton stepped down from being secretary of state in 2013, after four years in office, she was the most popular politician in the country? Her approval rating then stood at 69 percent. Yet while campaigning for president in 2016, two-thirds of the voting population said they did not trust her, though according to Nicolas Kristof of the New York Times, this distrust is not deserved. Sady Doyle, writing for Quartz, suggests that “public opinion of Clinton has followed a fixed pattern throughout her career. Her public approval plummets whenever she applies for a new position. Then it soars when she gets the job.” This pattern played out for Clinton when she ran for Senate and got that job, and the pattern is not specific to Clinton. Elizabeth Warren experienced the same dynamic when she ran for Senate in Massachusetts—women reported being “turned off by Warren’s know-it-all style,” but she became extremely popular once she made it to the Senate. Let’s be clear—this is a pattern that many women experience when they campaign for powerful positions, not only in politics but in organizations when women apply for promotions. Doyle states that what we are seeing is misogyny— a continual prejudice against women caught in the act of asking for power. She cites a Harvard study that found that “power-seeking men are seen as strong and competent. Power-seeking women are greeted by both sexes with ‘moral outrage.’” Clinton and other successful women are caught in double binds that are challenging and costly for them when they seek promotions.  

Double Binds for Successful Women

What are double binds? They are catch-22 situations that women often face in public and organizational life. In her book Executive Presence, Sylvia Ann Hewlett cites Carolyn Buck Lee as describing double binds as the Goldilocks syndrome: “You’re too this, you’re too that, and you always will be because what’s behind it is hidden bias.” My women clients and other women in the news have been told they smile too much or too little to be leaders or they talk too little or too much to make partner. Hillary Clinton, and other women leaders face a number of pernicious double binds when they apply for a promotion, which according to Hewlett include the following:
  • Walking a tightrope between being effective and being likable. Hewlett notes that successful women, unlike successful men, suffer social rejection and personal derogation when they are successful or dare to put themselves forward as being qualified for a promotion.
  • Walking a tightrope between being too feminine and not feminine enough. Women seeking promotions are often told they are either too female to be taken seriously or too aggressive to be appropriately feminine.
What’s to be done? We can work at recognizing our unconscious negative biases about women and power. What else do you think we can do to ensure that talented women are encouraged to pursue leadership positions? Let me know in the comments section.   The image in this post is courtesy of Tim Gouw (CC0 license)]]>