Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation is a compilation of stories about women’s representation in politics, on boards, in sports and entertainment, in judicial offices and in the private sector in the U.S. and around the world—with a little gardening and goodwill mixed in for refreshment!
The very first televised presidential debate was held on November 4, 1956 between former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (representing the Democratic Party) and Margaret Chase Smith (representing the GOP), according to the U.S. Senate Archives.
I’m sharing below one of my favorite nuggets from history to remind us of a time when debates were dignified and policy-focused (unlike this week):
Which presidential campaign produced the first nationally televised debate? The typical answer to that question is 1960, Kennedy v. Nixon. In fact, the first televised debate occurred four years earlier, when Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson challenged incumbent Republican president Dwight Eisenhower—but those two men did not appear in the debate.
Instead, on November 4, 1956, two surrogates debated the issues on network television: for the Democrats, former First Lady and party icon Eleanor Roosevelt; for the Republicans, the senior senator from Maine, Margaret Chase Smith. That’s right—the first televised presidential debate featured two women.
By 1956 Margaret Chase Smith was in her second term in the Senate and had known Eleanor Roosevelt for two decades.
“I respected and admired Mrs. Roosevelt for her intelligence and active leadership,” wrote Smith in her autobiography. Smith had been a frequent visitor to the Roosevelt White House and had appeared on the First Lady’s radio program. They both published a daily newspaper column. By 1956 both women routinely appeared on lists of America’s most admired women.
As the 1956 campaign began, Roosevelt emerged as Adlai Stevenson’s strongest advocate. She played such a crucial role in cinching his nomination that she became known as the “Heroine of the Convention” and then proved to be a skilled campaigner. Senator Smith also was a seasoned politician by this time. She gained national attention in 1950 when she took on Joe McCarthy, became the first woman to serve on the Armed Services Committee in 1953, and in 1954 easily trounced her opponent to gain reelection. When the Republican National Committee was looking for a worthy opponent for Eleanor Roosevelt, Smith was the logical choice.
The forum for debate was the CBS program Face the Nation, then in its second season, and this was the first time a woman appeared on that program. Although Smith was not yet sure of her debating skills, she was confident that she could offer a strong argument in support of Eisenhower. For that reason, she insisted on a two-minute closing statement, and CBS reluctantly agreed. Smith then carefully calculated choices in wardrobe and hairstyle, to provide a contrast to the more grandmotherly Roosevelt. She also considered demeanor. She had to be forceful, but polite; knowledgeable, yet demure. “I would answer the questions as briefly as possible,” Smith decided, and in an “even-pitched tone.”
The event took place two days before the election, and focused almost entirely on issues of foreign policy. As planned, Smith remained poised and taciturn, a strategy that allowed the more talkative Roosevelt to dominate—until the closing statements. Then, Smith offered a forceful, concise argument that touched on many key issues.
“What was surprising” about the final statement “was my abrupt change in delivery,” Smith recalled. “It was not the soft, restrained, measured delivery” of the debate; rather, “it was a biting staccato.”
This change in demeanor unnerved and angered Eleanor Roosevelt, who refused to shake hands after the debate.
This exchange on Twitter between noted author Jill Filipovic and Hillary Clinton captures the acrimony of the debate and the quadruple standard that women have faced on the debate stage. There was a powerful piece by Alia Dastagir in USA Today that cites research from the Barbara Lee Family Foundation on attitudes toward women in politics and explores the gendered nature of the presidential election process:
When Trump called Clinton a “nasty” woman while she talked about Social Security during the third presidential debate in October 2016, she ignored him, finishing her answer without acknowledging the insult. Clinton knew the unspoken rules for women, and while she tried her best to follow them, she was often caught between the expectations of her gender and the qualities people tend to associate with leadership.
Words that Clinton could never utter, Biden’s campaign will now use on T-shirts.
“Whether you’re a woman, a person of color or someone from an identity that’s in any other way marginalized, it’s difficult to see yourself in the position of these leaders, because they’re operating in a world that you’re not permitted to operate in,” said Laura Palumbo of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. “The double standards are very clear in that behaviors that are admired and respected in certain individuals are exactly what others have to be intentional in avoiding in order to be taken seriously.”
‘It was painful. And triggering’: Psychologists say debate could be traumatizing
Many people called Tuesday night’s debate, which was rife with insults and interruptions, a devastating example of the state of American politics. But it was something else, too: a confrontation that could take place only between two white men.
Double standards: ‘You can’t be angry’
No female challenger would ever have told Trump to shut up. Even if she wanted to.
The stereotypical idea of a woman is kind, gentle, moral and compassionate. But stereotypical notions of leadership – toughness, assertiveness, the ability to “take charge” – are typically associated with men. For women to rise to leadership positions, they must retain their stereotypical femininity while also exhibiting characteristics we associate with men. The problem is that once women start exhibiting those stereotypical male traits, they are seen as less feminine and ultimately less likable.
“There’s no language that women are allowed to speak to stand up for themselves,” said Juliet Williams, a professor of gender studies at UCLA. “So clearly it would have been ridiculous for her to go: ‘Come on, man. This is unpresidential.’ It’s not just that we’re barred from the boardrooms and the golf clubs, we’re not even entitled to use the same language. It wouldn’t work at all. And clearly you can’t be angry, you can’t be aggressive.”
Research from the nonpartisan Barbara Lee Family Foundation shows that women in politics have to be likable to get a person’s vote, but men don’t need to be liked to be elected. Qualities such as ambition and assertiveness, which are lauded in male leaders, are the very things that make women less likable, and therefore less electable.
As it turns out, I have a chapter in a book that is out just this week that explores the history of women who have been nominated for the presidency and vice presidency and proposes a number of reforms to increase the number of women running for president.
The strategies I discuss in The Best Candidate: Presidential Nomination in Polarized Times can be applied to all executive races and to all sectors where women’s leadership must be normalized. If you want to peak at the chapter but don’t want to purchase the book you can find the text here:
As six women entered the field of Democratic presidential candidates in 2019, the political media rushed to declare 2020 a new “year of the woman.” In the Washington Post, one political commentator proclaimed that “2020 may be historic for women in more ways than one” given that four of these woman presidential candidates were already holding a U.S. Senate seat.
A writer for Vox similarly hailed the “unprecedented range of solid women” seeking the nomination and urged Democrats to nominate one of them. Politico ran a piece definitively declaring that “2020 will be the year of the woman” and went on to suggest that the “Democratic primary landscape looks to be tilted to another woman presidential nominee.”
The excited tone projected by the media carried an air of inevitability: After Hillary Clinton lost in 2016, despite receiving 2.8 million more popular votes than her opponent, ever more women were running for the presidency.
She the People is spotlighting 20 women of color in down-ballot races to watch in this election because this moment is about so much more than one race. It’s about building a coalition of women, who, for far too long, have been impacted most by our country’s greatest challenges, yet overlooked and underserved by our government leaders. It’s about energizing women of color voters, who are the margin of victory in key battleground states. And it’s about creating space for women of color in politics, at every level, so that our issues and our voices will finally be addressed, heard and represented.
The stakes have never been higher. And women of color have never been more prepared to lead.
From Senate seats to local elections, women of color are running in historic numbers. These down-ballot races are what will motivate women of color voters — the largest growing voter bloc than any other group in the country—because we know that women of color candidates are ready to lead on issues we most care about: social justice, immigration policies, equity in health care and education, police accountability.
This is the new squad, occupying seats of power throughout the country and energized by their belief in democracy, justice and service.
Women candidates and candidates of color are making gains in Brazilian municipal elections according to this story in Folha de S.Paulo by Flávia Faria, Guilherme Garcia and Ranier Bragon:
The 526,000 candidacy registrations computed so far for the municipal elections in November already represent a record in the total number of candidates, female candidates, and, for the first time in history, a self-declared majority Black (Black or brown) in relation to those who identify themselves as white.
The growth of Blacks and women in the mayoral and city council disputes stems from gender quotas from the 90s and the most recent quotas for the distribution of campaign funds and electoral propaganda.
To explain Blacks’ greater presence, experts say more people are recognizing themselves as black and brown after actions to combat racism.
Until the night of this Sunday (27), the percentage of female candidates was 34%, 177 thousand competitors. In the last three elections, this index did not exceed 32%. Under current rules, parties must reserve at least 30% of candidate slots and public campaign funds for them.
Conversations about increasing women’s representation through electoral reform in Liberia are underway according to this story in Front Page Africa:
The equal representation of women and other historically marginalized groups is a matter of democratic deepening, as well as national development: “It is only when institutions are democratic and representative of all groups in society, women as well as men, minorities as well as majorities, the dispossessed as well as the affluent, that societies are stable, and then peace and national prosperity are likely to be achieved.
Heading into Senatorial elections – and with electoral reform propositions before the Legislature – the dialogue was timely. In August, there was a public hearing on the proposed electoral reforms, including 4.5 b, c which state that parties should “endeavour to ensure” no less than 30% of either gender on candidate listings and in party hierarchies. From 2005 to 2015, not a single political party met the 30% threshold, (“National Elections Commission. 2017. Research on Women’s Participation as Candidates in Elections from 2005 – 2015. Republic of Liberia. And in 2017 only one party (Liberia Restoration Party) met the 30%. The largest, most visible parties/coalitions on the national stage did not come close – with Unity Party at 17%, CDC at 11.5%, and Liberty Party at 10% (“National Elections Commission”).
As Honorable Rosanna Schaack explained during the dialogue, the language – that political parties should “endeavour to ensure” is not binding, so one of the Elections Law Reform Propositions is to make it so political parties “shall ensure” a minimum of 30% of the underrepresented gender. Moreover, she explained, the proposed reform also includes a new clause, which would give the National Elections Commission the authority to reject political parties that do not have the required 30% in their leadership and on their listing.
Madam Duncan-Cassell also reinforced this point noting that it will also be necessary for the Coalition of Women in Political Parties (COPWIL) and other stakeholder’s working together with them “to ensure that political parties as they are preparing for conventions come 2021-2022, that the hierarchy of the party include women – not just the women wing or women congress – and ensuring that when the party presents their candidates to NEC that NEC do what they are supposed to do in the Elections Law.”
A member of the Scottish Labour Party Women’s Committee, Siobhan McCready, writes this week about efforts to ensure increased representation of women and young people within the party and in Parliament:
For as long as I can remember, Labour and trade union women in Scotland have been organising and lobbying for fair and equal representation. The STUC’s 50/50 campaign ran throughout the ‘90s. Working with politicians and a vibrant and diverse Civic Scotland, the Scottish Constitutional Committee committed to deliver real change. The demand was for a Scottish parliament, supporting gender balance right from the beginning. Letters were signed by many to that effect, including one Richard Leonard.
When a Scottish parliament was finally delivered, Scottish Labour honoured that pledge, delivering 50% of the party’s MSP group as women in 1999. In 2003, that went to 56% but it has fallen back in recent years and the fight for 50/50 must again be won.
As things stand, a whole generation of younger women know that representation is anything but equal. For those who worked so hard to deliver the Scottish parliament, it seems like a betrayal – and yes, many women use that word to describe just how let down they feel.
Richard Leonard was elected on a platform promising to improve representation, and the Scottish Labour women’s committee have held him to his commitment every step of the way. It’s been a difficult few years but they have worked tirelessly to reclaim lost ground and ensure that at least 50% women, in all our diversity, are selected as candidates for the 2021 Holyrood election.
The last few Scottish executives have discussed this, agreed the principle, and a working group led by deputy leader Jackie Baillie was set up to examine options. Conversations have been had with representatives from right across our movement. A number of options have been considered, but the goal throughout has been to deliver at least 50/50. The most obvious way to achieve that was to ensure a woman finishes top in each regional list for next year’s Scottish elections.
My daughter Becca Richie, who graduated from college in May, has been working for an organization called Beautiful Trouble before she settles in France to teach English. She is working with a terrific team to build strategies to expand meaningful democratic participation internationally. She writes:
Looking for strategies to combat the dictatorial efforts shadowing the U.S. presidential election this year? Join us at noon this Tuesday, October 6,to hear from activists who are all too familiar with strategic resistance against dictators.
Join Joana Varon (Brazil), Joaquin Gonzalez (the Philippines ), Ivan Marovic (Serbia), Muhammed Lamin Saidykhan (Gambia), and Stephen Zunes (USA) for lessons in defending democracy from around the world.
Please share widely, democracy defense will take all of us, one of the reasons we have partnered with BlackOUT Collective and Nonviolence International to make this webinar happen.
Britons urgently want an economy which prioritises gender equality and ensures care work and household chores are distributed equally between men and women, a new study has found.
Research by the Women’s Budget Group found four in five believe women and men should share childcare and caring for older and disabled family members equally.
Campaigners say the coronavirus crisis has shone a light on pre-existing inequalities in how unpaid care work is dished out within families – with the pandemic having aggravated gender gaps.
Two in three of the 2052 people polled thought the government should encourage and financially support men to do more carework, with this figure rising to three quarters of those living in former red wall areas.
Previous studies have shown women bore the brunt of childcare responsibilities, household chores and homeschooling during lockdown, irrespective of whether they were working or not, while the closure of schools and childcare providers has compounded existing inequalities in how such duties are distributed among some couples.
The Women in Politics Institute at American University has a terrific series—Women on Wednesdays—this coming week the conversation will be held on Thursday, October 8th, to discuss the VP debate scheduled for Oct. 7. Register here.
Following the Vice Presidential debate, please join the Women & Politics Institute and Sine Institute for Policy and Politics for a virtual conversation with former CNN Anchor and 2012 Presidential Debate Moderator Candy Crowley, Political Strategist Karen Finney, and NBC News Correspondent and host of MSNBC’s “Way too Early” Kasie Hunt, as they analyze the only vice presidential debate of 2020. The discussion will be facilitated by WPI Executive Director Betsy Fischer Martin.
The panel will discuss key take-aways from the previous night’s vice presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic nominee Kamala Harris, the first African-American and first Asian-American woman VP candidate on a major party ticket.
This week the RepresentWomen team features must-reads for young feminists from Astrid Lindgren, Diane Stanley and Kate Parker.