Gender in Politics: Inherent Biases Affect Campaign Behavior

By Sam Stack and Sierra Fang-Horvath, Editor-in-Chief and Feature Editor

// With just 11 days until the Presidential Election, the dramatic, drawn-out, bumpy campaign is coming to a close. Rules were broken, riots were incited, names were called, and issues were rarely, if ever, discussed. According to polling organization FiveThirtyEight, which perfectly called the results of the 2012 election, with little more than a week left before the fateful November 8 election, there are four possible outcomes to the election – three of which result in a victory by Hillary Clinton.

   With the potential for the United States to elect its first female president, gender has been a glaring issue throughout the election cycle. About three-quarters of voters believe men and women are equally skilled in politics, according to an August 2016 Associated Press survey. However, 29 percent of voters believe that Clinton’s gender will hurt her in the election, and 28 percent believe that she is being held to a higher standard than her male counterparts because she is a female.

   Attacks on Clinton by conservatives and the Republican candidate Donald Trump have caused some liberals to cry foul over the perceived gender double standard. Most conservatives, meanwhile, maintain that gender has played no role in the election and that Clinton gets the exact same treatment as would a male candidate.

   After announcing his bid for office, Trump accused Clinton of “playing the woman card really big.” Many have accused Clinton of using her gender to appeal to the female constituency, which makes up over 50 percent of all voters.

   “I really think Clinton benefits a lot for being a woman, and that a lot of people are voting for her because she is a woman,” Social Studies teacher Bob Barter said. “You want to vote for someone based on their qualifications and what they stand for. That can be a woman or a man, or a black person or a white person. I think Clinton has probably played up the women’s angle because it’s a significant part of her support.”

   However, others believe that the campaign for political office, especially for President, holds female and male candidates to different standards.

   “Running for office is a brutal experience, especially for women, whose clothing and demeanor undergo higher levels of scrutiny than those of men. To endure this, a woman has to be tough and disciplined, but not so tough that the press describe her as bossy or, worse, as a shrew,” Jay Newton-Small, the Washington correspondent for TIME and author of Broad Influence: How Women are Changing the Way America Works, said. “That line between likability and toughness is the hardest for female executives and candidates to walk, and one that few get right.”

   Appearance and toughness are frequently-noted aspects of a female’s campaign, whereas men are rarely faced with such topics, according to Erika Falk, author of Women for President: Media Bias in Nine Campaigns. Falk’s book analyzes the media coverage of nine presidential elections involving female candidates, ranging from 1872 to 2008. Falk conducted research regarding the length, quantity, and content of news stories about the elections, and the empirical data showed that distinct differences exist between how the media covers male and female candidates. Male candidates not only received twice as much coverage, but on average the articles written about them were seven percent longer.

   “In about 40 percent of the articles written about women in those nine campaigns, they were described physically, but that was only true for about 14 percent of the articles about men,” Falk said. “One of the consistent arguments against female candidates throughout the campaigns was that they are too emotional to hold higher office. Women were also twice as likely to be described emotionally as men were.”

   Newton-Small also noted that Clinton has faced accusations regarding her appearance throughout her campaign that Trump has not.

   “There were times during the campaign where reporters went after her for not smiling enough. That is not a criticism that is ever leveled against a man,” Newton-Small said. “It has shades of pageantry in it, like the smiling girls parading across the stage. It’s an expectation that we have for women but not for men.”


By Maddy McCormick

   Criticism has also been directed at Trump for remarks he made regarding Clinton’s “stamina.” During the first Presidential Debate, Trump was asked to clarify what he meant when he said in an interview with ABC’s David Muir that Clinton does not have a “presidential look.” Trump elaborated, “She doesn’t have the look. She doesn’t have the stamina, I said she doesn’t have the stamina.”

   However, many, including Associate Principal Erin Pope, interpreted this to be an attack on Clinton’s fitness born from a stereotype of feminine weakness.

   “When many think of stamina, they think of a man,” Pope said. “They don’t think of a woman, even though women endure extremely painful things, such as childbirth, that prove their stamina. It’s not a competition between men and women; that’s silly.”

   The belief that females are inherently weaker and therefore less fit to lead the nation is one that Newton-Small strongly disagrees with.

   “Toughness is a fuzzy metric by which to measure a candidate, particularly a female one. And running for office is a brutal experience, especially for women, whose clothing and demeanor undergo higher levels of scrutiny than those of men,” Newton-Small said.

   Along with criticism about their appearances, female candidates often face different questions than male candidates, especially about their households and childcare, according to Newton-Small.

   “The females are often asked about who is taking care of their kids and are criticized for being out on the campaign trail while they have children, which is not a criticism that is often leveled against men,” Newton-Small said. “It’s especially prominent for Republicans, because some social conservatives still believe in the traditional role of women in the household.”

   However, some believe that the complaints of imbalanced gender standards are completely groundless.

   “I think it is 100 percent false that people are holding Clinton to higher standards than her male counterparts,” junior and president of the Acalanes Right Minders Club Christian Lyons said.

   Other questions have been raised over whether males and female politicians should be treated the same way throughout a campaign. After the first Presidential Debate, the New York Times reported that “Some allies of Mr. Trump say he is not preparing enough to do battle with a woman in mind; he has only one senior adviser who is a woman, his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway.” The insinuation that debating a man is different than debating a female candidate was challenged by many.

   “You prepare to debate an opponent based on your own convictions and beliefs. Taking your opponent’s gender into account is not something I would see as necessary in the political arena,” Social Studies teacher Kristin Anderson said.

   This sentiment was paralleled by Pope.

   “I don’t think that debating another politician has anything to do with their gender,” Pope said. “You’re debating the issues, and it shouldn’t matter what your gender is.”

   Trump has also been consistently criticized for attacking Clinton in what some see as an excessive manner. Pope is among those who believe that these attacks are partially born out of a bias against a woman opponent.

   “It’s more about the coded language that is used in the debates that, quite frankly, some men might not detect, but many women do. It’s clear that there is some hostility towards her because she’s a woman,” Pope said.

   However, Anderson believes that attacks on Clinton have nothing to do with gender.

   “I think if Clinton was a male candidate, Trump would’ve behaved the exact same way. I think it’s a matter of personality and of ego,” Anderson said. “The political arena is a nasty place. Politicians’ personal lives are made public, and that’s the nature of the game. It’s going to happen whether you’re a man or a woman.”

   Barter also maintained that Trump’s alleged aggressive behavior towards Clinton remained mutually exclusive from issues regarding her gender.

   “Trump may be attacking her hard, but not because she’s a woman. He’s attacking her for her positions, dishonesty, and hypocrisy,” Barter said. “If there’s people who say that he’s going after her for being a woman, there’s not much you can do about that. But attacking her for her views is a part of politics regardless of what gender you are.”

   Lyons believes that Clinton was the more aggressive of the two candidates in the debates.

   “Of course I think you should be respectful to both male and female candidates, but Trump was definitely more respectful in the debates than he has been to Clinton and she was definitely less respectful to him,” Lyons said.

  When asked whether there should be a separate code of conduct when male and female candidates debate, Pope was very adamant that this was unnecessary.

   “The code of conduct is that you’re trying to become the President of the United States; show some respect. Show some integrity. Show some general knowledge about how to treat other people. I don’t think there needs to be any specific code of conduct to debate a woman in politics,” Pope said.

   Social Studies teacher Joe Schottland echoed such beliefs.

   “I think men should respect women as humans, just as they would respect other men as humans,” Schottland said.

   Lyons, on the other hand, believes that, in certain scenarios, female candidates should be treated in a slightly different way than male ones.

   “You should carry yourself the same way, whether it is against a male or female politician, but I think that it’s courteous to be more respectful to females,” Lyons said.

   The debate on the candidates’ health has also played an important role in the campaign. Most recently, Clinton announced that she had pneumonia after collapsing at a memorial on September 11. Trump’s doctor wrote that Trump “will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency,” but later blamed his word choice on being rushed and anxious.

   Health is more often than not an issue throughout an election cycle, as seen in 2008 Republican nominee John McCain’s thorough discussion on his health records, as well as the debate about Ronald Reagan’s abilities due to age (he was 69 when elected).

   With Clinton as a candidate, however, health may be more of a focal point of attack because of her gender. Newton-Small believes that an unusually large amount of attention has been dedicated to the question of health and capability.

   “Health is always an issue that is discussed and then dismissed. One presumes that if you’re capable of running for president that you’re willing to release your records and prove that you’re healthy,” Newton-Small said. “It has become an issue in the campaign for a lot of reasons that it shouldn’t be.”

   Lyons, on the other hand, believes that the discussion on the candidates’ health has been more lenient towards Clinton.

   “I don’t know if pneumonia constitutes falling down,” Lyons said, questioning whether Clinton’s September diagnosis was truthful. “I think Clinton has been in poor health, and I do think health is a very important thing during the election. Democrats were slamming McCain in 2008 saying that he should not be elected because he wasn’t healthy enough. I think it is sexist that they’re not holding Clinton up to the same standards as they did McCain.”

   The Presidential Debates have also been another area of gender criticism. A number of debate tactics by both candidates, whether purposeful or accidental, have been labeled as having gender connotations. Trump referred to Clinton as “she” and “her” a combined total of 157 times during the second Presidential Debate and used “Hillary” 33 times. Clinton used “he” and “him” a combined total of 59 times and referred to Trump as “Donald” 40 times at the town hall forum, according to Gender Watch 2016, a nonpartisan organization attempting to highlight gender dynamics in the election.

   While minor techniques like this may be lost on the average viewer, the subtle tactic, employed by both Clinton and Trump, of limiting use of the opponent’s name or titles, can have purposeful intentions to limit legitimacy.

   This pattern is not just seen in the debates, according to Falk. Similar structures were discovered in Falk’s analysis of media coverage of female candidates. Falk’s research showed that a female candidate’s honorary title was often dropped in favor of her marital title. For example, Secretary Hillary  Clinton might instead become Mrs. Clinton in reference. While this happens to both men and women, women’s honorary titles were dropped 32 percent of the time, while men’s were excluded just 11 percent.

   “These journalists are doing this entirely subconsciously. We have traditional gender associations in our culture, and even people who firmly believe that men and women should be treated equally have these unconscious ideologies and associations, and I think that’s probably why you see these patterns,” Falk said. “My guess is that these patterns denormalize women in the political sphere because we have these traditional associations of women in the domestic sphere and not in the public sphere.”

   Falk believes that subconscious gender biases are not only inherent in the media.

   “Our research suggests that these traditional attitudes that we have about women are unconscious ideologies that we all carry around with us,” Falk said.

   Other debate tactics largely related to body language were analyzed after the town hall debate. Trump was accused of demonstrating aggressive behavior by looming in the background of Clinton’s frames.

   Pope concurred with the idea that Trump demonstrated physical intimidation.

   “We do need to be aware of the language and demeanor that’s used,” Pope said. “If you watch the debates, there’s a number of intimidating actions. This is something that women have endured in the workplace and continue to do so.”

   However, Schottland believes that what some have interpreted as Trump’s attempts to intimidate a female opponent are simply debate tactics used regardless of gender.

   “In the town hall format, Trump was prowling around and looking aggressive. Guys have done it to guys, like Al Gore to George Bush. I don’t think that is a legitimate gender criticism,” Schottland said.

   Psychology teacher Lauren Allen construed Trump’s body language to be an attempted show of power that was unrelated to gender and more closely tied to what Allen believes is Trump’s inherent need to express authority.

   “Trump shows power over others to a point where I don’t think it’s necessarily helpful and at times not appropriate,” Allen said. “In the second debate he would walk around Clinton in a dominant way, but I don’t think it’s a gender thing. I think it’s something that we’ve seen from him where he has a need to show power.”

   These tactics can be seen dating back to Trump’s own reality shows such as “The Apprentice” and “The Celebrity Apprentice.” In the shows, Trump similarly displayed a dominance over those vying for his support.

   Many of those opposed to Clinton have stated that her husband Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs were in part Hillary Clinton’s fault. Trump even referred to Clinton as a “nasty, mean enabler,” a statement that he continues to defend.

   However, this argument has been shredded by many.

   “There is a segment of the population that looks at Hillary Clinton and thinks that she couldn’t control her man, and I think that’s unfair,” Schottland said. “The enabling charge that Trump levels is a fiction, because that would make Melania Trump an enabler too, which he isn’t prepared to say. That shows the disparity.”

   Newton-Small believes that charges of “enabling” are not only unfair, but also completely irrelevant to the political sphere.

   “We’re talking about how you handle personal situations versus how you govern or function in your professional life. How does how she handled her husband’s indiscretions bear in any way to how she would govern as a president? They’re totally separate issues,” Newton-Small said.

   To Pope, the idea that Clinton enabled her husband to have an affair is completely irrelevant to the race.

   “It wasn’t Hillary that had an extramarital affair. Bill is not becoming President. That is not an issue for me in terms of where I put my vote. I don’t think it’s appropriate to use Bill’s marital history against her,” Pope said. “What they’re crucifying her for is her reaction to her husband and her saying what she said about those women.”

   As noted by Pope, Clinton’s handling of Bill’s infidelities, and in a few cases, sexual assault accusations, were what tainted her reputation in the eyes of some.

   “She was the First Lady, she was in a public position, and she is also an admitted feminist. When it had come out that Bill Clinton had these extra marital affairs, Hillary Clinton also pretty much came out and attacked the integrity of her husband’s accusers. She could’ve gracefully said, ‘I support my husband and my marriage is my business,’ but the fact that she went public with criticism for other women who had relations with her husband is part of the problem,” Anderson said.

   Lyons and many other conservatives believe that the allegations of rape and sexual assault against Bill do relate to Hillary.

   “Bill Clinton’s rapes were defended by Hillary Clinton, and she called his victims very bad names and shut them up by force. That’s not right,” Lyons said.

   After the release of a 2005 video of Trump having a lewd conversation with “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush was released on October 8 by Washington Post writer David Fahrenthold, Trump has been faced with his own fair share of accusations of sexual assault. Trump and Bush were recorded talking about Trump’s attempts to woo a married woman, after which Trump speaks about groping and kissing women, adding that “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

   However, some have disregarded this allegations on account of their timing.

   “[Donald Trump’s accusers] have come out thirty years after the alleged assaults, and they hadn’t said anything before, there are no witnesses, and there’s no reports or police filings,” Lyons said. “I’m not defending Trump in any way for what he’s said or done, but it does seem like a publicity stunt by the Clinton campaign.”

   To Pope, the election has raised many questions and topics of debate regarding gender that have long been ignored.

   “What this election has revealed is that this country has tremendous, deep-seated issues that have come to the surface. Obama being President has released some of those. There is a misconception among a lot of Americans that Obama being elected solved the race issue. What it has actually done is uncover the fact that we still have one,” Pope said. “The same thing can be said for Hillary Clinton. Some people might not like her because of her record, but there’s also deep-seated feelings there against women in politics. Why have we not had a female President yet in the United States? It’s not because she’s the first qualified candidate or no one has tried.”

  However, in the end, gender has made little to no impact on certain voters.

  “I will support her, and I will support whoever wins the election. I have a great amount of respect for the President. Neither Trump nor Clinton got to where they are because they didn’t work hard or aren’t intelligent,” Anderson said.

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