In the past two election cycles, the only women who have gotten anywhere close to being elected to the White House have been Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. But perhaps you know the two of them better by their media-given nicknames: “The Ice Queen” and “The Hockey Mom.” The characterizations of these two female politicians illustrate everything that is wrong with attitudes toward female politicians in this country. Women can wear either pant-suits and be considered too masculine, or they can wear skirt-suits and not be taken seriously. Women can refuse to talk about their family life to focus on business, or they can spend so much time talking about their kids that their offspring become national celebrities and contestants on Dancing with the Stars.
Women can appear calm, stoic and incapable of emotion or flighty, empathetic and overly emotional. Women are either so intelligent that they seem too dogmatic or so under-read that they are incapable of naming even a single newspaper they read. Women either travel all over the world to form foreign policy initiatives or are able to see Russia from their house. Women are either too manly and unattractive or so overtly sexual that even their outdoor jogging attire is sexualized.
No matter whom you supported, no woman fits neatly into either category, including Palin and Clinton. Occasionally Clinton shed some tears, and given her success, Palin must have more savvy and charisma than I give her credit for. What’s even more damaging is the result these characterizations have on voter habits.
USA Today reported at this time last year that sexist insults harm feminine candidates’ political standing. Research showed that even mild sexist language caused female candidates to lose twice as much support as regular insults and caused voters to view the candidate as “less empathetic, trustworthy and effective.”
So how do women break into this man’s world without falling into one of the outlying extremes described above? And then we have this year’s sole female contender for president: Michele Bachmann. She brings in the good looks and devotion to her children as Palin did along with the sharp-tongued and steely-eyed vision of Clinton.
But even this characterization is not quite right. Sure, Bachmann apparently does not read too much either because she once thought John Quincy Adams was a Founding Father, and just recently she cited non-existent scientific evidence to assert a connection between the HPV vaccination and mental retardation. And sure she wears more hair spray than anyone else on stage — a true feat given Governor GoodHair’s presence — showing that she emphasizes her appearance. She also is unafraid to call out her opponents when she thinks they are wrong and to verbally spar with all of her male counterparts over various political minutiae, a tactic seemingly more suited to the Hillary Clintons of the world.
Women are both all of these things and none of these things. No woman can fit into the above delineations of what a female politician is like, nor should she try to. The larger problem is the overall lack of female political leaders we have to aspire to be or to learn from. There is not an equivalent to the “Founding Fathers” for women, and perhaps that is why women are still struggling to come up with an effective style of political leadership. Even our University is a good example: There has only been one female president of UT in the century-plus time we’ve been around.
There are not enough strong female leaders in America today, and it seems like for now we’re left to the likes of Bachmann. Where have all the good women gone?
Taylor is a Plan II and rhetoric and writing senior.