Coakley Criticism Proves Stereotypes Still Hurt Female Candidates

Lauren Martin

When will female candidates learn? You can't be too emotional, that makes you seem weak. So how can they act, you ask? That question remains unanswered.

Cross-posted at Women & Politics

When will you female candidates
learn? You can’t be too emotional, that makes you seem weak. But don’t be too
cold, that makes you an Ice Queen. Definitely don’t
focus on your gender, but don’t ignore it either.

Talk about your family and kids, but
not too much, because a busy candidate can’t be a good mother. If you don’t
have kids, you’d better be extra warm and fuzzy.

So how can you act, you ask?
That question remains unanswered. Why? Because our society has developed so
many extreme stereotypes for women that we no longer know how to respond. We
don’t know what’s safe.

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As a result, female candidates end
up trying to traverse the icy trail of double standards, attempting
to choose between one extreme over the other, floundering around in the middle,
or just trying to be themselves.

Hillary Clinton has always been a
strong leader who doesn’t take any crap. But it wasn’t her experience or vision
that won over some voters, it was the fact that she cried on television. ("Oh
good, she does have emotions, I had no idea"). Would voters ever need to
see a male candidate cry to earn their support? Of course not. But apparently
Clinton had acted too removed, too hard, too much like…a man for
people’s taste.

But if Clinton had come out of the
gate overflowing with emotion about women and her campaign, she would have been
blasted for being a sappy female.

Meanwhile, Martha Coakley has
repeatedly been called "icy" and is now criticized for not emphasizing the historic nature of her
campaign. But should a female candidate dare express that her gender is indeed
one of her many qualifications, the response I always hear is, "I won’t vote
for a woman just because she’s a woman."

It seems women just can’t win. And
believe me, it’s not just women pointing this out (nor are women excluded from
judging based on stereotypes). To Politico, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass, recounted that
despite her overwhelming win in Massachusetts, Hillary Clinton still faced
sexism from voters there.

McGovern also brought up how a local
paper concluded that Coakley’s new hair and makeup style were to blame for the
race tightening:

"They wouldn’t write this about a
man," McGovern said. "I still think we have a long way to go to make this an equal
playing field."

James Carroll of The Daily
Beast describes Massachusetts’ rich and long history of misogyny toward female

"The short of it is that the most
liberal state in the nation … practices the politics of misogyny. When it comes
to positions of real power, no women need apply. Martha Coakley was croaked by
an electorate that could not get past her gender."

Martha Coakley’s loss in the special
election for the Massachusetts Senate seat leaves many of us angry that the
"progressive" state of Massachusetts continues to squeeze out women. It also
leaves us frightened about the future of women’s reproductive rights in the
health care bill.

Without Coakley, preventing attacks
on choice in health care reform looks bleak. And if Massachusetts serves as a
thermometer for the way our country is viewing female candidates, we’re in big

It’s 2010, folks-when will the
double standards stop?

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