Week 14: The U.S. Presidency and Gendered Political Culture


Photo of Charlotta Bass, publisher and activist
Charlotta Bass, publisher and activist, ran for the vice presidency in 1952 (image ca. 1951/1960 in New York City, Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research).


What are the structural and ideological factors that deter women from running for the highest elected position in the country? How do the media, party politics, the electoral college, campaign financing, the endorsement process, wealth disparity, voter suppression, and so on place obstacles for women who want to run for and win electoral office in general and for the presidency specifically? What perceptions about women, particularly women of color, make it so difficult for the voting constituency to imagine them as heads of state and commanders in chief? What political practices need to be changed to enable democracy to truly function?


Secondary Readings

Bashevkin, Sylvia. Women as Foreign Policy Leaders: National Security and Gender Politics in Superpower America. Oxford University Press, 2020.

In her comparative analysis of Jeane Kirkpatrick, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bashevkin examines the ways that women appointed to high-level foreign policy positions navigated feminism, war and armed conflicts, and political representation. Gendered stereotypes of women cast them as being unfit to hold prestigious diplomatic positions, because they are perceived as struggling to make tough calls, either being too weak and vulnerable, or conversely too dangerously cunning. In reality, Bashevkin finds did not shy away from war and armed conflicts but instead acted strategically and decisively. However, none of these female heads of state managed to unite women with feminist values. Likewise, Republican appointees, Kirkpatrick and Rice, held views on women consistent with moderate and conservative Americans. However, each of these leaders demonstrate that women have played a major role in shaping international U.S. policies since 1980.

Falk, Erika. Women for President: Media Bias in Nine Campaigns. 2nd ed. University of Illinois Press, 2010.

Women for President analyzes the gender bias in media coverage of female presidential candidates from Victoria Woodhull’s 1872 campaign through Hillary Clinton’s run in 2008. In examining the presidential bids of Victoria Woodhull (1872), Belva Lockwood (1884, 1888), Margaret Chase Smith (1964), Shirley Chisholm (1972), Patricia Schroeder (1988), Lenora Fulani (1988, 1992), Elizabeth Dole (2000), Carol Moseley Braun (2004), and Hillary Clinton (2008), author Erika Falk argues that the media casts female candidates as unelectable. Criticism of these candidates relied on gender stereotypes that portray women as emotionally volatile and subsequently unable to lead through crisis. Moreover, Falk finds that since 1872, the press routinely discriminated against female candidates by giving them less coverage overall in comparison to their male opponents and by downplaying women’s political competency. Ultimately Falk finds that there has been minimal change in the sexist media treatment of women candidates in the past 150 years.

Monforti, Jessica Lavariego. "The Latino/a Gender Gap in the 2016 Election." Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies 42, no. 2 (Fall 2017): 229–248.

Given the status of the Latino/a population as a crucial constituency in the 2016 election, political scientist Jessica Monforti studies the gender gap in Latino/a voters to examine how gender and country of origin affects the community’s public opinions and political behavior. In polling people with roots in Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, Monforti shows that Latinas are motivated by intersectional politics and display an attitudinal difference between men and women voters across the national origin groups selected. In demonstrating that gender drives voting differences within the Latino/a community Monforti cautions not to see these voters as a monolithic group but to recognize the nuances within Latino/a origin groups.

Rymph, Catherine E. "Political Feminism and the Problem of Sarah Palin." In Obama, Clinton, Palin: Making History in Election 2008, edited by Gidlow Liette, by Sklar Kathryn Kish, Patterson Tiffany Ruby, Kachun Mitch, Gilmore Glenda E., Hunter Tera W., Hartmann Susan M., Gustafson Melanie, Formisano Ronald, Baker Paula, and Perry Elisabeth I., 137-48. Urbana; Chicago; Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2011. Accessed July 1, 2020.

In this chapter, Catherine E. Rymph discusses the ways that Vice Presidental nominee Sarah Palin promoted herself as both a feminist and a Republican leading up to the 2008 election. To analyze Palin, her identification as a feminist, and the gendered language media pundits used to describe her, Rymph compares her career those of Republican women in the post Watergate years as well as to 1984 Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro. Ferraro was the first female vice presidential nominee to represent a major political party. Rymph’s examination offers a useful understanding of how Sarah Palin branded herself as a Republican feminist, even as she and media pundits set her up as the natural opponent of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Rymph argues that Palin and Clinton faced more scrutiny based on their gender than women face when running for other positions. Like Ferraro and Clinton, Palin represented the possibility of a woman in the White House and helped to pave the way for the next woman who runs.

Spruill, Marjorie. Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women’s Rights and Family Values that Polarized American Politics. New York: Bloomberg, 2017.

Marjorie Spruill argues that the federally funded events surrounding International Women’s Year (IWY) proceedings building up to the 1977 Houston Conference represented the climax of second-wave feminism and the central event for political party restructuring around women’s issues. Detailed attention is paid to leaders surrounding these events, including Betty and Gerald Ford, Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, Margaret “Midge” Costanza, Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Catherine East, Betty Friedan, Phyllis Schlafly, and Rosemary Thomson. The book highlights the political and ideological stakes that both feminists and conservatives navigated in their uncompromising efforts to disavow the legitimacy of their competitor movement in order to shape national policy. Phyllis Schlafly broadened conservative appeal and grassroots networks by linking feminism to lesbianism, abortion, and federal overreach. State-level clashes between feminist and antifeminist delegations within IWY proceedings increased the visibility and power of antifeminist conservative women, while casting doubt among American women about feminism and ERA ratification. The feminist solidarity achieved at Huston polarized instead of united women, which deepened the political divides that continue to shape American politics in the present day.

Primary Sources

Abrams, Stacey. Our Time is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America. NY: Henry Holt & Co., 2020.

Stacey Abrams served in the Georgia House of Representatives, and was the minority leader, before running as the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia. In the wake of her loss, despite winning more votes than any other Democrat in the state’s history, she penned this book to educate about the power of voting and the dangers posed by rampant voter suppression. In tackling issues that threaten democracy, especially voting rights and census rights issues, Abrams offers a call to action for voter protections, citizen participation, and ultimately a vision for a new America constructed in the defense of democracy.

Bui, Tonia. "Shaping the Mainstream As An Asian American Woman." Asian American Policy Review 24 (2013-14).

Tonia Bui debunks the stereotypes within political campaigns that view Asian American women as passive observers, token representatives of their community to perform diversity, or conduits that encourage xenophobia within American politics. She argues that campaigns must hire a diverse population of staffers, especially women of color, to reflect the voting constituency. Staff play integral roles in boosting turnout among minority communities, and their experience helps to build an activist pipeline for future generations. As a former campaign communications director Bui recounts her experience of the ways that she never fit neatly into the ethnic and gender stereotypes others tried to ascribe to her as an Asian American woman in mainstream politics.

Elliott, Philip. “Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono is the Senate’s only immigrant and a thorn in the President’s side.” Time, May 17, 2018.

This article centers Hawai‘i’s Junior Senator Mazie Hirono’s resistance to the Trump Administration. At 70 years old, with Stage IV kidney cancer, Hirono remains vigilant in her constant critique of Trump, anti-immigration policies, and the racism shaping the nation. Born in rural Japan, Hirono was the only immigrant serving in the U.S. Senate in 2018.

LaDuke, Winona. Winona LaDuke Reader: A Collection of Essential Writings. Voyageur Press, 2002.

LaDuke’s collection comprises forty speeches, articles, and excerpts from fictional writing as well as environmental and political writings. Her pieces address environmental justice, Indigenous rights, women’s and children’s issues, and problems with electoral politics. LaDuke also reflects on the case of Bush v Gore from 2000, in which she was the Green Party vice presidential nominee running with Ralph Nadar.

On June 28, 2018, Ed Morales penned this opinion piece for The Washington Post. An adjunct professor at Columbia University's Center of Ethnicity and Race, Morales reflects on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (AOC's) fusion of identity and class politics, which led to her victory over incumbent Joseph Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional District. Latino/a voters interviewed felt that AOC provided representation in Washington, D.C., for racially and ethnically diverse poor and working-class families. AOC politicized her womanhood in a way that carried forward the democratic socialist vision presented by Senator Bernie Sanders from the 2016 campaign. She made space for those critical of the Bernie-Bro narrative, while boosting the Latino/a vote. Her desire to dismantle the violence of the U.S. empire carries through in her political platform, which seeks to address racism, classism, discriminatory politics, and climate change as well as abolish ICE.

Palmieri, Jennifer. Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World. Grand Central Publishing, 2018.

With Hilary Clinton’s 2016 defeat, her communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, penned this open letter to imagine new possibilities and redefine expectations for women in power. Interweaving personal stories and insights from her experiences in politics, Palmieri’s letter offers a roadmap for career women to find success in leadership.

Palin, Sarah. Palin's Speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul." The New York Times, September 3, 2008.

On September 3, 2008, Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin delivered her acceptance speech as the vice presidential running mate to John McCain at the Republican National Convention. Although made infamous for her joke about hockey moms differing from pit bulls because of lipstick, her commentary emphasized protection of the U.S. empire, military, and foreign policy. Palin positioned herself as the mother of a military family, from a small-town that supplied American soldiers. Moreover, she linked her family to histories of colonization, noting her husband’s Indigenous ancestry and connections to the fishing and oil industries. Gesturing toward climate degradation as an American right to energy, Palin noted the threat that Russia, Iran, and Venezuela posed should the United States fail to exploit the natural resources within its control. Palin called for the perpetuation of climate injustice boasting the construction of a nearly $40 billion natural gas pipeline to ensure American energy independence. Palin presented her position within party politics as synonymous with furthering the goals of the U.S. empire.


“Charlotta Bass.” Unladylike2020.

This video features journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and curator Susan D. Anderson of the California African American Museum discussing the life of Charlotta Spears Bass, journalist, civil rights activist, and political candidate. Bass moved to California in the Great Migration in 1906 and subsequently bought a newspaper called The Eagle that focused on the Black community’s news stories in Los Angeles in 1912 and renamed it The California Eagle. Charlotta and her husband Joseph grew the paper to national prominence as a leading publication addressing the needs of the Black community. Bass joined the Black Labor Movement and continued to publish her newspaper through 1951. A lifelong Republican, she switched parties to the Progressive Party, which she co-founded. By 1952 she became the first African American woman to run for Vice President of the United States, campaigning with presidential candidate Vincent Hallinan on the Progressive Party ticket.

This documentary follows several women of color—including Rashida Tlaib, Stacey Abrams, Bushra Amiwala, Maria Elena Durazo, Veronica Escobar, and Lucy McBath—throughout their 2018 campaigns in what the directors say demonstrates “the New American Majority.” These campaigns tell a story of women pushing back against local, state, and federal institutions to show how systemic change happens. The documentary emphasizes the activists, organizers, and volunteers within the campaigns and stands as a testimony to the long history of the social movement efforts sustained by women of color.

Additional Readings

Rymph, Catherine. Republican Women: Feminism and Conservatism from Suffrage Through the Rise of the New Right. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Kim, Richard, and Betsy Reed, eds. Going Rouge: An American Nightmare. New York: OR Books, 2009. doi:10.2307/j.ctt1bkm5px.

Falk, Erika and Kate Kenski. “Issue Saliency and Gender Stereotypes: Support for Women as Presidents in Times of War and Terrorism.” Social Science Quarterly 87, no. 1 (March 2006): 1–18.

Clift, Eleanor. Madame President: Women Blazing the Leadership Trail. Routledge, 2003.

Meyer, Leisa D. "Creating G.I. Jane: The Regulation of Sexuality and Sexual Behavior in the Women's Army Corps during World War II." Feminist Studies 18, no. 3 (1992): 581-601. doi:10.2307/3178084.

Vaughn, Justin S. and Lily J. Goren, eds. Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics. University Press of Kentucky, 2012.

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