YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
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March 2016

By Paula Penebaker, President & CEO, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin

Stereotyping Women

In this election season where we see a woman with a solid chance to win her party’s nomination for the office of President, what is the social commentary about this monumental feat in this month dedicated to women’s achievements?

Contrary to popular understanding, Hillary Clinton is not the first woman to run for President in the US, but she is closest to winning her party’s nomination. When we think that it has been less than 100 years since women were given the constitutional right to vote, one could say we aren’t too bad off, but consider how other countries have fared. Currently, at least 11 nations have women that hold the title of President, i.e. Liberia, Lithuania, Brazil, South Korea, Chile among others. Many more have over the years.

It would be interesting to know how sexism has manifested itself in those countries. Here, it’s thriving.

Recently, a slew of male commentators criticized Hillary after her recent primary victories stating that that she was “shouting angrily” and she should smile after her successes. One asked, “What’s she mad at?” While another suggested she use a more “conversational tone” when addressing her supporters.

Running for POTUS is not for the faint of heart, whether male or female, but because of stereotypes, a woman faces absurd obstacles. The expectations for women to be pretty, sweet and demure are still very prevalent.

  • We’re not expected to express any strong emotions.
  • Crying is unprofessional.
  • Raising our voices, even if it’s to be heard in a room with hundreds of people, is perceived as yelling.
  • A handshake must be firm, but too much so.
  • Appearance is everything and a smile is golden!
  • Dresses are “much prettier” even when slacks are more practical
  • Gray hair should be colored.
  • High heels are more attractive than flats, “sexier”.
The messages are maddening.

Think of how often the Vice Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin was referred to as being pretty. Some even pointed out that the old statement “men don’t make passes at girls that wear glasses” didn’t apply to her because she looked “hot” in her glasses. Really? When will we stop this nonsense?

Hillary Clinton is an erudite person, one who was educated in prestigious colleges and dedicated her life to public service. She is not perfect, but neither are the four men who are running for the office.

Let me mention that much of the criticism of Hillary comes from women, also. Often, women will add to the chorus of men’s criticism to fit in, not to be considered the B-word or not to be seen as an angry feminist. Not all women support Hillary and that’s all right. I just hope it’s not because she’s a woman, and they believe that she can’t do as good of a job as a man can. I hope they’ve studied her position on the issues and have decided they don’t agree with her politics. I also hope they haven’t fallen for the “it’ll-be-Bill’s-third-term” rhetoric.

Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman and first black major-party candidate to run for president in 1972 once stated, “The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, "It's a girl." Maybe if the USA could elect a woman as POTUS, some of that stereotyping will end. We can hope. Right?


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