Sunday, September 19, 2021
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Changing Standards for Women in Politics

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The actions of women in politics that shatter glass expectations molded from patriarchal ideals.

A commonly cited quote in political science classrooms or conversations surrounding women in government nationwide is that “women on average need to be asked at least seven times before they consider even running for office while men need to be asked zero.” Despite this, women and men have equal chances of winning elections, meaning often the reason we see more men in office — ignoring centuries of the field being male-dominated — comes down to confidence, encouragement, and inflated egos.

With 2021 being the year we received our first female Vice President, Kamala Harris, it’s undeniable that we’re only beginning to see the payoff of decades-old demands for representation. The positive takeaways and significance of having women in government office are clear, but the diplomatic field is an already bloodthirsty arena where those involved fight daily to defend their beliefs and personhood. The pressure to represent the public; be re-elected; and not make a national, state, or local fool of yourself must all greatly take a toll on one’s mental health.

What benefits do women in the political field gain if myths and misogyny about their gender creep behind every ‘glass corridor’? More importantly, what issues need to be addressed to create an atmosphere that encourages all women to run for office? It is important to seek actions that are needed to subvert beauty standards, characteristics, and expectations to create a more accurate and authentic portrayal of our female politicians.

“WOMEN MUST BE SEEN AND NOT HEARD”

The old saying “children must be seen and not heard” often translates itself into how women are viewed within a political or workplace setting. While in office, women are expected to not advance themselves or take up powerful positions within their area of government. Essentially, they are expected to be present for “gender diversity points” but not for purposes of true representation.

Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota also defies pre-set opinions based on her sex. According to her website, “Senator Klobuchar has built a reputation of putting partisanship aside to help strengthen the economy and support families, workers, and businesses. In 2019, an analysis by Vanderbilt University ranked her as the ‘most effective’ Democratic senator in the 115th Congress.”

Famous in Congress for their progressive policies, women of “the Squad” openly defy the notion that they must appear to be charming, sweet, and cannot openly fight for or proudly state their beliefs. From firmly preventing racist attacks against them to calling out others on their blatant misogyny, women of the Squad do not stand for disrespect and are happy to be both seen and heard by their colleagues.

Photo by Vogue

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Guide to Her Signature Red Lip | Beauty Secrets | Vogue

BEAUTY AND FASHION EXPECTATIONS

In Congress — and honestly, a majority of workplaces — women are expected to effortlessly walk a fine line to ‘look beautiful but appropriate, and don’t be self-centered, too confident, or talk about how you look.’ It’s an idea that must be a woman’s main priority in her place of work. In an article written by The Atlantic, we see how ideals and expectations of beauty hinder female politicians, such as how “talking about their looks makes women running for office seem less competent, less effective, and less qualified — even when it’s just praise and compliments.” So the women of politics are forced to comply with masculine standards of ignoring femininity and are still required to be perceived as feminine? Funny.

In a YouTube video filmed by US Vogue in mid-2020, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez filmed a guide to her everyday makeup routine, a series by Vogue that normally casts celebrities as their focus. Shortly into her beauty routine, AOC mentions that “the reason why I think it’s so important to share these things is that — first of all, femininity has power. And in politics, there is so much criticism and nitpicking about how women and femme people present ourselves. Just being a woman is quite politicized here in Washington. There’s this really false idea that if you care about makeup or … if your interests are in beauty and fashion, that that’s somehow frivolous. But I actually think these are some of the most substantive decisions that we make and we make them every morning.”

Before the filming of her beauty routine, a 2018 campaign Netflix feature titled “Knock Down the House” opened with her insight: “Getting ready, for women — it involves so many decisions about how you’re gonna present yourself to the world. ’Cause there’s kind of a standard protocol for how a man running for office, like, should dress. You either put on a suit, or you put on a light color shirt, slacks, and you roll up the sleeves. Or… I mean, those are pretty much your two options.”

According to Politico, female politicians avoided speaking on beauty routines or fashion elements for decades likely because “the first woman elected to Congress was hailed by The Washington Post as ‘Congresswoman Rankin Real Girl; Likes Nice Gowns and Tidy Hair.’” Female politicians wanted to be viewed as serious government officials and “many thought discussion of anything other than ‘serious’ issues like health care policy would jeopardize that.”

Photo by Jessica Katzenmeyer

INTERVIEW WITH JESSICA KATZENMEYER

For this article, I had the pleasure of interviewing politician and activist Jessica Katzenmeyer who previously ran for Wisconsin State Assembly to represent District 15 in 2020 who unfortunately lost her election but plans to run again.

When asked what was expected of her as a transgender woman running for office, Katzenmeyer replied, “When I filed in January of 2020, I remember my campaign manager telling me ‘image was going to be my biggest issue.’” Her manager wanted to tone down her previously bright red hair, required her hair to always be either straightened or curled, and made it essential for Katzenmeyer to always wear makeup at events.

“It takes thick skin to be a candidate because you’re going to be attacked. I had to watch everything I said, everyone was watching me. No matter how upset I was, I had to use other ways to express my frustration.” Rumors were that Katzenmeyer was followed around by people who would eagerly wait for her to ‘mess up’ and divert favor to her main political opponent. Katzenmeyer told me that every time she walks out of her home she thinks to herself, “Okay, you’re on the stage, you’ve got the spotlight on you.”

When asked if she felt an expectation from the public for her to follow ‘beauty protocol’ in order to be taken seriously, Kratzenmeyer agreed, “I think so, yes. I know that if I wasn’t looking good at an event someone was going to come up to me and ask ‘Why were you wearing what you were wearing?’ We’re put on a high pedestal on what we’re supposed to look like in public.”

My conversation with Kratzenmeyer made me wonder how much of the fashion and beauty elements of her campaign were her choice versus a requirement. “When I was wearing more professional clothes it was a requirement,” she confirmed. “My campaign manager would go shopping with me and tell me what to try on. It was her decision to choose what would look good on me but I still had the final say, but she did kind of shape me out as the kind of candidate she wanted me to be. Every day I still look good and wear cute tops. I wear jeans a lot too but if I go to council meetings or other ‘government stuff’ I make sure to dress up. I care about my job and want to give off that impression.”

To my final question of if she felt her gender and appearance affected how she was listened to by the public, she responded with, “People wanted to make fun of my looks,” a vulnerable start, and that “they would call me ‘man baby’ and would make fun of my looks instead of looking at my policies.” Kratzenmeyer believes it is damaging to put such a high amount of pressure on how women are perceived. She mentioned how “people are constantly talking about how a woman looks or what she is wearing. We have to think if we’re making decisions off of how women look or what their policies are.” Despite the obvious pressures of her political career and hate she receives from those who might not view her as a true activist or politician, Kratzenmeyer tries to spend time with people who uplift her, support her, and make her feel successful, a mind-frame that has helped drive her forward and I believe will most definitely help her in future victories.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE

The first female mayor elected to office was Susanna M. Salter. As stated in an article by Smithsonian Magazine, “Susanna Salter never really ran a campaign for office. She didn’t even put her name on the ballot during the 1887 mayoral election in Argonia, Kansas. A group of men who wanted to humiliate both her and the causes she allied herself with [i.e. activism] did it for her.” Previously, in the earlier months of 1887, the women of Kansas gained the right to vote in municipal elections meaning Salter won her seat because of the actions of suffragettes and her fellow women.

The actions of women in 1887 need to be brought into 2021. Women need to stand together against daily occurrences and expectations that force us to remain stagnant in the fight against our oppressors. The inflated egos of men and the assumptions they hold towards women are their flaws. Salter did not stop her activism or remove her name from the ballot when she found out about this ‘humiliation;’ instead, she continued to proudly stand for her beliefs, care for her family, and eventually take office when she won with over two-thirds of the vote.

Like Salter, we need to discard the pre-set parameters of femininity and masculinity and instead choose to be unapologetically ourselves. So many of our oppressor’s tactics come from a source of degradation. We are told to be ashamed that we are too outspoken, ashamed that we don’t have a family to care for, ashamed that we don’t spend enough time with our family, ashamed that we don’t look feminine — the list goes on. Perhaps we should concern ourselves less with fitting into the image of the ‘perfect woman’ — an idea crafted from the imagination of those who more often than not miss the toilet seat — and focus more on healing ourselves from daily actions we somehow managed to convince were humiliating.

Photo by Saul Loeb.