People will say we need more women running for office, but do they mean it? More than half of white women who voted in 2016 did not vote for Hillary (according to NY Times polling), many saying they didn’t feel they could be President, so how could she? Despite her hefty resume in public office, when it came down to it, she was a woman, and her qualifications were inferior.
Trump’s victory pointed to another social phenomenon: the threatened white patriarchy. I still think that has to be a joke, but apparently the white dudes don’t. I mean seriously guys, you can’t even share the stage. They know that women now make up over half of all college students and get better grades. We have our own voices, and that scares too many male egos. I know a woman whose husband told her that there was no women’s march on Washington. It was a hoax. And she was there!!! These social undercurrents face any female candidate running for office.
Women running for office will have a host of challenges men will never face. Let’s take the issue of tone. Voters want a strong candidate who will be able to hold her own and get things done. Finding the right tone is problematic. Catherine Templeton who ran for Governor in SC went so far as to pretend to shoot a rattlesnake in her TV ads. That backfired on her (no pun intended). Women who have been in the military highlight themselves in combat gear, flying helicopters. Nothing broadcasts toughness and authority like camouflage.
Most of us have not seen active duty, however, so we need other tactics to convince voters we are up to the task. The first issue to navigate is the dual standard women face. If we are nice and reserved, we are talked over and ignored. If we are strident, we are labeled bitches. Hillary Clinton spent a lifetime in politics trying to find her authentic voice and was criticized whichever way she veered. Any woman running for office should read her book, “What Happened.” The fascinating parts of her book elucidate the many times she found herself in a no win situation just because she was a female. Damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. One great vignette was about the Presidential debate in which Trump was skulking about like Lurch form the Adams Family, invading her personal space and trying to intimidate her. She had to decide whether to push through or turn around and say, “Get away from me, you creep.” She chose to ignore the bullying as she had her whole career, but women wished she had shut him down. She regretted not speaking up, but either way there was going to be backlash. A no win for her.
Women need to give a lot more thought to their persona, tone and message than do men. As Hillary endured, people will discuss your hair, clothes, weight and family situation. When will the media call out the men for their wardrobe choices? What was he thinking when he picked the gray suit instead of navy? Female candidates need a strong clear voice that can rise above the din. They need to be firm in the sense of self they want to project to the voters. They need stories that can communicate who they are and what they stand for. There will be no win situations and frustrating misinterpretations but the more confident candidates are in their message, the more likely it will be heard!