While stereotypes and double standards still plague women who run for governor, they are less pronounced than in past election cycles. Strategies have emerged to manage them. In some instances, creative candidates have turned potentially negative stereotypes to their advantage.
Women candidates continue to bear the double burden of proving they are both strong enough and tough enough to be governor, while their male opponents are presumed to possess these qualities. Access to financial circles and long-standing relationships with seasoned fundraisers remain limited. Closer scrutiny of a woman candidate’s appearance is still the norm.
However, incumbent women governors are chipping away at negative stereotypes and redefining voter expectations. Successful women governors have shown that by placing themselves squarely on the side of their constituents, by standing up to powerful interests on their behalf and by persistently advancing a future-oriented agenda for the common good, they can overcome voters’ doubts embedded in negative gender stereotypes. Deliberately and visibly exercising the power of one’s office to get things done is a strategy available to women serving at all levels of government.
Voters reward women governors with higher job performance ratings than those for states with male governors. Women governors are speaking more openly about ethical governance. They are setting ambitious and specific agendas, understanding they will be held accountable for producing results. Their boldness in governing has given them much to campaign on for re-election, pioneering new strategies and breaking new ground. Their competence will no doubt make it easier for the next generation of women candidates to be judged on their merits.
Progress is real. Women governors are redefining people’s expectations for a woman chief executive and raising voter expectations about what a governor can accomplish and how one goes about it. The more voters see women governors, the more they like them. And that’s good news for all the women who are thinking about running, or should be.