In an interview in Rolling Stone magazine, Donald Trump addressed perhaps his nearest rival in the Republican candidate race, Carly Fiorina, by stating: ‘Look at that face!’ and ‘Would anyone want to vote for that?’ He would later revoke his comments, claiming that he was referring to her ‘persona’. As unlikely as that sounds, it is just a single event in a long line of unsavoury comments with sexist undertones circulating the upcoming presidential election.
Even all round nice guy Tim Gunn couldn’t resist taking a potshot at Hillary Clinton’s dress sense. The fashion consultant claimed that she dresses like ‘she’s confused about her gender’, but like Trump, apologized for his comments when they were mentioned in an interview later on.
It is, of course, standard practice for presidential candidates to be brought under the microscope more intensely at this time. With that in mind, someone who is overly sensitive to criticism - whether it’s just or not - probably shouldn’t run for president. But it’s not the insults that are likely to harm Fiorina’s and Clinton’s chances of leading their respective parties, but their male counterparts' insistence on challenging their leadership qualities, just because they’re women.
Insults aren’t normally well received by the American public. While Donald Trump remains the favourite to lead the Republican party in the next election, his popularity took a hit after he ridiculed Senator John McCain over his capture during the Vietnam war. Trump has seemingly recovered, but the damage that the comment caused went to show how quickly the tide can turn.
Despite this, the American Thinker claimed the Democrats ‘have attacked Fiorina in highly sexist terms’ depicting her as a ‘little girl dressed in pink’ in an animated GIF. The Tweet was released after Fiorina referenced her business experience to back up her leadership credentials - you can take a look at it here [https://twitter.com/TheDemocrats/status/629416352328105984].
I am sure that Fiorina would have expected, and planned for, some kind of attack on her leadership credentials, as such questions are part and parcel of any election campaign. Yet the tone in which the comments were made demonstrated the inherent sexism that female leaders must still negotiate when vying for positions of power.
It’s these imbalances and misconceptions that continually allow men to not only dominate positions of power in government, but in business too. As stated in Fast Company: ‘Today, leadership comes in many forms and from many seats. Female leaders, whether they’re politicians and CEOs, need to have a willingness to listen, openness and empathy.’
These traits aren’t unique to either men or women, but are characteristics both sexes are equally capable of possessing. It’s not yet clear whether Clinton or Fiorina would be able to call upon these skills if elected, but it shouldn’t be assumed that they don’t have them, or that they have to prove them more readily than their male counterparts.
Both Fiorina and Clinton have had exceptional careers, especially when you consider that they progressed in a more overtly sexist time than now. For either of them to redefine leadership, however, they need to make it all the way to the White House. But their presence, even if it’s tainted to a degree, shows that females are increasingly being considered for positions of influence. And with Hillary Clinton as the Democrats’ ‘prize fighter’, there’s a real chance the U.S could have its first female president by November 2016.