In the past few decades in American history, women have overcome some of the barriers that previously stunted their ability to engage in politics. Still, there has not been a female president. As the election nears and Hillary Clinton continues to campaign and engage in debates with Republican candidate Donald Trump, people’s reactions to her candidacy continue to be laced with both subtle and overt sexism.
People are concerned with Hillary Clinton’s likeability. Rather than evaluating her policy ideas and professional accomplishments, people tend to focus on her friendliness (Milbank, 2016). Much like many of the other leaders America has seen, Hillary Clinton delivers speeches with great confidence. Like her opponent, she speaks her mind and debates feverishly. Despite her objectively extensive qualifications and her ability to debate well, many Americans fear that Hillary Clinton, because she does not have a nurturing demeanor—or a “presidential look”—she would not make an effective leader.
Much like Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump does not have a traditionally warm, nurturing demeanor. Trump notoriously insults women and minorities in pompous, inappropriate ways, but this does not seem to have any impact on his approval ratings (Bump, 2016). Moreover, while Trump is highly criticized for some of his racist and misogynistic statements, he is criticized for the content of which he speaks, rather than how he speaks. And, even while many people fail to take Trump seriously, he does not receive the same criticism that his opponent faces; people do not criticize Donald Trump for his volume, assertiveness, or overall likability. Even though Clinton and Trump represent different parties and have contrasting political ideas, gender is the factor that best accounts for the differences in the ways in which they are criticized.
The reason Hillary Clinton is criticized for these traits as opposed to her male opponent is not necessarily because she is objectively unlikable. From a political standpoint, Hillary Clinton is a qualified candidate. As the Secretary of State, she has ample experience working with governmental legislation, producing bipartisan agreements and negotiating (Milbank, 2016). Most of Donald Trump’s experience, in contrast, deals with running a business. But Hillary is not criticized because of her qualifications; she is criticized because her leadership style tends to be transactional rather than transformational. Transformational leadership involved leaders who “inspire their employees, gain their trust, and encourage them to develop personal potential skills” while transactional leadership involves leaders who “focus on straightforward exchanges,” (Maltin, 2012, p. 201).
Moreover, because women are expected to be nurturing and communal, they are expected to portray transformational leadership qualities. This becomes problematic when women attempt to shatter the glass ceiling, because esteemed positions in large companies, as well as in politics, often require more direct behavior. The behavior required to advance in the political world is more associated with men and transactional leadership than with women and transformational leadership. Thus, when Hillary Clinton is criticized for speaking too loudly, it is not so much the volume that is the problem. Instead, the problem is that she is stepping outside of the leadership style that her gender prescribes her and thus engages in gender inconsistent activities. When people engage in gender inconsistent activities, Maltin suggests, they are subjected to criticism from their peers (2012).
Therefore, the criticisms Hillary Clinton faces are different than those that her male opponents face because of the incompatibility between strong politicians and assumed female leadership styles. This tension results in part from the social construction of gender and from gender typing, and has serious ramifications for women interested in leadership in male-dominated fields, demonstrating the ways in which sexism continue to impact professional women.
Bump, P. (n.d.). Donald Trump’s various rude and offensive comments haven’t hurt him at all. Retrieved March 07, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the- fix/wp/2015/11/27/donald-trumps-various-rude-and-offensive-comments-havent-hurt-him-at-all/
Maltin, M. (2012) Psychology of Women. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Milbank, D. (n.d.). The sexist double standards hurting Hillary Clinton. Retrieved March 07, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-sexist-double-standards- hurting-hillary-clinton/2016/02/12/fb551e38-d195-11e5-abc9-ea152f0b9561_story.html
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