Wed, 10/05/2016

Why is it so difficult to elect equivalent numbers of men and women to political office in the United States? Is sexism a factor in the 2016 presidential race?

Seth Goldman, assistant Commonwealth Honors College professor in communication, led a discussion of these questions Tuesday, October 4 during Pizza and Prof.

Students gathered in the CHC events hall to eat pizza, listen to Goldman’s presentation and apply what they learned to this year’s election cycle.

Goldman spent much of his presentation discussing news coverage of female candidates pointing out that when a woman is in the race there is much more horse race style coverage, she is seen as less viable a candidate, and there’s a much bigger focus on her personality traits and comments on her appearance. A question that often comes up in the media is, “Is she being properly feminine?”

He also explored voter attitudes regarding female candidates. He explained that gender stereotypes, gender traditionalism and modern sexism all play a role in how a voter decides which candidate they will support.

Goldman, however, was sure to point out that winning an election as a woman is not impossible. In fact, when women run, they win just as often as men do. The problem is, women perceive an incredible bias against them or underestimate their own qualifications and so they don’t run in the first place.

In terms of historic trends, Goldman says things are moving towards more equality. Regarding congressional elections, there has been a decline in gender bias in news coverage and voter attitudes. Partisanship has become more important to voters than gender. Of course, in terms of executive level contests, like the presidency, where a female candidate is novel, bias exists and it’s powerful.

Students brought unique observations into the discussion, pointing out that Secretary Hillary Clinton purposefully uses gender in her messaging and that while women are often not seen as strong enough to handle foreign policy, in this election cycle, her demeanor is seen as an advantage by many in contrast to her male opponent, Donald Trump. 

Photos by Anna Handte-Reinecker