The Sarah Palin Syndrome: The After-Effects Of A Female Political Loss

The Sarah Palin Syndrome: The After-Effects Of A Female Political Loss

Politics aren’t our specialty. Yet on Election Day, they’re on our mind—especially when we think of the women.

We’re not the only ones. A study from the Center for American Women In Politics at Rutgers University expects that this midterm election will result in the first decrease in the total number of women in Congress in three decades. While this in itself is discouraging (as is the expected defeat of Democrats across the board, if you lean at all to the left), the repercussions are truly cringe-worthy.

Women Are Surrounded By Glass On All Sides

This year’s elections bring with them a number of high-profile, polarizing female candidates, from the original (Sarah Palin) to version 2.0 (Christine O’Donnell). There are the conservative Republicans bulldozing their way through the elections, and liberal Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi clinging to increasingly precarious positions. But no matter whether a candidate’s name is followed by an R or D, women candidates face their own set of challenges—The Huffington Post’s Caroline Simard reminds us that it’s already been named the Glass Cliff. From HuffPo:

As more women assume leadership positions, we however have to be aware of a very real and very damaging form of potential bias against women candidates: the Glass Cliff. This body of research shows that women are more likely to be chosen for leadership positions when the position itself is precarious—that is, when the risk of failure is high. This phenomenon, coined by academics Alex Haslam, Michelle Ryan, and their colleagues, shows that when a job description entails an organization or group in "crisis," individuals are more likely to choose a woman for that position: in this article, Haslam says his research shows "There seems to be an unwritten law that says 'think female, think crisis...' If a company is doing well, then the 'jobs for the boys' rules still apply, but if it is in trouble, no man wants to give the job to their friends it seems, so for many the answer is to get in a woman."

Don’t Underestimate The Repercussions Of A Loss

Women as scapegoats. Nice. And because of the oft-cited female tendency not only to internalize criticism, but also to doubt ourselves and display a damaging amount of modesty (“I’ll ask for a raise next year—I don’t see where I’ve done anything that special lately”), political losses and failings may shake the confidence of potential future female candidates. From MarketWatch:

[Women & Politics Institute At American University Director] Lawless, who ran in a 2006 Democratic House primary race in Rhode Island, said the large number of high-profile women running for office in 2010 that are expected to lose will likely discourage women from running in future elections. “On the symbolic front it is problematic,” Lawless said. “Women see these losses and that resonates with them. They think ‘if she can’t win I can’t win either.’”

Sex Shouldn’t Outweigh Politics

Politician is a job. It’s a career that produces an income; it’s a trip to the office every day; it’s a slot on your resumé. To think that one candidate failing to get the job (say, Sarah Palin) would discourage others from even applying goes against the basic tenets of American meritocracy. As you vote today—and in the future—remember that women are not simply incendiary figureheads for political parties. They’re individuals, with individual experiences, convictions, and potential. Judge them accordingly.

Tell us in the comments: Take Sarah Palin as an example: Does being female outweigh her politics? When voting, do you judge a female candidate for her politics or her sex?

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Image Credit: Sydney Morning Herald

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