Women and Politics

A blog from WCF about the state of women and politics

Coakley criticism proves stereotypes still hurt female candidates

When will you female candidates learn? You can’t be too emotional, that makes you seem weak. But don’t be too cold, that makes you an Ice Queen. Definitely don’t focus on your gender, but don’t ignore it either.

Talk about your family and kids, but not too much, because a busy candidate can’t be a good mother. If you don’t have kids, you’d better be extra warm and fuzzy.

So how can you act, you ask? That question remains unanswered. Why? Because our society has developed so many extreme stereotypes for women that we no longer know how to respond. We don’t know what’s safe.

As a result, female candidates end up trying to traverse the icy trail of double standards, attempting to choose between one extreme over the other, floundering around in the middle, or just trying to be themselves.

Hillary Clinton has always been a strong leader who doesn’t take any crap. But it wasn’t her experience or vision that won over some voters, it was the fact that she cried on television. (“Oh good, she does have emotions, I had no idea”). Would voters ever need to see a male candidate cry to earn their support? Of course not. But apparently Clinton had acted too removed, too hard, too much like…a man for people’s taste.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

But if Clinton had come out of the gate overflowing with emotion about women and her campaign, she would have been blasted for being a sappy female.

Meanwhile, Martha Coakley has repeatedly been called “icy” and is now criticized for not emphasizing the historic nature of her campaign. But should a female candidate dare express that her gender is indeed one of her many qualifications, the response I always hear is, “I won’t vote for a woman just because she’s a woman.”

It seems women just can’t win. And believe me, it’s not just women pointing this out (nor are women excluded from judging based on stereotypes). To POLITICO, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) recounted that despite her overwhelming win in Massachusetts, Hillary Clinton still faced sexism from voters there.

McGovern also brought up how a local paper concluded that Coakley’s new hair and makeup style were to blame for the race tightening:

“They wouldn’t write this about a man,” McGovern said. “I still think we have a long way to go to make this an equal playing field.”

James Carroll of The Daily Beast describes Massachusetts’ rich and long history of misogyny toward female candidates:

“The short of it is that the most liberal state in the nation … practices the politics of misogyny. When it comes to positions of real power, no women need apply. Martha Coakley was croaked by an electorate that could not get past her gender.”

Martha Coakley’s loss in the special election for the Massachusetts Senate seat leaves many of us angry that the “progressive” state of Massachusetts continues to squeeze out women. It also leaves us frightened about the future of women’s reproductive rights in the health care bill.

Without Coakley, preventing attacks on choice in health care reform looks bleak. And if Massachusetts serves as a thermometer for the way our country is viewing female candidates, we’re in big trouble.

It’s 2010, folks—when will the double standards stop?

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