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Talk It Out Tuesday Recap: Women in Politics

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Notre Dame chapter.

“At Her Campus Notre Dame, we all love to write it out–and now, we’ve found a group that loves to talk it out! We’re so excited to partner up with Notre Dames, and connect you to what our Dames are discussing on campus. Every Tuesday, the Notre Dames get together to talk about an issue that relates to gender on campus, across the country, or around the world. Here at HCND, we’ll give you a recap of the latest Talk It Out Tuesday discussion every week, so stay tuned for more. There is nothing quite like a Dame, and that’s why we love thee!”

This year has proven to be a unique year for presidential elections. With a diverse pool of presidential candidates this year (featuring female candidates from both parties), this week’s Talk it Out Tuesday focused on women in politics, appropriately titled “Pant Suits and Pumps: the media’s portrayal of female politicians and its impact”. Notre Dames  centered on some key issues affecting women’s political participation, and the following are some of the highlights of the discussion.

The Media and Female Biology

The first major Republican debate featured some memorable misogyny on behalf of candidate Donald Trump, who claimed that Megyn Kelly’s tough questions were during the debate were a result of her being on her period. While Trump is known for being bombastic, the idea that a woman’s biology could hinder her ability to maintain prominent leadership positions in politics or lead the country is nothing new, and misinformation about periods and female anatomy have led to rampant misconceptions about women’s leadership abilities. News casters and analysts frequently claim that “female hormones” make women “irrational” or “too emotional” and incapable of leading a country.

What’s worse is that even politicians such as senators and congressmen at times lack a decent understanding of female anatomy, which can be pretty problematic when it comes to legislation on critical issues for women such as Healthcare. Notre Dames asks: how do these pervasive stereotypes affect how women decide whether or not to run for office, and how do these perceptions influence voters?

Women’s Issues

Despite the fact that women comprise more than half of the American electorate, issues such as equal pay and women’s healthcare are still considered “niche issues” and “women’s issues” are still considered less pressing, even though they deal with critical systemic problems that affect more than half the U.S population. Dames brought up how the way the media frames women’s issues impacts the attention they recieve from voters and the messages it sends to women. 

Women and Family: A Clear Double Standard

When it comes to family, women in the political sphere are often treated with greater scrutiny. While family proves an asset to male politicians, female politicians face greater scrutiny and are judged on their parenting skills as much as they are on their political positions and accomplishments.

During the discussion, several women noted how female politicians were judged more harshly for juggling their political ambitions along with their families (particularly when they had young children), as opposed to men. Notre Dames also talked about how the “political wife” would be considered normal, while a “political husband” could possibly be considered as someone who has “sacrificed their potential for their spouse”.

Criticisms and “Gendered” Terms

Notre Dames also discussed how the media uses gendered critiques of women, and how much more the media discusses a female politician’s appearance as opposed to a man’s. Carly Fiorina’s remark during the last republican debate about how she was told she didn’t “smile enough” is representative of the sexist coverage for female politicians, and candiadtes such as Hillary Clinton are no stranger to sexist comments on her appearance. Even though its 2015,  comments about a female candidate’s “nagging voice” and hair are still common and pervasive.

When mainstream media considers a woman’s appearance the most important aspect to cover in her campaign, what message does that send to young girls? More importantly, how can we, students of Notre Dame, help to combat it?

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I'm a junior in Pasquerilla East Hall and am majoring in PLS and Political Science. I hail from Bayamon, Puerto Rico and as a result I wholeheartedly believe that depictions of Hell should involve snow instead of heat. In my free time I write, watch shows like Doctor Who/Steven Universe, read as many articles from EveryDay Feminism as humanly possible, and binge Nostalgia Chick on youtube.