Thursday, December 29th, 2011
by Diana Bartelli Carlin, Nichola D. Gutgold and Theodore F. Sheckels, Women’s Media Center
Hillary Clinton proved that a woman can be a top presidential contender, but 2012 will not be the year that particular glass ceiling is broken. The authors of a forthcoming book, Gender and the American Presidency: Nine Presidential Women and the Barriers They Faced, explore why.
As the list of presidential contenders thins, it is likely that the 2012 U.S. presidential final will be an all-male affair. Our forthcoming book invites the audience to consider women with qualifications to serve as president and explores reasons, few of them reasonable, why they have been dismissed as presidential contenders.
We identify the Top Ten “Must Haves” for women who want to be president—qualities that draw voters to women candidates, even those who might not be demanding in the same way of men seeking the highest office.
Women not only have to have government experience but successful campaigning experience. And, as the case of Elizabeth Dole suggests, that campaigning experience must be on your own behalf, not for your spouse. A future female president should have foreign policy experience. Despite the presence of numerous women leaders internationally, such as Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s or Angela Merkel today, the U.S. electorate still tends to see the conduct of foreign affairs as male-defined.
Women who are being considered for the presidency must have the ability to raise the money necessary for a long, expensive campaign. Historically women have found it difficult to garner the financial support men have. Hillary Clinton in 2008 certainly raised a significant sum as has Michelle Bachmann for the 2012 campaign. No one doubts Sarah Palin’s ability to garner financial support. So, perhaps, this “barrier” is coming down.
Women who are being considered for the presidency must be charismatic or, at least, dynamic. Lack of charisma is more of a disqualifying trait for women, such as Washington Governor Christine Gregoire and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, than it has been for men, such as Michael Dukakis and George H.W. Bush. A restrained style may well be highly effective if one is trying to either court business or work with the opposition, but that style does not attract media beyond state lines. Women without the requisite panache fall below the radar.
A woman, however, cannot push that dynamism too far, for, fourth, women who are being considered for the presidency must not be overly assertive or aggressive. Should they do so, they run the risk of being dismissed with the b____ word. That has been a fate suffered by Barbara Mikulski and Nancy Pelosi. That was the fate that Hillary Clinton constantly back-pedaled from in her 2008 campaign. There’s a marked difference in perspective between how male and female aspirants are viewed: aggressive males are said to be in need of reining in their style when it truly becomes uncivil; aggressive females are said to be inherently nasty should they state their views strongly too often.
5. An Attractive Appearance
Women who are being considered for the presidency must be attractive and, furthermore, must expect their appearance to be front-and-center in the media coverage of a campaign. Dianne Feinstein’s expensive attire and “Snow White” hairstyle; Barbara Mikulski’s short stature and “roly-poly” physique; Kathleen’s Sebelius’ dress color and toenail polish; Nancy Pelosi’s mauve designer suits and cosmetic surgery—commentators will focus on all such attributes. Men running for the presidency will not draw comparable attention; furthermore, physical traits will rarely disqualify them. Some might note their height (Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis), their weight (Chris Christie), and their suit color (Al Gore), but these traits will not be what media coverage notes first and, then, dwells upon.