If You’re Female and Running for President, You Better Be Perfect

  • 2016-07-27
  • Boston Globe

NOW THAT HILLARY Clinton is about to become the Democratic nominee to take on Donald Trump, let’s examine why so many voters claim they dislike and distrust her. It was not always so.

When Clinton was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, she hit a high of 66 percent favorability rating and was consistently voted the most admired woman in the world. When New Yorkers elected Clinton to the US Senate, she had small hurdles to overcome, but gender was not one of them. We are used to electing female senators and have seen them succeed. As a New York senator, her favorability was 58 percent. Today her favorability is 38.2 percent. What happened?

She is the same woman as she was three years ago. She has not changed her genome, her values, or her vision for America. What has changed is that she has emblazoned the word “ambition” on her forehead by declaring that she wants to be president.

When women leaders step into territory traditionally occupied by men, something odd happens, according to research by Victoria Brescoll, a social psychologist at the Yale School of Management. Brescoll cites a case in which a male police chief made a mistake managing protesters and compares his favorability with a female police chief in the identical situation. His mistake cost him a 10 percent loss in favorability; she plummeted 30 percent.

We expect a great deal from a female candidate for president. It’s called perfection. The slightest stumble is magnified ten-fold. Compare Clinton’s e-mail carelessness with any of Trump’s deliberate false activities with Trump University, his bankruptcies, and the complaints from his vendors who still are waiting to be paid. Men wear imperfection comfortably. Some voters are incredibly forgiving of male politicians’ mistakes. “Boys will be boys,” but girls must be goddesses.