Most people who pay attention to American popular culture would think that women candidates for executive offices are a new thing. Well, think again! Women candidates have been vying for their party’s nomination as presidential and vice presidential candidate dating back to 1872 when Victoria Woodhull became the first female presidential candidate for the Equal Rights Party. Fredrick Douglass was later nominated as her vice presidential running mate. At the time Woodhull was supported by the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA).
However, after a few heated public debates regarding her support of free love and social freedom, resulting in a split in the feminist movement, Woodhull was ostracized from the Women’s Rights Association. However, just a year before her nomination for candidacy, Woodhull delivered a speech in Steinway hall, “There is no escaping the fact that the principle by which the male
citizens of these United States assume to rule the female
citizens is not
that of self-government, but that of despotism; and so the fact is that poets have sung songs of freedom, and anthems of liberty have resounded for an empty shadow”.1 In addition to her various public speeches, Woodhull was the first woman to appear before the House Judiciary Committee when she argued for the passing of women’s suffrage legislation. Yet, Woodhull argued that women already had the right to vote, since the 14th and 15th Amendments granted all
citizens the right to vote, and that women just needed to exercise their vote.2
Today most people don’t even know who Woodhull was and think that female candidates are a recent occurrence in history. This is not the case. Many female candidates have been nominated to run for office by third parties and many more have attempted to, but failed to, secure the nomination. Historically, all 36 female presidential candidates have been nominated by third parties. Both the Democrats and the Republicans have never nominated a female presidential candidate. The first female Democratic candidate was Geraldine Ferraro, when, in 1984 she secured the Vice Presidential nomination to run with Presidential Candidate Walter Mondale.
In addition, the Republican party did not put a woman candidate on the ballot until 2008 when Sarah Palin ran for office with presidential candidate John McCain.
Throughout our political history, the United States has seen many female candidates vying for their party’s nomination, yet so few have secured the nomination, and none have been elected. Dr. Kira Sanbonmatsu of Rutgers University and Dr. Kathleen Dolan of the University of Wisconsin found that “the public perceives gender differences within both political parties”.3 Voters rely upon stereotypical shortcuts in evaluating a candidates personal and professional traits. Often the cues they are given identify party affiliation and gender. While, Sanbonmatsu and Dolan find that gender stereotypes transcend party, they also find that “gender stereotypes have somewhat different consequences for the two parties”. 4 Democrats are more likely to perceive positive stereotypes than Republicans for female candidates.5 This is due to key issue stereotypes, such as the perception of abortion as a woman’s issue. This stereotype results in the perception that women are more liberal on the issue and thus, are more likely to hold a position that is concurrent with the Democratic platform than the Republican.6
This past Tuesday, the Commission on Presidential Debates successfully alienated third party presidential candidates from the debate. When Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein showed up to participate in the debate she was arrested and handcuffed to a chair for 8 hours so that she would not “disturb” the debate.
Her vice presidential running mate Cheri Honkala was also arrested with Stein and detained. An estimated 65.6 million people watched the second debate according to the Washington Post
, which has the potential to play a key role in candidate publicity. Because the debates only allow for the two major parties to participate, in effect they further alienate third parties from the electorate. Many voters who watch the debate do not even realize the alternative candidates that are being excluded, who they could potentially vote for, many of which have been women. Stein and Honkala’s names will show up on the ballot for 85% of voters, however, little of them will even know who they are. Democracy now conducted their own debates in which they asked third party candidates the same questions, it can be found here
. All 36 female presidential candidates have been excluded from the debates and in effect have been alienated from the electorate. The mass media is not only owned by members of the two main parties but functions during the election seasons to maintain the two party system, often at the expense of women candidates who are more likely to be nominated by a third party.
Furthermore, the social construction of the gendered image plays a key role in female politics. The promotion of the ultrafeminine and over sexualization of women in the mass media promote a stereotype of emotional sensitivity, and an inability to fulfill the position of President of the USA. This may contribute to the reason why we have not yet seen a woman presidential candidate from either the Democrats or the Republicans. Due to the competitive nature of the elections, many feel that if their party choose a female candidate they would loose the election, due to the perceived negative/weak image of female candidates that the electorate utilize in casting their vote. In effect, female candidates have been around almost forever, but they will not have a chance at electoral success until the mass media stops its oppressive campaign against their image and the debates are truly democratic opened up to all presidential candidates who appear on enough ballots. The purpose of the debates originally was to inform voters, not to maintain the two party system by subordinating third party candidates. If the debates were truly democratic, we might have already had a female president.
1 Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection 1848-1921. http://memory.loc.gov/
2 Women in History, Victoria Woodhull, http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/wood-vic.htm
3 Sanbonmatsu, Kira. and Kathleen Dolan. 2009. “Do Gender Stereotypes Transcend Party?”, Political Research Quarterly 62:3, 485-494.
4 Ibid. 490.
5 Ibid. 490.
6 Ibid. 491.