Does Sexism Affect US Presidential Race?

22 October, 2016

For the first time, a major American political party has a woman as its candidate for president.

The Democratic Party officially nominated Hillary Clinton for the presidency three months ago.

But why did it take so long for a woman to be nominated in a country that works to empower women around the world? And, do feelings about the place of women affect how Americans react to a female candidate?

Clinton's aides believe some people will not vote for her because she is a woman.

Michele Swers is a professor of American government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She co-wrote a book called "Women in the Club."

Swers says many people are likely to consider only men when they think about strength and the ability to lead.

"And woman travels in a narrower lane, so that women in politics have to prove both that they hold masculine qualities of leadership, but still also hold feminine personality traits that people assume women have."

Swers says Hillary Clinton is often criticized for showing a lack of warmth in her dealings with others. She also has been criticized for being calculating – having self-interest guide her decisions.

But Sonya Michel notes that when Clinton does show her feelings, she is also questioned. Michel, a retired University of Maryland professor, studies the history of women and gender.

"And the more she (Clinton) tries to avoid those kinds of criticisms, people say, ‘Well is she strong enough? Is she firm enough? You know, how can she, how can she operate on a world stage?'"

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, accompanied by former Vice President Al Gore, left, speaks at a rally at Miami Dade College in Miami, Oct. 11, 2016.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, accompanied by former Vice President Al Gore, left, speaks at a rally at Miami Dade College in Miami, Oct. 11, 2016.

Georgetown's Michele Swers says the United States has not had a woman as president because of its political system.

In her words, "when it comes to presidential nominations you need to not just work your way up through the party, but you need to build your own coalition, your own coalition of donors, your own coalition of connections to various state party leaders. And all these things have been dominated by men over time, so it's harder for a woman to have those connections and to break in," she said.

That is likely why Clinton is the first presidential nominee of a major party. She has many connections from all the years she was secretary of state and a member of the Senate. In addition, she is the wife of former President Bill Clinton.

Maryland's Sonya Michel believes that it is easier in other political systems for women to lead. "[In] Europe -- especially in the countries that have parliamentary systems -- people vote for the party," she says. "They don't necessarily vote for the candidate; they don't vote for the person who is going to become prime minister."

Swers says some of the criticism of Clinton is not based on her gender.

"I think the criticisms related to the, the email servers and the campaign donations to the Clinton foundation are legitimate in that they question values that we hold about transparency, about honesty, about character in our leadership."

Professor Swers says that in many cultures, women are expected to be more honest, more trustworthy and more likable than men.

Reporter Dori Toribio works for the Spanish broadcasting group Mediaset. She thinks women candidates are also expected to be more prepared.

"The thing with, with women in politics -- you have to be older, you have to be tougher and, in my point of view, you have to be 10 times better than a man so that you can get to that point -- you have to prove yourself all the time."

On November 9th, the U.S., and the rest of the world, will know whether Hillary Clinton will make history.

I'm Anne Ball.

Keida Kostreci reported this story for VOANews. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

narrow – adj. almost not enough for success

lane – n. a road or a path (often used figuratively, as in this report)

masculine – adj. of, relating to or suited to men or boys

personality trait – n. a quality that makes one person or thing different from another

gender – adj. the state of being male or female

legitimate – adj. allowed according to rules or laws

transparency – n. the quality that makes something obvious or easy to understand

character – n. the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves; someone's personality