Going Negative: Why Women Can’t Act Like Men

Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican nominee for president. With that reality has come a lot of speculation about what Hillary Clinton’s strategy for running against Trump may be if she is the Democratic nominee. After all, 16 Republicans have already tried a myriad of tactics to beat Trump, and all have failed. Rising above the fray didn’t work for Ben Carson, and hitting Trump back punch for punch didn’t work for Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz.

According to Philip Elliot at TIME, Clinton has chosen her strategy: “If Donald Trump is the great boor of the 2016 election, then Hillary Clinton is the great bore,” writes Elliot. That is, Clinton will focus on policy instead of passion, and specifics instead of sweeping dreams.  The article posits that Clinton is taking this approach because “Americans like Hillary Clinton the nerdy technocrat. They do not like Hillary Clinton the candidate.” But whether that is true, I feel this argument fails to take into account the role that a candidate’s gender plays.

trumpclinton_0_1Barbara Lee Family Foundation research has shown time and again that women candidates pay a higher price for “going negative.” As one focus group participant put it, “I expect more from a woman [candidate] than I do a man because […] I think a woman can have more tactfulness to not stoop to a man’s level.” Women candidates are perpetually held to a higher standard, and are unable to engage with other candidates the same way men can. If they do, they risk being called “the b-word” — and I’m not talking about “boring.” Voters feel women should use their strengths of compassion and being relatable to overcome negativity, and penalize women candidates if they don’t. This creates a double-bind for women candidates because contrasting with opponents is a necessary part of campaigning.

That is just one example of the unique obstacles women face when running for executive office. When pundits analyze a woman candidate’s campaign strategy, it’s not enough to just comment on the strategy itself: It’s important to recognize the role gender plays in forming that strategy.