Your likability score

Maggie Astor at the Times zooms in close on sexism in electoral politics.

Few Americans acknowledge they would hesitate to vote for a woman for president — but they don’t have to, according to researchers and experts on politics and women and extensive research on double standards in campaigns. Reluctance to support female candidates is apparent in the language that voters frequently use to describe men and women running for office; in the qualities that voters say they seek; and in the perceived flaws that voters say they are willing or unwilling to overlook in candidates.

And this describes all of us. The drip drip drip of background sexism does its work on all of us, no matter how feminist we may be in the front parts of our brains. Men are coached to have contempt for women and women are coached to have contempt for women. Totally fair and equal, see??!

There’s the “likability” issue for one. Men can get away with being seen as not likable; women cannot. Furthermore any woman presumptuous enough to run for president is automatically not likable. BZZZZZZZT game over.

Women also tend to be viewed as unlikable based on their ambition. Harvard researchers found in 2010 that voters regarded “power-seeking” women with contempt and anger, but saw power-seeking men as stronger and more competent. There is often some implication of unscrupulousness in descriptions of female candidates as “ambitious” — an adjective that could apply to any person running for president but is rarely used to disparage men.

Well, you know, it’s like beards or neckties – they look good on men, and ambitious on women.

The qualities voters tend to expect from politicians — like strength, toughness and valor — are popularly associated with masculinity. This often means that from the moment a man steps onto the campaign trail, he benefits from a basic assumption that he is qualified to run, while a woman “has to work twice as hard to show that she’s qualified,” Ms. Hunter said.

And that one is really hard to overcome. I think on some level we sort of need, or think we need, half of humanity to be more nurturing than the other half, and probably, correspondingly, half to be more tough than the other half. It could be different if we could start from scratch, maybe, but starting from scratch isn’t an option. I wonder – I don’t think I’ve thought of this before – if it’s that much more difficult for the US to elect a woman at the top because since WW2 we’ve been the military top dog.

For many years, female candidates tried to adopt the characteristics voters wanted to see — to act, stereotypically speaking, like men. This worked for some but also brought pitfalls. For one thing, it did not challenge the premise that masculinity is better suited for leadership. It also opened women up to a familiar double standard: A man who speaks authoritatively might be confident or opinionated, while a woman who does the same is arrogant or lecturing. Most pressingly, it created a backlash among some voters who saw women acting “like men” and deemed them inauthentic.

Quite. It’s lose-lose no matter what direction you turn your gaze.

Nichole M. Bauer, an assistant professor of political communication at Louisiana State University, found that when women played up stereotypically masculine qualities, voters — regardless of party — rated them better in terms of leadership ability, but voters in the opposing party rated them significantly lower in terms of likability. There was no similar backlash to male candidates who defied gender stereotypes.

Dr. Bauer said that in all her research, she had found no way for women to win the support of voters in the opposing party. It’s a basic psychological phenomenon, she said: If a Republican starts out disliking a Democratic woman, or vice versa, “they’ll use gender stereotypes about women to maintain that perceived negative relationship” no matter what the woman does.

The Times piece ends on an up note, saying maybe with six women running for president maybe things will improve. Me, I’ve succeeded in depressing myself.

H/t Screechy

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