By Annie Fraser:
The 2016 US Presidential Elections present yet another long-awaited moment in US history. With two women having declared their candidacy, the US is positioned, once more, to produce its first woman President. In the face of the excitement and hope of what could be, one important question still remains: is the US ready for women in power?
Although not entirely unexpected, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced her Democratic candidacy on April 12, 2015. Somewhat less expected, former Hewlett-Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina announced her Republican candidacy on May 4, 2015. Though both the women boast significant yet varied experience, the two candidates currently face major hurdles as the elections draw closer and pressures rise. Clinton holds an impressive track record experience and popularity that cannot be easily matched by current and potential candidates, including Fiorina, but faces widespread criticism about Benghazi and her recent email transparency practices. Although Fiorina’s political career is limited to serving as an advisor in John McCain’s 2008 Presidential Election campaign and being defeated in the 2010 California Senate election, she has been a notable leader in business. However, her turbulent term and dissatisfactory performance as CEO has led many to question her ability to shift from business to politics and be successful in the Oval Office.
Despite their many differences in experience and political views, the two women are likely to face a common obstacle that none of the other candidates will face: sexism.
Unfortunately, Clinton has confronted sexism for years, most recently (and not surprisingly) from Republican “crazies” such as the many running attacks by Rush Limbaugh (“testicle lockbox”, “hysterical”, and “bossy” being a few of some direct quotes) but even Democrat MSNBC host Chris Matthews referred to Clinton as looking “witchy” back in 2005. Sexism has been so negatively prominent throughout Clinton’s current and previous campaigns that a number of Clinton supporters, self-declared as the HRC Super Volunteers, have pledged to track and address the media’s use of sexist words, to which they refer to as “coded sexism”.
Similarly, Fiorina also has her fair share of battling sexism. She has publicly voiced her opinion against sexism, from pledging intolerance to sexist attacks against Sarah Palin, McCain’s Vice Presidential candidate during her role as McCain’s advisor, to criticizing instances of gender-specific scrutiny and/or favoritism in the workplace. Sexism against Fiorina has become more pronounced recently in the few months leading up to her presidential candidacy announcement. At a press conference in April, a ‘Washington Examiner’ reporter said, “Well, ma’am, I never met a presidential candidate with pink nail polish”.
The aforementioned attacks against Clinton and Fiorina are not in isolation, nor are they the only female politicians to have suffered from such attacks. Sexism against female candidates not only hurts their chances for success, but also presents serious negative implications for the future of country as this sexism trickles down to other sectors and aspects of the economy and daily life. It is quite appalling that, as a global “superpower”, the US has yet to elect a woman President, and this obvious past and present inability to cope with women in power may cause it to lag behind more accepting and progressive nations.
Given the history of sexism against Clinton, Fiorina, and other female politicians, it will be interesting to see if and how sexism will play a role in opposing candidates’ strategies, media attention, and public opinion. Only time can tell, but the results may provide insightful future outlooks.