special ads

On gender, candidates in the Trump era negotiate a changed landscape

On gender, candidates in the Trump era negotiate a changed landscape

In Wisconsin last week, Kelda Roys, a Democratic candidate for governor, appeared on camera while breastfeeding her daughter — and though that’s not what she set out to do (the 4-month-old got hungry while her mother was filming an ad about banning BPA in bottles), it seems fitting for the times.

Two states away in Missouri, meanwhile, on the other end of the masculine/feminine axis, Republican Senate hopeful Courtland Sykes has spent weeks not apologizing for his Facebook post describing feminists as “career-obsessed banshees” and declaring he expects his fiancée to fix him “a home-cooked dinner every night.” And while he insists he supports women’s rights, his particular way of doing so seems to reflect something about the moment as well.

Gender is back with a vengeance in political campaigns. Not that it ever went away completely, but as recently as the last midterm elections it had settled into somewhat of a background hum. The benefits and challenges of running as a man or a woman were studied and known; the candidates were oblique about using whatever advantages and weapons they might have; voters’ biases were more often of the unconscious or unspoken variety.

Not anymore.

“Since Trump and his appeal to toxic masculinity, and then the response to that in the form of #MeToo, there’s been a shift,” says Erin Cassese, an associate professor of political science at West Virginia University whose research focuses on gender in politics. “People feel more strongly about what men and women should and should not do. Prejudices that had gone underground, and/or were alluded to in coded language — it’s become more acceptable to express those things.”

She and others who follow campaigns predict that the 2018 midterms will be the most direct use of gendered signals, tropes, stereotypes and attacks in decades.

“Gender matters to more voters this year,” she says, “but it matters in different ways to different voters, and candidates have to navigate that.”

The 2016 presidential campaign was like no other in terms of gender dynamics, and not only because it included the first woman nominee of a major party.

On one side, it featured a Republican man who “reinforced the most patriarchal norms of masculinity,” says Kelly Dittmar of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, which has just launched a project called “Gender Watch” to monitor the ways both men and women portray themselves in the midterms. “Donald Trump campaigned in a way that reinforced stereotypic ways of masculinity that we have not seen in more than a decade. He was successful. Voters responded positively in particular portions of the electorate.”

In facing that idea of masculinity, the Democratic woman showed that much of the accumulated conventional gender research is correct: Women will be subjected to greater scrutiny of their appearance, will be seen as shrill, will have ambition held against them. But there were also surprises. Male candidates have traditionally been warned that attacks on women backfire, for instance, but Trump attacked with apparent glee. Voters were thought to give women extra points for honesty, but Trump successfully portrayed Hillary Clinton as “crooked.”

What, then, does this mean for men and women running in 2018, particularly for higher state and national office?</p>
<p class=”canvas-atom can

Latest Posts From This Category

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Latest Posts