Women and the Age Dilemma: When Are We Too Old or Too Young to Be Promoted?

Media coverage and public reaction to the slate of Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election offer a window into a core double bind for women—gendered perceptions of age that women face as they compete for advancement. A double bind is a term describing a situation where a person is caught between two irreconcilable demands or expectations. Jill Filipovic of the New York Times describes the age-based double bind for women represented by the excitement generated by the younger men running for president. She notes that in the world of work, research shows that women are promoted once managers see them perform well, while men are promoted if managers believe in their potential or promise. In other words, women have to prove themselves and men don’t. Filipovic observes that these same beliefs and practices are being played out now in politics.

The age range of the 2020 Democratic candidates is quite large: from 37 to 78 years of age. Filipovic notes that being between 37 and 46 years old and relatively unknown seems to be an advantage for the Democratic men who are generating excitement for being fresh faces and young, but for the women, “unfamiliarity and youth end up being tied to incompetence.” As in the workplace, the young men in the race are generating excitement without having accomplished nearly as much as the older women in the race:

  • Pete Buttigieg, at 37, is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana; Beto O’Rourke, 46, is the Texas congressman who lost a Senate race to Ted Cruz; Andrew Yang, 44, is a corporate lawyer turned entrepreneur; and Tim Ryan, 45, is known as the congressman who challenged Nancy Pelosi for the speaker role.
  • In contrast, the women in the race, who are in their 50s and 60s, had to prove themselves first. They entered politics later in life after spending years building up accomplishments and legislative and executive experience and recognition to be considered credible. But they are no longer considered “fresh” or exciting by the public or media.

In fact, Filipovic points out, age poses an unsolvable problem for women. She notes that “they are seen as too young and inexperienced right up until the time they are branded too old and tedious,” as is the case for Elizabeth Warren. In her late 60s, she is portrayed in the media as old, along with Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, although she is ten years younger than they are. Men running for president in 2020 who are more or less the same age as Warren—Sherrod Brown (66), John Hickenlooper (67), and Jay Inslee (68)—are not lumped in with the white-haired candidates.

Filipovic notes that women in their 40s are seen as in a hurry, too ambitious and unwilling to pay their dues; women in their 50s are seen as old news; and women in their 60s are seen as old. She asks, “When, exactly, is a woman supposed to go to the White House?” That is the question that we must keep asking.

 

Photo by David Everett Strickler on Unsplash

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

Emerging Female Leadership

Tina Brown, of the New York Times, writes that “a new paradigm of female leadership is emerging.” She notes these recent examples:

  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand responded immediately to the mass shooting of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, by donning a hijab, or headscarf, in solidarity with her country’s Muslim citizens and passing legislation to ban the ownership and purchase of assault weapons in her country within one week of the shooting. Women all over New Zealand followed her example and wore headscarves. Brown notes that Ardern became “an iconic image of global humanity.”
  • Several countries, from Georgia to Ethiopia, have recently elected their first female presidents.
  • Women now lead in industries where previous leaders have been all men. For example:
    • Women have the top jobs at both the New York Stock Exchange and at Nasdaq.
    • Kathy Warden is now the CEO of Northrop Grumman.
    • Four out of five of the biggest defense companies in the United States are now headed by women.
    • Chicago just elected its first black female mayor.
  • Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the Georgia gubernatorial race and is a Democratic leading light, just rejected the idea of running for vice president by announcing, “You don’t run for second place.”
  • Forty-two new women were sworn into the United States Congress, bringing brilliance and passion.
  • Nancy Pelosi, mother of five and grandmother of nine, runs circles around the president and keeps her diverse and fractious House Democratic Caucus together and strategically focused.

Brown goes on to note that “women have accumulated rich ways of knowing that until recently were dismissed in male circles of power.” She reflects that as women step into new roles, that wisdom is emerging.

Michelle Cottle cautions us to not buy into stereotypes of women in politics as being more collaborative and less ambitious than men. She cites two resources: one is an article written by Jennifer Lawless, a professor at the University of Virginia and expert on women in politics, and the other is a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Both sources do not support the hypothesis that women are more willing to compromise in politics. Cottle notes that while women bring fresh perspectives and different priorities and work styles, it is dangerous to have unrealistic expectations of women. In fact, we sometimes need female leaders who can be tough, unyielding, ambitious, and compassionate, like Nancy Pelosi and Jacinda Ardern, to tackle the complex problems facing our world.

Let’s celebrate these examples of emerging female leaders.

 

Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

How Women Are Changing Mainstream Politics

Women are running for office in record numbers since the 2016 election. Michael Tackett of the New York Times writes that Clinton’s loss triggered not only a surge of female candidates but also a surge of young women managing campaigns and “reshap[ing] a profession long dominated by men.” Many women running for office want female campaign managers who will shape winning messages and plan bold platforms and strategies. Tackett reports that this year, 40 percent of campaign managers for Democratic congressional candidates are women—a dramatic increase from the negligible numbers counted in a 2010 study conducted by Rutger’s University Center for American Women and Politics. Many of the campaign messages produced so far this year by both Republican and Democratic women are changing the rules of politics. Stephanie Ebbert of the Boston Globe notes that “running like a man often doesn’t work” for women. Women candidates are throwing caution to the wind and, according to Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, are “running very boldly.” For example:

  • One Republican congresswoman running for the Senate told her party in a campaign ad to “grow a pair of ovaries.”
  • Two Democratic candidates for governor have created ads to pitch their candidacies while breast-feeding on camera.
  • A Democratic woman asked in her campaign ad, “Who can you trust most not to show you their penis in a professional setting?”
  • The Vote Me Too PAC is running ads that say, “51 percent of our population has vaginas. 81 percent of members of Congress don’t have vaginas. [This] leads to a culture where sexual discrimination and sexual violence are tolerated.”
Ebbert quotes Kelley Ditmas, assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University, who says that women are touting “their gender as a value-added, as a credential, as one among many merits that they bring to office-holding.” Susan Chira of the New York Times writes that women running for office are using motherhood not just as a credential but also as a weapon in some of the following ways:
  • They tell their own wrenching stories of sick children and their fears for them as they watch their government attack healthcare.
  • They tout their experiences with motherhood helping them to hone the skill of multitasking, which will help them cut through the gridlock in Congress.
  • They tell stories of their fears of gun violence in their children’s neighborhoods and schools as they support gun control measures.
  • In one campaign ad where the candidate was breast-feeding on camera, she linked her work as a state legislator to a bill she helped pass to ban BPA from baby bottles.
As part of the record-breaking surge of women running for office, Julie Turkewitz of the New York Times notes that a historic number of Native American women are running for elective office. No Native American woman has ever served in the U.S. Congress. Four are running for Congress and many more are running for seats in state government. This surge is partly the result of liberal energy unleashed by the 2016 election, the #MeToo movement, and a broader move of Native Americans into mainstream politics in recent years. Turkewitz shares the story of Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, a Native American woman running for office. Haaland argues that many of the issues affecting native communities, such as low wage jobs, violence against women, and access to safe and affordable healthcare, affect everyone. In several states, the Native American population is large enough to sway elections. Having more women in elected office can create great change as issues concerning women gain more support. These are exciting times to support women candidates. Let’s encourage everyone to vote in primaries and the November elections.   Photo courtesy of Chris Tse (CC BY-ND 2.0)]]>

Women Are Breaking Barriers

Women are breaking barriers and forging new pathways. Michael Tackett of the New York Times reports that because they are dismayed by the direction the country is going and energized by the Women’s March in 2017 after Trump’s inauguration, women are running for office in record numbers. Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily’s List, the largest national organization devoted to electing female candidates, reports that more women than ever before have contacted Emily’s List about running for office. Schriock notes that about a thousand women contacted Emily’s List in the year before the 2016 election, but in the twelve months since the election, twenty-two thousand women have contacted the organization. Here’s what we know at this point:

  • 11 women flipped seats in the Virginia House of Delegates race in November 2017. Their numbers included the first Latinas, the first Asian American woman, and the first transgender candidate in Virginia.
  • 354 female candidates are running for the United States House of Representatives in 2018, which is four times the number of women who ran in 2016. Twice as many women are running for the United States Senate in 2018 compared to 2016.
  • While the majority of the female candidates are Democrats, Republican women are also running in larger numbers than ever before.
When asked why they are running, many female candidates report that damage to the social safety net, threats to the Affordable Care Act, attacks on reproductive rights, and the recent flood of sexual harassment allegations, some against Trump himself, have motivated them to seek election. Tackett notes that, after all, both Republican and Democratic women know how it feels to be harassed. Women are running for local offices as well. Rick Rojas of the New York Times writes about a town council race in Greenwich, Connecticut, where women have taken a sudden interest in running for council seats. This race, which has previously had more seats available than candidates to fill them, currently has 270 people, 110 of whom are first-time candidates and over half of whom are women, running for 230 seats. Some of the women running explain that they were motivated by the Women’s March, where they heard the message “If you want to make a change, start locally.” One candidate explained that she couldn’t “be a bystander anymore.” The record number of women running for the United States Congress in 2018 even includes some veterans. Michael Tackett writes in the New York Times that Elaine Luria, Amy McGrath and Mikie Sherrill, all graduates of the United States Naval Academy, are trying to do something that “no female Annapolis graduate has ever accomplished: to win seats in Congress.” Luria commanded an assault ship with a crew of four hundred in the Persian Gulf, McGrath was the first female Marine to fly an F-18 fighter jet in combat, and Sherrill was a Navy helicopter pilot. The three were motivated to run after Trump’s election. Tackett notes that military credentials have always propelled men to office. We will see how these well-credentialed military women do. In another first, Senator Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois and a veteran of the Iraq War who lost both of her legs in combat, will become the first United States senator to give birth while serving in the Senate. Matt Stevens of the New York Times reports that Senator Duckworth will be one of only ten women who have given birth while serving in Congress. This will be the senator’s second child. Her staff report that Duckworth, as a working mother, brings an “important” and “underrepresented” perspective to Congress, where she has sponsored legislation to support working mothers. Change is in the air. What changes are you seeing in your local elections?   Image courtesy of JIRCAS Library (CC BY 2.0)]]>

Maxine Waters: A Strong Black Woman Who Is a Role Model for Us All

United States Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California has become a heroine to many of us, especially millennials, since she stood up for her principles and refused to attend President Trump’s inauguration or his first speech to Congress. Her willingness to speak honestly about her values and beliefs has won the respect of people in all age groups. As Sarah D. Wire reports for the Los Angeles Times, Waters explained that she doesn’t honor this president because of “his insulting comments about former presidential rivals Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton, the lewd ‘Access Hollywood’ video in which he bragged about grabbing women and his mocking imitation of a disabled reporter.” In addition, Lottie L. Joiner of Crisis Magazine reports that Waters is determined to do what she can to stop Trump’s agenda of undermining African American contributions to our democracy. According to Wire, Waters was born one of thirteen children raised by a single mother in St. Louis and began working at the age of thirteen. After high school, she moved with her family to California, began a career in public service as a teacher in the Head Start program, and earned a bachelor’s degree. She was elected to the California State Assembly in 1977, where she became a very effective legislator. In 1991, she was elected to Congress. Maxine Waters is my heroine because she has consistently fought for social and economic justice on the local, state, federal, and international levels. For example:

  • While serving in the California state legislature, she led a drive to force the state pension system to divest billions of dollars in shares of companies that did business in South Africa in order to help end the oppressive system of apartheid.
  • In her congressional district, she helped found organizations that promote black women and provide job training to young people.
  • She helped write the Dodd-Frank Act, which instituted broad oversight of the banking industry after the 2008 market collapse.
  • She helped create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • Waters created legislation to put money back into minority communities devastated by the crash of the housing market to produce housing for low-income people.
  • Waters worked hard to draft legislation that funded HIV/AIDS research among minority populations.
  • Currently Waters is working on closing the enormous wealth gap between blacks (and other minorities) and whites in the United States.
Waters provides inspiration to the rest of us, encouraging us to step forward and make a difference in our communities and in our country as volunteers, as activists, or by running for office. What steps are you taking to make a difference?   Photo courtesy of mark6mauno for a Creative Commons photo with the Share-Alike 2.0 license.]]>

Good News: Women Are Getting Involved in Politics

Here is a piece of good news for all of us: women’s involvement in politics is skyrocketing.  The ways to get involved are endless, including petitioning Congress, attending meetings and rallies for causes you support, holding elected officials accountable for their votes, registering voters, and running for office.  Running for office can include running for school board, town council, state legislature, governor, or US Congress.  Gail Collins of the New York Times writes that “groups that help prepare women to run for office are reporting an unprecedented number of website visits, training-school sign-ups and meeting attendance.” Why is it good news for all of us that women are preparing to run for office?  Studies show that women, as a group, are better at working with others.  Collins points out that female senators in Washington have regular bipartisan dinners, while I have observed that the men, even those in the same party, cannot work together or agree.  In the recent past, women senators were able to work together, across the aisle, to move stalled legislation forward. Brittany Bronson of the New York Times mentions the state of Nevada as a case study of the positive impact for everyone when women are well represented in legislative bodies. Bronson explains that with women making up 39.7 percent of Nevada’s lawmakers, the state ranks second only to Vermont in women’s representation in state politics. This translates to a focus on issues important to women that are usually ignored by male legislators, such as family-friendly policies in the workplace, the gender wage gap, and the “pink tax”—the extra amount women are charged for feminine hygiene products. The female legislators of Nevada have also sponsored legislation supporting the Equal Rights Amendment and eliminating copays for contraception. Collins notes that if more women get into office, “it’ll be about time.”  She explains:

  • Women hold under 25 percent of the seats in the nation’s state legislatures.
  • Women hold just under 20 percent of the seats in Congress.
  • There are only six women governors.
  • We have never had a woman president.
Encourage the women you know to run for office, or run for office yourself.  Support and vote for women, and get involved in any way you can.  The more women are engaged in politics, the better it will be for all of us.   Photo courtesy of businessforward. (CC BY 2.0)]]>

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]]>