VIEWPOINT: Sexism Plagues Election Cycle

The historic impact that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign has made on gender equality is often overshadowed by the misogyny shaping many of this election’s headlines. Republican candidate Donald Trump’s blatant sexism, objectification and derogatory treatment toward women, most recently demonstrated by the leaked tape of him bragging about how his celebrity status allows him to sexually assault women, are a symbol of how misogynistic attitudes have dominated the election.

Possibly more interesting and concerning is the much subtler form of misogyny that has run through this election season. Why, for instance, have female Trump supporters continued to condone his remarks? After the second presidential debate, the Twitter hashtag #repealthe19th began trending, with Trump supporters arguing that if only men could vote, Trump would win. Female supporters then tweeted that they would be willing to give up this right in order to guarantee a Trump presidency.

This type of overlooked sexism is evident when observing the double standards for female versus male leaders. Regardless of whether one agrees with her politics, Clinton’s resume is full of positions of leadership and policymaking. Yet her experience and qualifications to be president are constantly questioned, with an obsession over the mistakes she has made. Meanwhile, her opponent has no previous political experience and questionable business acumen, yet supporters often overlook his mistakes.

Female leaders are in a double bind; if they come off with a lot of confidence or are too assertive, they are seen as power-hungry, scheming and unladylike. This double standard is related to what the book “The Confidence Code” by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman describes as the “confidence gap,” which shows that women will not apply for a job unless they meet 100 percent of the qualifications while men will apply when they only meet 60 percent. Men exhibit “honest overconfidence” while, as Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, says in the book, “[Women] assume, somehow, that we don’t have the level of expertise to be able to grasp the whole thing.”

I believe that this confidence gap is apparent not just at the personal level but also at the societal level. Trump projects great — though probably misguided — self-confidence, and voters trust his leadership. On the other hand, Clinton is seen at times as failing to reassure voters of her leadership skills when she focuses on policy details and long justifications for her past decisions.

While the existing confidence gap is import to pay attention to, it is different than Trump’s fat shaming of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado or his insinuation that menstruation makes journalist Megan Kelly a poor debate moderator. This idea of gender inequality is nonetheless tied to the misogyny seen throughout the entire campaign season.

Clinton is leading in most national polls, and it is looking as though 2016 will be the year America elects its first female president. However, this does not mean gender equality will have truly been achieved. Clinton may break the highest glass ceiling in the land, but that should only be the start of the conversation.

This election season has highlighted how misogyny and many other forms of hate are still very present in American society. The double standards that Clinton has faced and the misogynist attitude that Trump has portrayed cannot be ignored because they are part of a larger social trend where women are demeaned and questioned when they dare to be something other than be a mother, housewife or second fiddle to a man. The laws that enshrine gender equality in America do not mean much if men and women alike do not reflect on and break down the subtler inequities and stigmas that still exist.

Katherine Butler-Dines is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.

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