Category: From the Experts

Why This Double Standard Is Beyond Words


Originally Posted on Refinery 29

You can learn a lot from watching movies. Never underestimate a woman just because she wears heels (Legally Blonde). Don’t let fear run your life (Frozen). Meryl Streep is the best (every movie she’s made).

However, films don’t always get it right. There have only been nine female presidents portrayed on the big screen. Nine. Maybe it’s the lack of gender diversity in Hollywood, but, during a crisis, the U.S. always seems to have a male president who isn’t afraid to let his language get salty when standing up for American values. As my colleague at Presidential Gender Watch, Rutgers University professor Kelly Dittmar, has written, the position of commander-in-chief is laced with gender expectations. Whether aliens are attacking (Independence Day) or terrorists are taking over (Air Force One), Hollywood’s most popular presidents are men who curse when they mean business.

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A Conversation Worth Having…But Not at the Democratic Debate

Is it time to change the role of a president’s spouse? When Martha Raddatz posed this question at Saturday’s debate, the reactions were swift and the ridicule real. Not only was this question viewed by many debate-watchers as irrelevant to the substantive issues facing the nation, but many critics pointed to the particularly gendered way in which the question was posed. Amanda Terkel called Raddatz’s question “awful,” April Siese referred to it as a “major letdown,” and Rebecca Traister wrote, “The degree to which this question sucked is hard to describe.” Many more commentators and critics emerged in the Twittersphere, expressing frustration with the focus on first ladies (or gentleman). The frustration is justified in part due to the significant opportunity cost of asking this question. Critics noted that the moderators underemphasized or overlooked issues such as systemic racism, climate change, and reproductive rights, while spending time on spousal influence. And, of course, posing this question first to the only female candidate in the race demonstrated the gender bias inherent in our expectations for the presidential partnership: if a woman wins the White House, how could a man possibly fulfill the feminine duties expected of first spouses?

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Tough Talk in Tuesday’s GOP Debate

Tuesday’s Republican debates, both the undercard and main stage events, focused almost entirely on national security and combatting terrorism at home and abroad. Inevitably, this focus encourages candidates to emphasize their strategies for promoting safety in the face of instability. However, the substance of those strategies and the rhetoric with which they’re discussed can diverge significantly. For the majority of candidates who took the stage Tuesday, promoting security means using tough talk and proposing even tougher action. Whether repeatedly describing how they will “hunt down and “destroy” ISIS, kill terrorists, or bomb cities to protect the homeland, each Republican candidates utilized the language of war to make the case that he (or she) should be Commander-in-Chief. In fact, over 100 direct references to war were made over the night’s two debates.

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The Power of Black Women’s Votes in Presidential Politics

Recent debates over the racial dynamics of the Democratic primary have included specific focus on the Democratic candidates’ support from and accountability to Black voters. When Professor Michael Eric Dyson wrote “Yes She Can” about Clinton’s ability to “do more for Black people than Barack Obama,” he sparked a discussion about how attentive the Democratic frontrunner has been and will be to the interests of and concerns of the Black community. But Clinton’s ability to implement policy is dependent on winning, and winning requires her to secure and mobilize the Democratic base – of which Black voters are a significant part.

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Likeability, Revisited: Shaking Hands and Kissing Babies

Bernie Sanders doesn’t kiss babies. Patrick Healy’s article in the New York Times describes the lack of retail politics in the Sanders campaign thus far, detailing how the candidate doesn’t linger to talk with voters or take pictures after speeches, preferring to speak from a stage with a microphone. Healy writes, “Mr. Sanders is surprisingly impersonal, even uninterested, in one-on-one exchanges — the sort of momentary encounters in which a candidate can show warmth and humility by gripping every open palm.”

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The Gender Demands of Being Commander-in-Chief

In the wake of terrorist attacks abroad and a greater sense of global insecurity, today’s presidential candidates have not only shifted their focus to foreign policy, but have heightened the rhetoric they use to credential themselves as the next Commander-in-Chief. This presidential role is arguably among the most difficult and consequential, but also replete with the most masculine expectations. The assertiveness, strength, independence, and emotional restraint expected of those who lead the nation’s military and make life-and-death foreign policy decisions align with stereotypical characteristics of masculinity and are those most associated with men. Additionally, research shows that men are presumed to be most competent on issues related to defense and foreign policy, each under the purview of the nation’s Commander-in-Chief.

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Fiorina’s Feminist Crusade?

When the women of The View debriefed about last week’s Republican debate, they followed a formula too familiar to female candidates. In commenting on Carly Fiorina’s performance, they shifted from substance to appearance, characterizing Fiorina’s face as “demented” and “like a Halloween mask.” Ironically enough, they made these comments in response to Fiorina’s rebuke of pundits who had similarly criticized her appearance, arguing that she should have smiled more in the previous debate. That criticism followed Donald Trump’s comments on Fiorina’s face ahead of the second GOP debate, when he told Rolling Stone, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!’

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What We’re Not Hearing from Republicans: Issues that Matter to Women and Families

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.

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Memo to Women Candidates Part II: What Kind of Debater Are You?

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?

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