Adoring parents of this generation, intent on uplifting their young daughters, tell them that no goal is too high. No profession, no position of power, no political office is off limits to them.
Nevertheless, these well-meaning parents probably don’t think to coach their little girls on what to do when, in their climb to the top, they meet with the inevitable innuendos comparing them to a pole dancer, prostitute or “ice queen.” Think I’m exaggerating? Each of these has been made against a female candidate recently seeking political office.
It should shock no one. Sexism has long been a powerful campaign tactic. It’s a maliciously effective tool in undermining a female candidate’s chances of winning. The mere threat of it derails many women, dissuading them from even considering a political bid. There isn’t a female politician alive who hasn’t faced the possibility of having her hair, wardrobe and makeup screened more than her resume.
For too long, women seeking political office have unknowingly played along. They have been encouraged not to challenge snide commentary and outright misogyny. For generations, we’ve held on to the outmoded notion that a lady never raises her voice, doesn’t lower herself to the level of detractors. She must demurely decline to confront. Best to just “let it go.”
Many female candidates and their supporters are choosing to push back. One powerful new voice is the website NameItChangeIt.com, a place for women candidates and their supporters to learn how negative gender-based commentary undermines campaigns — and what to do about it.
The non-partisan site is a project of the WCF Foundation, Women’s Media Center and Political Parity. Nancy Pelosi, Michele Bachmann and Elizabeth Warren are currently featured on the homepage.
The impetus for the site is research that shows how quickly a derogatory comment, even if it is mildly sexist, can cut into a female candidate’s standing with potential voters. And not just with certain voters predisposed to be sexist. It lowered opinions of a candidate across the board: with men, women, Republicans, Democrats and independents. Even when voters are a bit turned off by the attacker’s language, they still tend to think less of the woman who has been maligned.
The findings, gathered in a study by political pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, contradicted the advice she herself had given to female candidates caught in the snare of nasty attacks. Sidestepping doesn’t work, Lake discovered. However, women candidates who respond to attacks and then pivot the conversation in their favor can win back the support lost.