Since 2013, poll after poll after poll has shown that women are looking for results on the issues that matter most to them: the economic security issues like ending gender discrimination in pay, paid sick days, or paid family or medical leave. In other words, the issues that keep women and their families making ends meet.
Everyone advises you to “just be yourself.” But how is that possible under hot TV lights, inches from an opponent, with reporters waiting to pounce on any misstep? What can be done in advance to present your best self? Debate coach Chris Jahnke profiles style archetypes to model and to avoid. Look for these best and worst practices at the next presidential debate this Wednesday. Who does well? Who could use more coaching?
Over the past two weeks, some political commentators have made comments that demonstrate persistent gender bias, from caricatures of women candidates to the supposed “chickification” of political news. Candidates have revealed bias in comments on the trail, while voters’ post-debate comments may reflect the different standards to which men and women candidates are held. At the same time, the reflection on and backlash to perceived sexism may evidence evolution in our expectations of gender and politics.
In the industry of political campaigning, new innovative approaches to reach voters pop up all the time. Whether it’s an online targeting tactic or personalized direct mail piece, campaigns are constantly developing new ways to reach voters. Behind these tactics are real people, political strategists who develop the campaign plan. Over a decade ago, when I was first consulting on campaigns, I noticed something troubling; I was often the only woman consultant working on a race. Still today far fewer women are political consultants. As Center for American Women and Politics scholar and Rutgers professor Kelly Dittmar found, men dominate the field, comprising at least three quarters of the industry.
After Tuesday night’s debate, Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank posted a glowing review of Hillary Clinton’s performance with the headline “Hillary Clinton towers over her debate rivals.” But, when he tweeted out his piece, Milbank drew from a single line where he called Clinton “a man among boys.” The backlash was swift in the twitterverse, with peers like Soledad O’Brien tweeting to her 409,000 followers: “WTF: ‘She was, in short, a man among boys. And that’s why the debate was so important to Clinton’. *SIGH*”. (O’Brien followed up on her fury with a tweet on Wednesday, noting how much that characterization “pissed her off.”)
Debate Prep Part I: Write Your Playbook Now
Women candidates running for executive posts in 2016 should watch and learn from the first Democratic primary debate. What candidates see and hear from the presidential contenders can jump start their own debate prep regimen. Consider Hillary Clinton, whose experience weathering innumerable attacks on her frontrunner status in 2008 should provide a strategic advantage this week over her opponents.
There is no strict formula for identifying and evaluating gender bias. In fact, the elusive nature of bias is what makes it so pernicious. However some questions can help to measure whether the political playing field is equal to the men and women who run. One of the most basic: would we treat (or react to) a behavior in the same way if it was performed by a male or female candidate? If not, it merits additional evaluation to determine whether the gender difference in response or reaction is rooted in gender stereotypes.
This presidential cycle marks the first time that women are running for both major party nominations. But the women running are not only making history, they are making change. Symbolically, they are altering the image we hold of who can and should lead the nation, presenting viable alternatives to the distinctly male face of leadership that has occupied the Oval Office to date. Substantively, they bring life experiences to their campaigns and to presidential debates that are not shared by their male counterparts. And the differences between this year’s female contenders remind us that gender diversity is not only that between men and women, but also among women.