double standards

Illustration by Shenuka Corea

Double Standards in the U.S. Presidential Elections

The glass ceiling is cracked, but not yet shattered.

Oct 9, 2016

We live in exciting times. A young woman can dream of attaining positions of immense responsibility. Figures like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton all occupy some of the world’s most influential posts. However, women still face many struggles in commanding the same level of respect afforded to their male counterparts — their equals by qualification. The glass ceiling has cracked, but not yet shattered.
Women still face unconscious bias in everything that they do. Whenever they act in ways that we would expect from their male counterparts, they’re deemed to be aggressive, unapproachable or, as in Hillary Clinton’s case, shrill. Clinton is regularly portrayed by the media as pushy or loud when she speaks, yet we regularly praise commanding, powerful speakers like Barack Obama. Their speaking styles when on the campaign trail are remarkably similar. The only difference is their gender.
One of the most damningly shallow trends in our commentary on female politicians such as Hillary Clinton is our tendency to critique their fashion. We immediately comment on Clinton’s choice of outfit while ignoring Donald Trump’s garish ties and boxy suits. He commits menswear felonies on a regular basis, yet it’s expected that we engage with his ideas as a politician rather than his fashion decisions. The fact that we still objectify women of such stature is nothing short of criminal. What good does a female politician do in encouraging young women to seek positions of responsibility if all the media is focused on is their appearance over their ideas? Girls should no longer have to grow up thinking that their success will be determined by whether or not their appearance fits a standard far higher than that which we set for men.
Alongside our obsession with appearance, the general public has a tendency to mansplain — the act of condescendingly explaining concepts to women that they are already aware of. Mansplaining roars to the forefront of every interaction between Trump and Clinton; in debates between the two candidates it’s beginning to become the norm. It’s a dangerous precedent, enhanced only by Trump’s tendency to interrupt Clinton, something also pointed out by political commentators as going beyond the usual amount of interruptions found in a debate between male politicians. In the last debate, Trump interrupted Clinton a grand total of 51 times. We can’t seem to shake the permissibility of a man talking over a woman, and continuously speaking in condescending tones. It’s so deeply ingrained in the way that we conduct ourselves that it reaches all the way to the top of the political system.
One of the more reprehensible tactics carried out by the Trump campaign is the blaming of Hillary Clinton for President Bill Clinton’s past sexual infidelities. Trump regularly brings up the nature of the Clinton relationship, and while a stable, solid relationship is important for the leader of the world’s most powerful nation, Trump goes above and beyond in his criticism. Why do we hold Hillary Clinton to such standards when Trump has been caught bragging of his infidelity? He’s a man who broke up his first marriage after an affair with the woman who would become his second wife. Now onto his third marriage, Trump is no stranger to controversial relationships. While Bill Clinton’s infidelities deserve to be questioned, he isn’t the one seeking office — Trump, however, is. His sexual past is rarely discussed, yet Hillary Clinton is implicitly blamed for her husband’s activities. This is a textbook example of gender bias in its purest form.
This is an open request to all men; it’s up to us to change the way our subconscious operates in regard to women in positions of power. If we don’t, young women will continue to grow up thinking that their dress, not their speech, is what counts in a debate. They’ll grow up seeing women in leadership roles being spoken to condescendingly by less qualified men. We can’t allow this to continue. Female politicians like Hillary Clinton deserve more than our respect, they deserve our unbiased attention. It’s time we finally shattered that glass ceiling — it’s just going to take a little help from those of us that were born without having to deal with one.
James Pearce is Deputy Features Editor. Email him at
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