Fast Facts

Obstacles

When women run for office, they must clear higher (and more) hurdles than men.

Women have been running for the presidency since 1872. However, women continue to face barriers on their paths to public office. Here are some of hurdles women face:

The Confidence Gap

We know women need to be recruited to run. When men look in the mirror, they see someone up to the task of elected office, but many women still have trouble seeing that in themselves. Overcoming this disparity is key because voters immediately hone in on perceived weaknesses.

Moreover, there’s no reason for women to be reticent about their ability to run: when women run, women win in equal rates with men.


Parenting and Politics

Many people see a critical and unique role for a mother which cannot be replicated by anyone else, even a child’s father. Voters express concerns about the ability of women candidates and elected officials to balance the competing priorities of their families and constituents. In general, having younger children is more challenging for voters to accept than having older children. Voters recognize that moms face different expectations, but actively and consciously participate in this double standard. 

We know that women need to be encouraged to run for office, while men don’t wait to be asked.

The Double Bind

If you are a man and you say what you vote for and if you are American, you are qualified.
Mixed race young woman, age 18-35, Chicago

Women candidates face a litmus test that men do not have to pass. Voters have to consider a woman candidate both qualified and likeable before voting for her, but are willing to support a male candidate they do not like but who they think is qualified. In other words, men don’t need to be liked to be elected, but women have to show both competency and likeability.


A “Qualified” Woman

I think they have to flaunt it... To flaunt it, you would flaunt your education, your experiences. You’d have like a resume of sorts that you would always incorporate in your communications – adding it in subtly or not so subtly to blow your own horn.
White middle-aged woman, age 36-65, Chicago

Voters continue to have high standards for what they consider a qualified woman candidate, and women must do more than men to prove they are prepared for the job. While men can simply list positions of leadership and service to show their qualifications, women need to tout their specific accomplishments. Women must show their credentials, whereas men can just tell.

 

When you’re positioning a woman to run for office, you show that she has held jobs with huge responsibility, with huge challenges and acquitted herself brilliantly in dealing with these challenges and overcoming them.

 Gendered Likeability

Because women are judged more harshly on their appearance than men and so you have to make sure that she is wearing things that no one will say anything about.
White Man, Columbus

Voters decide whether a woman candidate is ready to lead, in part, based on her personal presentation. Although all candidates are judged on these attributes to some degree, women have a steeper climb in convincing voters to judge them on their merits. Voters notice a woman’s looks, makeup, hair, clothing, race, and voice when judging her likeability, and what they notice often mirrors gender stereotypes.


The Old Boys’ Club

Although women now regularly raise and spend money in their campaigns on par with male opponents, they still face fundraising barriers. Women candidates report being excluded from financial circles that include the wealthiest and best connected donors. Because men still outnumber women in many corporate associations and specific industries, there are generally fewer women to make introductions and open doors to these fundraising resources.

As a woman, I’ve been pretty successful… raising money, but you still don’t have access to the boys, and this is very much a boy kind of state…it takes more effort to get that access.

Contrasting with Opponents

Women candidates pay a higher price for going negative even though it’s an essential party of campaigning — candidates must show how they differ from their opponents. Voters expect more from women candidates. They feel that, by engaging in negative campaigning, a woman is reduced to the status of a typical politician.


It’s The Economy

Budgets, taxes, and the economy are areas generally perceived as weak points for women candidates because they are not seen as traditional areas of female expertise. However, women can get as much credit as men for being good on the economy when they are seen as competent on other issues, such as education or healthcare.