Women in Politics: Misogyny and Double Standards

Misogyny plays a large role in the demographic breakdown of the U.S. government. The current U.S. Congress has a record high of representatives that are women, which is extremely disappointing, considering only 24.2% of the total membership of the 116th U.S. Congress is female. 

Between the House and the Senate, 60% and 71%, respectively, of seats are held by white men, which is disheartening, considering that the current demographics of the U.S. would call for a much more diverse legislative body. However, the underrepresentation of women in politics should come as a minimal surprise, considering the struggle that female politicians have in comparison with their male counterparts. 

Women are held to a much higher standard than men. Often, women running for public office are criticized for being too emotional, not tough enough and less competent than men due to traditional stereotypes. These expectations of female behavior make it extremely difficult for women to be elected, as people see them less capable of making difficult decisions. 

A prime example of this standard has been displayed in the treatment of 2020 Vice Presidential candidate, Senator Kamala Harris. Following the debate on Wednesday night, Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted a gif of a missile launch with the caption “Think hard about what you just saw...then decide who you want just one heartbeat away from the Presidency,” contributing to a classic double standard that women are too emotional to be in political office. 

In his tweet, Rubio implied that if the U.S. needed to make a military strike against a foreign power, Harris would decide with her feelings and make an irrational decision, even though she has extensive experience making difficult decisions as California Attorney General and Senator. There is no expectation that Vice President Pence would be emotional in making a military decision, so why should Harris be subject to this assumption? 

The answer is misogyny.

Women are held to a different standard than men because of the sexist ideologies that are mentioned in households across the country, which restrict women’s ability to hold positions of power. 

In addition, Harris’ qualifications are constantly questioned, while Pence seemingly faces no questions regarding his competence. When former Vice President Biden announced that Harris was his running mate, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh falsely suggested that Harris had “slept her way up,” and therefore is not qualified to be Vice President of the United States. 

This assumption is something that would never be said of a male candidate. Despite Harris having an outstanding education and years of experience in public service, she is simply reduced to having “slept her way to the top” because she is a woman, while Pence is applauded for having the tenacity to “keep trying” after two unsuccessful Congressional campaigns in the 1980s and 90s. Again, this is just more evidence of the prevalence of misogyny in politics, as women are held to higher standards than men. 

Finally, a more severe sign that people are still anxious about having women in power is the hostility that women face in their respective positions. Of course, every politician has adversaries, but women experience aggression in a whole other capacity. According to a study done by The State and Local Government Review, “Female mayors are more than twice as likely to experience psychological abuse and are almost three times as likely to experience physical violence in comparison to their male counterparts.” 

Politicians receive insults every day for their policy positions, but this violence and psychological abuse is specifically targeted at women simply because of their gender. Who can blame women for not wanting to enter the political field if all that they will face is harassment and violence? Women in politics should not have to fear for their lives for simply trying to make a meaningful difference in a position of power. 

Women struggle everyday to make a name for themselves in politics. With all of the hostility they face from misogynists who use insults and fear-mongering to prevent their election, it is no question why there is a small sample of women who actually want to run for public office. 

This behavior needs to change. Women are intelligent, capable, strong, brave and can easily do any job that a man can do. People need to stop living in fear of powerful women because of sexist stereotypes. Women make up just over half of the population in the U.S., and it is about time our government was more reflective of that demographic.