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Electability: The Social Construct Hurting Female Candidates

The 2016 election scarred America in numerous ways. The surprising election of President triggered significant angst in many corners – evidenced by the largest March on Washington, spurring conversations around sexual assault stimulating the #MeToo movement, and ultimately driving the most diverse midterm election in American history. But, in all of these unprecedented events, the 2016 election left a looming cloud of doubt in the minds of Americans: can a woman ever be President?

 

I raise this question, not just because I identify as a woman with unapologetically large ambitions, or because of the heated discussions consuming my Women and Politics class this semester, but instead, because this is a question which drives the media’s continuing negative coverage of female candidates and questioning their ability to win. Maybe electability is a new standard of evaluating candidates due to the Trump presidency? But it is also possible that this “electability question” is just a thinly veiled way to alienate female candidates in the media.

 

Although it is true that the non-electability factor has been placed on both female and male candidates (e.g. consider certain criticisms of Mayor Pete), the label has disproportionately used to diminish the prospects of female candidates. Thus, while Elizabeth Warren has risen in the polls since the last debate, becoming a notable front-runner, the constant drumbeat in the press is that she is not electable, making her a poor choice for the Democratic party to take down Trump.

 

From my vantage point, the non-electability label is kind of misleading. To be sure, just like everyone else, I am definitely looking for a candidate that can take down Trump in a general election. But we know that when women run, women win. The 2018 midterms showed us this. So, why do we continue to stop ourselves from embracing candidates, just based on their gender?

 

In her article from Literary Hub, Rebecca Solnit asserts that electability is a social construct the media has created based on their underlying unconscious biases – the more electable a candidate is will depend on how much positive media coverage they are receiving. The competition, as Solnit brilliantly lays out, has always revolved around a balance which plays into white male’s favor. The media is only continuing to perpetuate this narrative in questioning Warren’s ability to beat Trump, and as consumers, we contribute to this cycle in repeating the same questions.

 

It is true that Hilary lost in 2016 – but 2016’s results can be well explained by a variety of factors (e.g. Comey’s release or failures by the Clinton campaign to focus on certain Rust Belt states). Instead, I invite you to take five steps back and recognize your own unconscious bias. Even if gender bias plays a role in our elections, we have a responsibility to challenge our own biases and try to change this. We know women serve as remarkable leaders; this is evident all over the world. It is time for Americans to embrace the promise of our best candidates without regard to their gender.  

 

Originally from outside of Chicago, Mia is currently a Sophomore at the George Washington University studying Political Science. If you don't find her at the Georgetown Compass Coffee reading the New York Times while listening to Maggie Rogers, she is probably eating her way through DC's best bakeries and restaurants.
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