As the number of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination grows every week, I think about the four women who have stepped into the race and immediately confronted criticism of their styles. I wonder if voters judge women more harshly and unforgivingly than they do men.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s persistently populist message of addressing income inequality often paints her as shrill and combative. Were she a man voicing these opinions, I wonder if she would be viewed as passionate and driven.
Shortly after Sen. Amy Klobuchar declared her intentions, news reports surfaced that she was a demanding, sometimes angry boss. Again, I wondered that if she were a man, would the stories of her behavior been considered newsworthy, or simply an example of someone who drives herself and her staff relentlessly—and, perhaps, abusively at times? Mind you, I am not excusing unacceptable, power-driven behavior by bosses.
I recall reading some years ago that former Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski was considered one of the meanest members of Congress in her treatment of her staff. Yet, this diminutive U.S. Senator was an effective and unrelenting advocate for her constituents. And she didn’t have to face the merciless glare of the national media because she harbored no ambition for higher office.
During the Presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I often encountered friends, mostly Republican who disliked their party’s standard-bearer, but who adamantly said they could not vote for Clinton, but never explained why. They just said they hated her.
Was she considered shrill? Was her laugh considered fake? Was her association with her husband simply too much to endure? Was she just a poor campaigner who seemed stiff and uncomfortable on the political stage?
Last week, my former boss, Maryland Treasurer Nancy Kopp, was re-elected by the General Assembly to her fifth term. She sits on the powerful Board of Public Works with the governor and the comptroller. She is reasoned, steady, low-key and policy-driven.
Kopp neither seeks nor relishes public drama. Prior to her re-election, she was criticized by members of her Democrat party for failing to be more strident and outspoken when dealing with the governor and comptroller on matters of great import.
So, Kopp’s critics want a fighter, a person who willingly and happily will engage in battle as the cameras roll and the print media scribbles away. My reaction is hogwash! Do voters want drama and dispute, or do they want good, sound governing?
Women in politics constantly face a conundrum: seek a solution and compromise—seemingly out of fashion these fractious days—or claim the stage with histrionics and hysteria.
In our sadly polarized country, a key question is whether a woman is electable as the President of the United States. The United Kingdom has a female prime minister, as does Germany. Yet, our nation seems culturally disinclined to elect a woman to lead our country. The Democrat party seems to be awaiting a decision by former Vice President Joe Biden to enter the presidential sweepstakes and then anoint him as the person best able to defeat President Trump.
At this point, I have made no choice. But gender is not a factor. It would be foolhardy to choose my favorite candidate on how they were born. The consequences are too significant for our nation.
I simply want to vote for someone who, in my opinion, can change the trajectory of our country and serve as a responsible, sensible and moral leader of our nation. We have no such person now in the White House.
Electability is becoming the current catchphrase. I have no qualms about that criterion. My concern is irrational criticism of women running for office, barbs that would not be aimed at men as they seek higher office.
Adjectives such as “shrill,” “strident” and “ambitious” seem reserved for criticizing women. On the other hand, men are described as “passionate,” “forthright” and “outspoken.” The adjective war seems imbalanced.
Women face more difficult barriers in garnering favorable public perception.
When I earlier mentioned Nancy Kopp, I could feel the irony as I tapped my keyboard. She’s effective because of her mild but determined manner. Yet some—mainly men–wish her to be more combative, though the results may be minimal.
My plea is for fairness. Gender is meaningless. Judgments colored by bias poison public discourse.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.