Are Women Candidates Changing Presidential Politics?
It is really significant that two women ran as candidates in the 2016 presidential campaign. Kelly Ditmar, writing for Ms. magazine notes that while Hillary Clinton felt she had to prove that she was “man enough” to be commander in chief in the 2008 campaign, both she and Carly Fiorina ran on their own terms in 2016, “disrupting the images, tactics, and rules of the game that have been determined by men.” Neither woman denied the influence of gender on her experience:
- Carly Fiorina talked about how being a woman informed her bid for office. She also shared her own battles to overcome sexism in corporate America as an example of her toughness.
- Hillary Clinton has talked about the “merit” of gender in that it shapes our lived realities and the perspectives we bring to policy making. She has discussed her understanding of the need for paid family leave by sharing her experiences of being a primary caregiver and a working woman. She gives equal attention to the concerns of both women and men in her campaign agenda.
Even though Fiorina dropped out of the race during the primary season, the fact that for awhile two women were running for president representing two different political perspectives may help normalize the image of women in leadership in the future. Both Fiorina and Clinton also influenced the agendas of their parties. Fiorina, responding to Trump’s attacks on her appearance as “unattractive” in his Rolling Stone interview, called women’s attention to how these attacks demeaned women. Clinton has pushed her party to make paid family leave, pay equity and the provision of affordable, quality childcare central to the party agenda.
But double standards remain for women candidates. Dittmar notes that Clinton must still confront the double bind of “needing to prove her strength without being characterized as unfeminine or unlikeable.” She was recently characterized by a well-known journalist as unacceptably aggressive for “shouting” during rallies and debates—behavior considered normal for her male opponents. Dittmar also observed that “gender shapes the experience and behavior of each candidate and, like any identity, brings variety and richness to the race. In this respect, every candidate is playing a gender card, women and men alike.” Amen to that.
“Carly Fiorina at NH FITN 2016” by Michael Vadon and “April 14, 2015 – Jones Street Java House in Le Claire, Iowa” by Michael Davidson for Hillary for America are licensed under CC BY 2.0. Both images have been cropped.