About a year ago I gave a talk at TEDxpsu that focused on the stereotypes women politicians face. I asserted that we have not had a woman president yet because stereotypes constrain women. Mainly though, I was thinking about stereotypes regarding what a president looks like and the constraining images that belittle women candidates based on their appearance.
The narrative surrounding the narrative of Texan gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, however, brings to light another stereotype that hampers women politicians: the archetype of the American family.
Robert Draper writes in the February 12 NY Times:
But it seemed undeniable that female politicians were far more constrained than men in how they recounted their stories. A man could break the mold of American virtue. A woman challenged stereotypes at her peril. The archetype — an unimpeachable balance of dedicated public service and exemplary mothering — seems inescapable, even in 2014. Bill Clinton could be seething with lifelong ambition; George W. Bush could be a beneficiary of immense privilege; Barack Obama could be a self-described outsider, marijuana smoker, community rabble-rouser. Any of these qualities might, if so espoused, disqualify a woman from high office. Meanwhile, no one ever stopped Clinton, Bush or Obama in his biographical tracks to say: “Wait. If you were out there, conquering the world, then you could not have been here, with your family.”
If a candidate who is a woman takes time from her family to earn her degree or hit the campaign trail she is likely to be scorned in the press while a male candidate may be heralded for providing for his family.
Or as Susan Sontag put it:
What we say is what we have permission to say — we always know much more than we say, and we see much more than we acknowledge that we see, but at any given time there are conventions about what we say we can say and what we think we can think. And one of the interesting things about being a writer is to try to open that out a little bit.
Let’s think about this–say a little something–and keep our double standards checked at the door with our hats and snow boots.