It’s 2022 and Women Candidates are Still Being Undermined; Let’s Change That - Karen Finney

As one of my heroes, former Texas Governor Ann Richards once pointed out, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, just backwards and in high heels.

During the elections in 2020 I wrote about the attacks against women candidates, especially women of color, and at the time Kamala Harris in particular — that were being used to undermine their qualifications, credibility, and electability. Even before we knew the name of President Biden’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, we saw false tropes being used to undermine his pick. As a record number of women — and women of color — are again running for office in 2022, I wanted to revive this piece to drive home the message about the damage racist, sexist tropes can do in othering and undermining women candidates. This is about calling out the unique challenges women and women of color face in running for political office and ascending to roles that have traditionally been held by men. This is not just about Kamala and the many women of Herstory whose shoulders we stand on, this is about women everywhere, especially women of color and creating a more equal environment for them to run for office and be assessed by voters based on substance.

“As we know from years of research by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation (BLFF)، women candidates, especially women of color must navigate a far more complex set of issues, biases and expectations to be effective communicators and be seen as credible and electable as compared to white male candidates. As one BLFF report points out, ‘Likability and qualifications are the two components of electability that women must consistently balance. Past research conducted by BLFF has repeatedly shown that women face a litmus test that men do not have to pass. Voters will support a male candidate they do not like but who they think is qualified. Men don’t need to be liked to be elected. Voters are less likely to vote for a woman candidate they do not like.’ A woman candidate’s likability also impacts perceptions of her credibility and trustworthiness and can be impacted by everything from her tone of voice to hairstyle and clothing, personal demeanor, to her ability to talk about her qualifications without ‘bragging.’

“Women candidates are constantly threading multiple needles as they try to be their authentic selves knowing they are unequally judged by their ability to balance style and substance and the ever-changing perceptions of womanhood all while demonstrating toughness, strength and compassion without being seen as too negative or shrill. Black women also contend with the negative trope of the “angry Black woman” which is often used to discount and silence them all together.

“As we saw during the 2020 Veepstakes, criticism of women candidates too often defaulted to conversations about personality traits over substance with questions about ambition, femininity, Blackness, too bold or not bold enough. None of which contributed to a meaningful assessment of their qualifications.

“While these attacks aren’t new, they have been weaponized in new ways through the use of social media with a combination of personal attacks based on tropes and false information in targeted, coordinated attacks on women up and down the ballot aimed specifically at undermining trustworthiness, qualifications, intelligence and credibility.

“For Black women, it is all about raising our voices and stepping into our power to continue our support for our first woman of color Vice President Kamala, raise Black women up and down the ballot and finally being seen, recognized and respected as leaders and as a powerful voting bloc.

“Together we are also making it clear that enough is enough, we will not shy away from these important conversations. We aren’t seeking special treatment. We are signing on to the work of our ancestors, brave women whose names are known and unknown and who have fought for all women to be treated equally.”

We have the opportunity to change the conversation. One year after 2020’s historical impact for women, we now have the chance to do it again. 2022 will again see record numbers of women running for state, federal, and local offices. With our votes supporting women candidates we not only help in the current election, but we also help move towards a more equal environment for women, women of color and candidates of all backgrounds to run for office and win.

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Insights from Leaders is a platform where people with a vision can share their ideas and insights.