Women in politics face harsher criticism than men

Isaac Werner

iwerner@uccs.edu   

“Will you just shut up, man?”

Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden gave the American public a moment to live vicariously through his actions when he did what so many dreams of doing — asking President Donald Trump to be quiet. In the context of a televised debate broadcasting across American networks, the openness of Biden’s snarky remark added so much more to the moment.

73 million people tuned in to watch the debate. 73 million people watched Joe Biden say this in real time and many have applauded him for it. Many more watched the moment replay over and over on various social media platforms, showcasing appropriate reaction in shares, comments and views.

However, viewership of the 2020 presidential debate was down 13%, according to the New York Times. This was compared to the approximately 84 million people that tuned in to watch Hillary Clinton debate Donald Trump in 2016.

Just imagining Hillary Clinton speaking those same exact words in front of a larger audience makes my stomach turn. What consequences, both objective and subjective, would she have faced?

Even now, Clinton would not be able to get away with asking President Trump to “just shut up.”

No female politician holds this ability.

Hillary Clinton (left) and Kamala Harris (right).
Photo courtesy of Maya Contreras on Twitter.com

In a male-dominated space, being a woman in politics is more performative than ever before. It very quickly becomes a game of begging to be listened to, compromising in hopes that your colleagues will hear your thoughts and being dismissed as a leader.

In a sentiment echoed by Sara Hagedorn, an assistant professor in the political science department at UCCS, “do I think female candidates are held to a different standard? Yes, I do.”

“The media talks about what they wear to the debates, if they change their hairstyle during the campaign. These are not things male candidates have to deal with. Females have to contend with being called “shrill” or a “bitch,” whereas males might just be called “assertive” or “direct.””

In the worst-case scenario, this pressure of performing can shape a female politician into one who seeks to undermine reproductive health rights, LGBTQ+ rights and equal rights for all.

It becomes frustrating to watch, sometimes.

However, not everything about women in politics is defined by sexism and misogyny.

Sara Hagedorn recognizes this as well. “When females do run, they stand an equal chance of winning.”

Congress currently has 127 female representatives, with 101 in the federal House of Representatives and 27 in the senate, according to Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP). Colorado’s House of Representatives is one of the two in the country where female lawmakers hold the majority. The Speaker of the House has been a female representative for the past three years in Colorado.

Yes, there is progress being made, especially on a local level. Sadly, there will always be progress to be made, and sometimes it can be disheartening to watch our country take two steps backwards, only to take one step forward.

What would happen if we focused on just that one step?

“Only you can make things happen, only you can make things better. If you do not get involved, you cannot expect things to go the way you want. I don’t pretend that it is always

rewarding; sometimes the system can get you down, but at least you’re part of the game,” Hagedorn says.

Watching the vice-presidential debate between Rep. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence showed that one step in relation to the battle the U.S. constantly has with regression.

“Mr. Vice President, I am speaking.”

It was certainly not the first time Harris had ever been interrupted, and it will not be the last. However, to be cut off in front of a national audience, and still maintain a sense of poise when calling out your opponent on said behavior?

It is all a part of the exhausting performance.