Caroline Heldman: The Whitehouse is Not Yet Ready for a Woman

Caroline Heldman, Chair of Political Science at Occidental College, believes that America is not yet ready to have a woman president. In her talk titled, “Are We Ready for a Woman in the White House,” in Kemper Auditorium last Wednesday, Heldman tied ideas of toxic masculinity and the objectification of women into the America’s current political climate and previous presidential elections.

Emily Qian ’19 said,“I thought it was really interesting how she made it apparent that we are not ready for a woman in the White House yet. It was hard to hear that, but from the data she presented, it was obvious. The negative news coverage and coverage on appearance is so much higher when directed towards women than towards men. I think Dr. Heldman really opened my eyes to the sexism that is very much prevalent in politics and especially in the presidency.”

Heldman based her claim on statistics about the media’s negative portrayal of women and how the image of an American president has evolved into a white man.

“The moment that you think about a female candidate’s appearance — it damages her chances of electability. One study done by Heflick and Goldenberg after Sarah Palin’s run found that amongst Republicans, if you sexually objectify Sarah Palin…, it actually lowered your support for her as a candidate… She was sexually objectified by the press, and that gave people permission to not see her as being as legitimate of a candidate,” said Heldman in her presentation.

In one slide, she pointed out that female candidates generally receive less overall coverage, more overall negative reports, more talk about their families, less issue-based coverage, and lastly, more talk about their appearance.

Heldman referenced Hillary Clinton in the recent presidential election and how the media shifted stories to comment more on Clinton’s personal life and capability as a female candidate.

Heldman said that males are typically stereotyped to have more leadership qualities and are rated higher than girls in male-dominated employment opportunities. Additionally, Heldman says that there is a lack of support for female ambition and that females also often perceive themselves as less-qualified than men.

“Men are seen as the default leaders, and women are rated more negatively for the same behaviors. Women are much more likely to be perceived as abrasive and receive negative performance reviews as a result,” she said.

Allegra Stewart ’18 said, “I’ve always carried that idea with me, but never really known how it related to current times or how it really manifested in a female candidate. I think [the talk] brought up a lot of things that I’ve always kind of known but never really knew how to put together in terms of cohesive thought, so it was really powerful to link all the ideas that I had in terms of seeing empirical data and realizing that everything that I’ve speculated over the years turns out to have concrete evidence.”