Sexism in Politics is Nothing New, But We Can Make It History This Election Season

A record number of women are running for office this 2018 midterm cycle. As campaigning heats up, attacks between candidates will ratchet up as they try to demonstrate why one is right for the job and the other is wrong.

One attack that should be in no one’s playbook is sexism. Degrading women based on their appearances and delegitimizing women’s qualifications as a means to shut down her ideas or silence her voice are desperate tactics that should have no place in media and politics.

We’ve seen these attacks before against women running for office and in politics:

  • Sarah Palin’s intelligence - In 2011, MSNBC host Chris Matthews called Palin “profoundly stupid” adding to the chorus of voices that wove a lasting narrative against her.

  • Carly Fiorina’s face - In 2015, Fiorina was mocked by then-candidate Donald Trump who asked, “Would anyone vote for that?” and the hosts of women’s talk show ‘The View’ said her face looked “demented” and like a “Halloween mask.”

  • Hillary Clinton’s age - In 2016, a former Fox News host iterated an analogy that Clinton is like a “thoroughbred horse” on her way to “the glue factory.”

  • Kellyanne Conway’s mothering - In 2016, left-leaning political pundit Juan Williams questioned how Conway could manage a presidential campaign with four kids.

Note that the attacks came from both men and women and hit targeted women from the left and the right.

These criticisms are familiar to us because these are high-profile women on a national stage. There are countless examples on a state and local level that never go viral or catch media attention, but are just as intolerable.

This election cycle, examples are already appearing in races. Cori Bush, a Democratic candidate running St. Louis, Missouri has been slammed for the size of her hips, with one person tweeting that she won’t win because her hips are “to big” (he spelled it that way).

Demeaning women in politics takes a toll on women and can hamper their ability to get elected. One study found that the electability of women falls as coverage of their appearance rises regardless of whether positive, neutral, or negative. Another study suggests that women and men suffer about equally when news coverage focuses on what they wear.

Women face significant challenges by stepping into the public area and public service. There’s a reason that women comprise less than one-quarter of elected leaders at all levels of office. They can win when they run, but it takes them running.

Removing baseless attacks on women that have nothing to do with their ability to do the job can help encourage other women to serve their community and country.

Policy positions and ideas, past voting records, and experience should provide more than enough fodder in political debates and discussions without having to veer into personal attacks on a woman’s looks, age, body size, or ability to mother while in office.

Champion Women is a project of Independent Women’s Voice that will call foul whenever examples of objectification of women emerge. It doesn’t matter if a woman has a household name is or unknown beyond her local community.

CW will expose the problem, hold offenders accountable, and champion the right of women to speak their minds.

When we create a society where women and men are treated with respect and can share their opinions free from personal attacks, we will have a better world.

Learn more at www.championwomen.com.

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