9.2 Women and Electability – Part 2

In Part 1 of this post, I argued that there is no solid reason to consider women less electable than men in the 2020 Presidential contest.  Women candidates do need to grapple, however, with four areas that may create misconceptions of their potential.  First is implicit bias, second is the nature of leadership archetypes (and negative stereotypes), and third is the management of the strong value among women voters of caregiving and the “Caregiver” archetype.  Finally, there is the differing nature of media coverage of women candidates.  None of these are barriers but they are considerations for women candidates and those observing them.

1.    Association and Implicit Bias.  One reason men may be currently considered more electable is simply how often they have been elected.  Older men look more like the panoply of former Presidents than women do, even though men have given up both the wig of our first president and the mutton chops of many.  People are more used to seeing men in leadership positions and so they associate men and leadership qualities.

Both academic and popular research shows that people have stronger associations with men and leadership qualities than with women and leadership qualities.  Such “implicit bias” is not necessarily unconscious and it does not necessarily project behavior.  In fact, there is some academic literature lately that suggests it does not predict behavior.  Still, there is such bias. 

To measure yours, the American Association of University Women has provided a test on line.  It is anonymous and instructive:  AAUW Implicit Association Test of Gender Bias.   Implicit bias is not a barrier because at a time when people may want change – and perhaps big, structural change, as one candidate promises, such associations may not matter, or perhaps even underline the change a woman might bring. 

2.   Archetypes and Negative Stereotypes.  At a deeper level than the associations shown in implicit bias tests, there is leadership imagery that is sometimes more male than female. Jungian psychology introduced the idea that we share unconscious ideas, often gender-associated.  Thirty years ago, Robert L. Moore and Douglas Gillette wrote King, Warrior, Magician, Lover about the archetypes of mature men (as opposed to other archetypes like “the Trickster,” who survives challenges through trickery and deceit, which may remind you of someone). 

The use of archetypes for communications and branding is recounted in Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson’s classic book, The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands through the Power of Archetypes.  Their work helped establish Nike as “the hero” brand, and Apple as “the magician.” 

Some archetypes are more gender-laden than others.  The King is certainly a gender-based term (and the Queen has different associations), as is the “Everyman” or “Regular Joe” that their book discusses. There are, however, women Warriors, Magicians, and Sages, which are among the highly desirable leadership archetypes, in mythology, in history and in popular culture.

The shadow (a Jungian term too) of the Queen archetype bears watching. There we find negative stereotypes like the manipulative “Queen Bee” who destroys other women while the men work for her; the Queen with her clique of Mean Girls so well-profiled by the movie of that name; the Bossy Beyatch (to use the more acceptable colloquialism), and her sister the “Angry Woman,” with the latter two carrying qualities less acceptable for women than for men.      

Another archetype, the Innocent, is not inherently negative but not what voters want in a President.  Children and some women are perceived as The Innocent and we do not want a President who is untutored in the ways of the world. 

The “Good Girl” or “Daddy’s Girl” archetype is more likeable but follows status quo authority a little too much rather than bringing change, and generally follows men rather than aligning equally with other women.

The “Victim” archetype is also not a desirable President.  The victim feels powerless and blames others for their predicament.  There is a fine line for women leaders in talking about discrimination against women and sounding like they believe women – perhaps including them – are victims.  The President of the United States should show compassion for victims but should never be a victim.

3.  The Caregiver.    One of the biggest challenges for women candidates is integrating one of the most powerful, positive – and generally female – archetypes:  The Caregiver.  The Caregiver is compassionate, generous, thoughtful and kind.  It is reputedly part of the branding of Campbell’s Soup, Johnson & Johnson, and McDonald’s – with billions and billions sold.  

Women identify with caregiving.  In a survey I conducted for a client many years ago, nearly 70 percent of women voters said caregiving was one of their most important values.  The importance of caregiving is presumably why George W. Bush modified his declaration of being a conservative with the word “compassionate.”

Women candidates – despite their self-evident ambition and aggression – generally have advantages on compassion, as they do on issues associated with it like health care.  Failing to display Caregiver qualities can alienate other women, who value caregiving in themselves and in leaders. The challenge is in nurturing the caregiver, which almost all successful women candidates do, without appearing to be the Innocent or the “Good Girl.” 

Part of the answer for women candidates in balancing strength and compassion is to define who and what they fight for:  in the mythological world from which archetypes derive, the male fights to be the Alpha male; to win the competition for its own sake.  The woman or female fights to protect her cubs (if she is a lioness or a bear), or her children, family or community. The behavior may look the same but the motivation is different.  

Note that if she fights for victims, then you have to see yourself as a victim to believe she fights for you – and most people do not see themselves that way – and even fewer want to be a victim.  The strong Caregiver fights for what she loves to make it stronger.  The Caregiver is not patronizing.

4.  Media Bias.  Others have written about how the media cover men and women differently and how some men candidates do the same (Suzanna Danuta Walters Washington Post Op Ed).  I do think the coverage is more balanced than it has been in the past and some in the press clearly make a conscious effort to diversify their sources.  Still, the reality remains that most of the press corps covering the presidential campaign and reporting it on television are men, and, indeed, white men.  The media need to understand and give women candidates’ credit for messaging and strategies that incorporate gender differences – women candidates and their strategies are not supposed to be just like men’s. I hope the press talk to more women – and many more people of color – who live outside the bubble of punditry about what they hear the candidates saying, and what they are listening for.  The perspective is likely to be different, but also more reflective of the majority of voters.

# # #

It is still 230 days until the Iowa Caucuses when the first votes are cast.  The electorate in Iowa will very likely be larger and younger than eight years ago, and in other states it will be larger, younger, and more ethnically and racially diverse than in the past.  In every state, the majority of the primary electorate will be female. 

In what may be a historically large primary and general election, pollsters don’t quite know who to talk to – and not everyone wants to talk to pollsters.  The best anyone can do at this point is to reach out to the extent they can, and be aware that the dynamics of gender, race, ethnicity – and generation – are changing the electorate in ways that may be difficult to predict.  The picture may look similar in seven months.  Or it may be very different, indeed. 

Author: dianefeldman1764

In December of 2018, I closed down the polling firm I operated for nearly 30 years. I continue to consult and write on research and politics, while living here in Jackson, Mississippi. Jackson is on the Pearl River and so I named the blog View from the Pearl. All views are my own, newly unfettered from the need to run a polling business or please anyone. Please click Follow to receive posts in email.

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