A Look at Politics

Do women in power positions still have to walk the double standard tightrope?

Posted Oct 06, 2020

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How can a woman seize her power, be ambitious, lead with courage, and also meet the sex-role requirements of nurturer, caretaker, and cookie-maker?

I remember showing up to conduct a seminar, and the woman registering people asked me if I had children. When I replied yes, she asked what I did with them when I traveled. Well, I had received this inquiry often and can never resist letting them know that it is a miracle, but their father does know where they go to school and can provide them with meals. My children did not get born without his participation, and he also likes my income.

Geraldine Ferraro, who was a Queens congresswoman when she was tapped by Walter Mondale in 1984 to be his VP candidate—the first man and woman to share the ticket—had many considerations. Could he kiss her on the cheek? (No.) Could he call her honey or dear? (No.) Could they joke about Joan Mondale getting angry when Walter came home late in the evening after meeting in private sessions with Geraldine Ferraro? (No.)

Sometimes the 1925 ditty "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue" introductory music was played for Geraldine Ferraro (she was a petite blonde) before speaking engagements and fundraisers. When she campaigned in Mississippi, Jim Buck Ross, commissioner of agriculture, asked her if she could bake blueberry muffins (remember when Hilary Clinton made a remark diminishing the ability to make chocolate chip cookies and was attacked for her chide?). She replied, "Yes—can you? "Down here in Mississippi, the men don't cook," Ross said, before going on to brag about how Mississippi had produced three Miss Americas.

George H. W. Bush exclaimed after he debated Ferraro that he tried "to kick some a*s," and his press aides called her "b*tchy." Barbara Bush said Ferraro was a word that rhymes with witch.

Ferraro complained that even Mondale aides were condescending, so she asked them to "pretend every time they talked to me or even look at me that I am a grey-haired Southern gentleman, a senator from Texas."

Now, fast forward to the recent vice-presidential nomination of Kamala Harris. Have things changed since 1984? We have had three and a half decades—with, most recently, #TimesUp and the #MeToo revolution—and some evidence suggests that little has changed. Kamala Harris has already been labeled a "madwoman" by President Trump. Trump has also appeared to double down on his framing of Harris as "nasty," saying in a Fox News interview that she was "so angry and such hatred with Justice Kavanaugh… she was the angriest of the group." Harris is a prosecutor and trained to question and get at the truth. As a member of Congress, she was doing her job questioning Justice Kavanaugh for consideration to serve on the highest court.

Maureen Dowd, a columnist for the New York Times, asked: Has America grown since 1984, or will the knives be out again? She predicts the knives will be out, and the veep candidate will be undermined with all the classic stereotypes: she is a nag, b*tchy, aggressive, and ambitious.

The comments and snide remarks about Harris may not be as direct as the but-can-she-cook sexism Ferraro experienced. Still, Harris is being hit with numerous attacks directed at her personality and identity, not her qualifications, experience, and credentials. Next, it may be how she dresses. Are pantsuits feminine enough?