Primary Sexism: Gender Bias and Misogony in the Race for the Presidency

Over 130 women have announced a run for the U.S. presidency, and twelve have made serious bids, starting with Victoria Woodhull in 1872. All of these women have one thing in common—they faced gender bias in media coverage. As we head into the 2020 presidential primary season, the talking heads are back at it, telling viewers and followers that the last election proved that America isn’t ready for a woman to be president, and we’re #NotBuyingIt.

With more women seeking the Democratic nomination (officially six at the time of this writing), than have ever run before, Americans have several excellent choices. Yet the mainstream media and social media seem to only have eyes for the white male “B” bros: Bernie, Biden, Beto, and Buttigieg (they seem to have forgotten about Booker, Castro, Yang, and the other men in the mix).

We must call out the bias (both gender and racial) and misogyny which are harming women’s chances in the 2020 field. Women candidates are receiving less and harsher media coverage, which is impacting their ability to keep pace in the critical area of campaign fundraising.

Here are five sexist things to watch for in the media coverage of the 2020 presidential election:

    1. Hairstyles: Hillary Clinton endured decades of pointless media coverage of her hair. And while our current president certainly generates snickers about his choice of hairstyle, it’s not presented as disqualifying by the media as it seems to be for a woman.
    2. Hobbies: Kamala Harris ducked into a small business during a campaign trip to South Carolina, where she tried on and ultimately bought a sequined jacket. And male journalists lost their minds—as if the mall would become Harris’ Mar-a-Lago if she is elected. Male candidates shoot guns, play sports, and embark on other stereotypically male campaign excursions to reinforce that they have the requisite masculinity required to assume the ultimate position of power.
    3. Voice: Again, Hillary Clinton faced criticism from male pundits for the pitch of her voice on the 2016 primary trail. When men use the same style, they’re described as passionate. And to add insult to injury, after one of Clinton’s speeches, Joe Scarborough pulled out the tired old “Smile. You just had a big night.” tweet. Seriously, Joe?
    4. Leadership Style: Senators Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders are reported to be tough and demanding bosses. But only Klobuchar seems to draw media scrutiny, using the claims to question her qualifications to be president. The media not only gives Sanders a pass on similar claims but uses the traits to elevate his status as a lovable curmudgeon.
    5. Health: While Hillary Clinton was affected by nearly every gender bias on this list, she was also subject to vicious troll-generated attacks questioning her health, despite being younger and more transparent about her health than her opponent in the general election.

The United States has had 45 male presidents, and given Clinton’s popular vote win in 2016, it is clear that the country is ready to elect a woman president. Let’s demand better from our press.

Take Action! Call out sexism against women presidential candidates on social media when you see it.