With so many women running for office (and winning), gender biases get lost among the tirade of political attacks. In the days following the 2018 election, more than 2,000 women were sworn into America’s state legislatures. 2,133 to be exact. Women also currently hold 25 seats in the U.S. Senate, and 101 seats in the House. And we’re just getting started. Whether eyeing the school board, mayor, state legislature, or the highest office in the land, women nationwide are planning – or running – their campaigns and lining up their support, including the five women seeking the Democratic Party’s 2020 nomination.
Despite making the decision to run, putting the issues on the front burner, and often putting their lives on the back, women are once again dealing with gender bias and facing issues surrounding likeability and voter perception on the campaign trail. And this time it’s being further amplified via social media. A new study released by The Wilson Center’s Lucina di Meco, #She Persisted: Women, Politics and Power in the New Media World, found that while male and female candidates received a similar volume of attention on social media, “the nature of the coverage, however, revealed significant differences and systematic patterns along gender lines, with female candidates receiving more attacks from right-wing and fake-news accounts than male politicians.”
The study also found that female candidates are dealing with more negative social media coverage overall than their male counterparts, with tweets more concerned about a woman’s character rather than her policy stance. “Traditional media remains mostly an obstacle for women’s political ambitions, as the coverage women in politics receive is still heavily biased against them, both in quantity and in quality, and this has a negative impact on women’s political ambitions, viability as candidates and ultimately on societal expectations of women and power.”
Women who step out to lead face a modern twist from these attacks. . It’s a fact that all women in the public eye draw criticism and commentary, not just for their politics and policies, but also for their appearance, their parenting, their partners, their careers…the list goes on.
Take the case of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. While she pulled off an incredible political achievement – waging an effective campaign to win a seat in the House – during her campaign, critics were quick to critique her words and question whether she should have a voice in the public debate at all. Vox reported on a tweet about her by the often-quoted voice of the Washington establishment Norm Ornstein: “This is a person not ready for prime time, certainly not ready for Congress. She should stop campaigning & do a crash course on basics, including economics and foreign policy. Otherwise, she will stumble badly out of the blocks and do major damage. Early impressions hard to erase.”
Whether online or off, gender bias is alive and well in politics, and the women running (and serving) now know it and face it every day. As we gear up for another election season, we have to call out the comments that seek to undermine women, name them as biases and talk about them. To help more women step into leadership roles, we need to encourage them, counteract the public ridicule they often face, and offer them our support for their courage and willingness to work hard to solve the issues that can make the world a better place for all of us.