It’s 2016. You flip the channel to the debate, thinking that no election could be more contentious than this one. As the debate begins so do the candidates' interruptions. As Donald Trump interrupts Hillary Clinton, claiming he never called climate change a hoax or perpetrated by the Chinese, Clinton turns her head and with an exasperated look blurts out “Will you shut up, man?”
Of course that never happened, nor could it happen. While Joe Biden is touting his quip against Trump with apparel, Clinton in a simple reply to a tweet expressed what so many American women know; she could never have said that. Women in politics deal with prejudices and standards that men can transcend. A female candidate telling a male candidate to shut up on national television, even if it was warranted, would have looked unpresidential, a dangerous thing to be when one is already battling institutionalized sexism in politics and power.
Women have made great strides in the last century, but what is done on paper does not always correlate to an equal change in American attitudes. Men in politics, both Democratic and Republican, can simply escape repercussions for actions or words that women in politics would be “canceled” for doing or saying. The 2020 election, with its two old, white, and male candidates, has been a prime example of this double standard.
People, for example, are willing to accept male candidates with morally questionable records on sexual misconduct. Trump has 26 allegations of sexual misconduct against him and Biden has eight allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior. Meanwhile, in 2016, Trump deflected questions about his disparaging and offensive comments about women by shifting attention to Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs and inappropriate conduct. The public is eager to associate Hillary with her husband’s misconduct, tearing her down. Why should a woman pay for a man’s mistakes? If Melania Trump or Jill Biden were accused of sexual misconduct would we be asking Trump and Biden to answer for them? Would it make us question their ability to govern? American society instead treats men differently, encouraging us to tear down women for a man’s actions, while overlooking misconduct in men. After all, regardless of who they cast their ballot for, most Americans are willing to overlook allegations of sexual assault in this election.
The standards male politicians and candidates are held to are, therefore, radically different from those women face in politics, well exemplified by this election. Biden and Trump are on an even playing ground in a variety of respects. Neither has to worry about coming off as “bossy,” “nasty,” or “emotional,” words employed to describe female politicians. Instead they enjoy free rhetorical rein, able to say more without fear of looking unpresidential, and have lower standards for decency. Put simply, they can get away with more.
The fictional character of Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation summed it up best when realizing she could not be fired from her job, giving her free rein to do whatever she liked: “There are no consequences to my actions anymore. No matter what I do literally nothing bad can happen to me. I’m like a white male U.S. senator.”
ISABELLA GLASSMAN is a College sophomore studying Philosophy, Politics, & Economics.