Why Female Presidential Candidates Are Still Overlooked

People are thrilled Pete Buttigieg speaks Norwegian, but the fact that Kirsten Gillibrand speaks Mandarin is barely a blip in the news.

Design by Erin Lux

If you looked at the media right now, you’d see that four very nice white men are running for president. Pete Buttigieg is on the cover of New York Magazine. Beto O’Rourke is on the cover of Vanity Fair. Biden and Bernie are the favorites. They all seem perfectly nice and profoundly preferable to Trump.

But did you know that there are also some women—and some people of color—running? I can’t thrust them onto the cover of Vanity Fair, but I can tell you that if you’re excited that Beto O’Rourke reads books—and it is, indeed, a big plus that someone reads books—well, good news: Elizabeth Warren has written 11 books. Upset that Biden is too touchy feely? Kirsten Gillibrand has actively fought against men who overstep boundaries, and, additionally, not groped anyone herself!

In spite of that, every time a woman does something successfully, people seem determined to skew it to show how successful a man was. Look at Ryan Lizza and Chris Cillizza tweeting about how Kamala Harris raising more funds than Pete Buttigieg just makes Buttigieg look better. Kamala raised $5 million more than him.

Yes, Pete Buttigieg is an LGBTQ candidate, and he seems like a very good man. But a man who looks like nearly every president we’ve ever had isn’t an underdog in this; though you would never know it, from the seeming delight of the press every time a man does a good thing. As Refinery 29 pointed out, people are thrilled that Buttigieg speaks Norwegian (good for him!), but the fact that Gillibrand speaks Mandarin is barely a blip in the news. It is likewise nice that Mayor Pete is a liberal Christian. But as that becomes a major news story, no one seems to care that Kamala Harris grew up singing a Baptist choir.

As for Cory Booker, well, he elicits only snarky reactions like David Frum’s on Twitter, who remarked, “Cory Booker got himself elected president of the Jewish student society at Oxford during his Rhodes scholarship. Booker is a Baptist. He must be some campaigner.” But then, did you know that Buttigieg was also a Rhodes scholar!? Or as some other people say, "head-and-shoulders smarter than the other candidates running."

White men are benefitting enormously from the beauty of diminished expectations. People questioning whether or not women can win don’t seem to take into account that most of the female candidates have won every single race they’ve ran in. Male candidates? Not so much.

Nonetheless, there are still articles on whether or not a woman can win.

Of course women can win elections. They won midterms in a great pink wave. There are those who think that Trump’s more misogynistic followers could be “flipped” with a white man running for President, but I would hazard to say that, if you’re a misogynist, you really like Trump. He is, after all, also a misogynist, so you probably find you have quite a bit in common with him.

Wondering whether women can connect with voters is a bit ridiculous when 50 percent of the voters are female themselves. We’ll connect with them just fine. But it would help if we got to read more about their hobbies and interests and things that make them likable, rather than endless meditations on whether or not they’re likable enough. Right now, I feel I have read countless articles about Beto O’Rourke’s musical taste, and the main widely reported personal bit of trivia we have all learned about a female candidate is that she once ate a salad with a comb. And, again, while there’s excitement that Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg read books, the fact that both Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand have written children’s books is treated as something of a cynical ploy.

You want to make female candidates likable? Report on their interesting personal lives. They have them. I promise they are just as likable as their male counterparts. We just need to start writing about them as if they are.

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