The Conversation

Can Women Win?

I ask because this post at The Washington Post's "She the People" blog seems to make the case that it's almost impossible for women to get a fair shake in an image-obsessed world. 

Congressional candidate “Jane Smith dressed in a brown blouse, black skirt and modest pumps with a short heel…”

Even such a neutral description of a female candidate’s appearance can hurt her chances at getting elected, according to a study released today by Name It. Change It., a joint project of The Women’s Media Center and She Should Run.

Although it seems obvious that an unflattering portrait painted by reporters would negatively impact a candidate’s image with voters, what’s surprising is that even positive, or neutral, descriptions of a female candidate’s appearance proved detrimental in damaging key attributes and the likelihood that people would vote for her.

News coverage that referred to a female candidate as “fit and attractive and looks even younger than her age,”  even though it sounded complimentary, hurt the voters’ perceptions of the politician for being in touch and being likeable, confident, effective and qualified. Both negative and positive comments caused damage. The voters whose responses were affected the most by coverage of a candidate’s appearance were independents — and their support often determines the outcome of an election.

Given the news of Margaret Thatcher's passing and reminder of her good works, we know that conservative ideas and strong leadership can overcome any biases against gender.  I am also reminded of a quote from Amb. Clare Boothe Luce: “Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, 'She doesn't have what it takes.'  They will say, 'Women don't have what it takes.'"


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