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Women in Power: Double Standards

‘She slept her way to the top, no doubt.’


This trope is often used to degrade women in positions of power. It has been used in sitcoms for humor, in music, and for mudslinging in politics and the business world. 


Recently, rumors have been spread about the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris. On social media, angry men and women alike have been throwing this phrase around quite a bit regarding the VP pick. In 2019, Tomi Lahren, a radical right-wing Fox News anchor, tweeted: Kamala did you fight for ideals or did you sleep your way to the top with Willie Brown? After tweeting this, she apologized, but coming from a woman to another woman, this type of defamation is unacceptable. Of course, for Kamala Harris and other powerful women alike, this was not a new comment. Powerful women deal with this type of sexism far too often.


Women’s credibility is far too often based on their sexual purity, or lack thereof. The idea of women in positions of power having a sexual history that is not just one marriage to one man is repulsive to many in society. Why? We have not one, but two men on the Supreme Court who have allegations of sexually assaulting women. We have a man who is the commander-in-chief of this country that speaks about grabbing women by their genitalia when he sees them as beautiful enough, and has at least twenty-six allegations of sexual misconduct. Men in power who have dozens of allgeations of sexual assault, harrassment, and misconduct are not scrutinized nearly as much as a woman who has had more than one relationship in her life. The way in which Kamala Harris has endured comments about supposedly “sleeping her way to the top” have not been endured by her direct opponent, Mike Pence. 


This raises the question of why society consistently wonders if a woman used sex to her advantage, but never questions if a man has. The phrase, ‘he slept his way to the top’ has legitimately never been used. Nobody ever assumes a man used sex for professional gain, they just assume he earned it — so, why is this not the standard for women? Why is their sexuality even a question in their credibility as a professional? Mike Pence has endured no allegations of using his body and a relationship to earn his position, so why is Kamala Harris being questioned for using her body and relationship to get to the exact same position?


And, just for fun, let’s say a woman did engage in quid-pro-quo activities in order to make advances in the workplace. Sure, that is wrong. However, nobody ever talks about the flipside of this. When a woman is claimed to have been ‘sleeping her way to the top’, nobody ever talks about the male partner of this. What about how disgusting the man is for offering promotions in exchange for sex? What about how corrupt a male politician is for giving someone he is having sexual relationships with positions of power based solely on that? These are never discussed as talking points, because society is constantly placing blame on women for actions that often involve both a man and a woman. 


A woman’s sexual history should not have anything to do with her credibility as a professional. Women are consistently reduced to this aspect of their lives, but men’s sexual assault allegations are tossed aside even with damning evidence. As a society, we have much work to do in reforming our thought processes with accepting women for who they are, and separating professional and personal worlds just as we seem to unfairly do with men. 


Caitlin Rhodes

Coastal Carolina '22

Caitlin is a double major in Political Science and Health Communication at Coastal Carolina. She is from the Chicago area and loves exploring the city, being outdoors, and listening to all kinds of music. She is centered around activism and hopes to spread awareness on the issues she is most passionate about through writing!
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