Female politicians face unfair scrutiny over public image

The President of the United States serves as a political, moral and cultural leader for the country. Over the course of the next year, America will roll out arguably the most intense and comprehensive vetting system in the world. We will choose our next president. Each candidate will be made to jump through political and social hoops, trying to win the country’s favor. However, there is more to the selection process than approving of a candidate’s political platform. Image is of utmost importance. I don’t want the person representing my nation to be incapable of dressing themselves or properly combing their hair.

The President of the United States holds the most esteemed elected office in the world, so I struggle to understand why those who aspire to the Oval Office should be exempt from scrutiny. Representing an electorate of 320 million people is no simple feat, and candidates should be prepared to fully disclose relevant details of their private lives.

I believe that any critical evaluation is fair game as long as it is distributed evenly among the candidates – with the exception of offenses made before they are eighteen and their sex lives. It is our right as voters to evaluate the candidates on cultural, moral and political grounds. Has the candidate accepted money from Goldman Sachs in return for the implicit promise of soft financial regulations? Did they pass controversial zero-tolerance policing policies during their time as Governor? What’s their senate voting record with the NRA? Have they struggled in their marriage? How does their Christian faith play into their policy? Are they the zodiac killer? There’s no such thing as a stupid question in a presidential election.

It’s the job of the campaign team to field these questions and answer strategically in order to market their candidate to the American public. In other words, you shouldn’t feel bad for presidential candidates because they all know what they are getting into.

All of that being said, the way that America vets its candidates is dated and reeks of sexism. I don’t worry about sexism in the race because I feel bad for Hillary Clinton, I am concerned because it says something larger about the way we evaluate women compared to men. A recent article in The Atlantic begins with Bob Woodward critiquing Hillary Clinton’s speaking style. Woodward describes her as a “screamer” and claims that her delivery signals a lack of self acceptance.

If we are going to criticize the way that Hillary Clinton asserts her policy, then, by those standards, Bernie Sanders, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump are all “screamers.” The entire Republican field, (save Ben Carson), is full of screamers. Hillary Clinton is a woman and America is not used to women being assertive. So while Sanders and Clinton debate on our television screens, the media, the analysts and the American people form distinct characterizations. Sanders’ passionate hand waving and rhythmic delivery paints him to be a lovable, zany hero, where Clinton’s passion and assertion apparently make her sound like she’s compensating for her “lack of self acceptance.” It is described as “unnatural.”

Female candidates are not the only ones who face unequal forms of criticism. Candidates of color and those identifying with minority religious groups are also overly scrutinized for their backgrounds.

America is a nation with an increasingly diverse population and our President should reflect this fact. Finding a political and moral leader doesn’t mean finding a white, male and Christian one, but someone who is compassionate, who can solve problems big and small and move our country in the direction defined by the American electorate.

Emma Whitford ’18 (whitfo1@stolaf.edu) is from Middleton, Wisc. She majors in political science.