What Mattel’s Presidential Barbie Needs to Know

Since 1992, Mattel has released presidential Barbies. This year, in a partnership with She Should Run, Mattel didn’t stop at presidential Barbie: there’s a vice-presidential Barbie, too. Two women running for the two highest offices in the United States? And they’re dressed in sensible work attire (not in a ball gown like 1992 presidential Barbie)? Sold. But there are a few things Barbie should know before launching her campaign.

DSC02812-620x412The Barbara Lee Family Foundation (BLFF) has been studying the obstacles and opportunities women face while running for executive office for almost twenty years. Why look at executive office in particular? Because it’s where the greatest disparities exist for women.

In the past fifty years, women have made gains – slight as they may be—in two of the three branches of government. But a woman has never been elected president. A woman has never been vice-president. Even at the state level, there aren’t enough examples of women holding executive office. There have only been 37 women governors in the history of the United States. There were almost 150 years of only male governors before Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first women elected to the post in 1924.

We’ve had women House members, women Senators, even a woman Speaker of the House. Yet, women have been running for the presidency since 1872 – and no woman has won. Voters are more accustomed to seeing women as part of a deliberative body, such as the legislature, and history shows that voters are more willing to elect a woman to be a member of the group than the leader of the group. Voters are more comfortable with a woman as A decision maker vs. THE decision maker.

If Barbie wants to run a successful campaign for executive office, here’s what Barbie needs to know:

  • Women can use the whole of their backgrounds to connect with voters. Sharing a personal reason for why a particular issue is important to them can women candidates connect with voters as well as showcase their expertise. Whether Barbie was a veterinarian, firefighter, or bakery owner in her past life, she can use those experiences to explain why she is running and how she will represent people.
  • When a woman is running for executive office, voters need more evidence to believe she is prepared to do the job than they do for a man. In other words, it’s not enough for Barbie to just say that she used to be a member of Congress—she needs to tout her accomplishments and link them back to her qualifications for higher office.
  • Voters will support a male candidate they do not like but who they think is qualified. Men don’t need to be liked to be elected, but voters are less likely to vote for a woman candidate they do not like. Likeability is an unfair and gendered litmus test that all women candidates, including Barbie, need to pass.

Running for executive office is just different for women. But, as someone who’s been reinventing herself since 1959, Barbie is no doubt up to the challenge.

PS: Step one is hiring a gender balanced campaign team. We need campaign manager Barbie.