So, How'd the Female Candidates Do?

Can You Imagine Two Women Running for President?
What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
Nov. 5 2010 10:55 AM

So, How'd the Female Candidates Do?


Post midterm, the most prominent female Democrat is still Hillary Clinton and the most prominent female Republican is still Sarah Palin. In other words, no sudden newcomer seems on the verge of a meteoric rise. Instead, we see glimmers on the horizon of potential new Republican female stars—Nikki Haley, Kelly Ayotte, incoming New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. At the moment, none of them have quite the pop of the new Florida senator, Marco Rubio. Still, they all emerged from the election with new prominence and their dignity and credibility intact. Tuesday was tougher for female Democrats trying to move up, like Alex Sink in Florida, though some big veterans held on (Boxer, Gillibrand *, and it's finally official, Patty Murray). One potential if relatively obscure bright spot: Though her opponent hasn't conceded, it looks like Kamala Harris, the African-American D.A. in San Francisco, eked out a victory for California attorney general. That's the post incoming Gov. Jerry Brown will vacate.

For evidence that this was, for women, the Year of the Backslide, read this Washington Post article on the decreased diversity of the new Congress. "Flipping through their portraits, you see a blur of white men," the writers say of the 100-plus new lawmakers coming to Washington. In a smart piece in Slate, Amanda Marcotte saw in the election returns a "curse of the Mama Grizzly." Candidates like Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell lost, Amanda argues, because "they present a contradiction, laying claim to feminism while denouncing most feminist ideals." This was supposed to be an asset, but it's not, because conservatives sees ambitious women as suspect, and the media sees them as catnip and over-covers their every move.

Emily Bazelon Emily Bazelon

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones


I'm with Amanda on the extent of the media coverage, but I think O'Donnell and Angle lost mostly because they were hugely flawed candidates. A man who'd mismanaged his finances the way O'Donnell had, or said the wacky things that Angle said, would also have gotten trounced. For Exhibits A and B, I give you Carl Paladino in New York and (probably) Joe Miller in Alaska. Maybe the Mama Grizzlies aren't cursed—just fallible and beatable, like everyone else. To return to your Sex and the City metaphor, Hanna: Why would we ever imagine the Samanthas would win elections? Dahlia, you brought up the success of the Susan B. Anthony List in backing winning pro-life candidates. You're right, but a number of those victories involved their support for "pro-life men running against pro-abortion women," as the group itself puts it, and as Robin Marty at RH Reality Check pointed out. This also scrambles the conservative feminist picture.

Over at TheNew Yorker, Rebecca Traister, author of Big Girls Don't Cry, cheers for how much the campaign sparked discussion of gender-inflected politics and sexism. Dahlia, you ask how we can keep that conversation going. The cyclical nature of it doesn't really bother me—the election season is quite long enough, thank you. And I was struck this time around by how often questions about women candidates and their varying appeal did course through all kinds of media coverage and public discussion. The topic jumped the pink ghetto fence and didn't look back. Meanwhile, I agree with Hanna that women made it pretty clear, in rejecting candidates like Meg Whitman and Linda McMahon, that they were voting issues, not biology. Which to me is another sign of progress. Maybe someday what felt new and striking this year—women running against women, women calling out sexist attacks by their opponents—will seem ordinary. Will we arrive at that point before one of the major parties chooses to run a woman for president? Or is that merely a matter of time, and can we look beyond it to the heady prospect of two women running against each other?

Let's save those questions for next time and wrap up the discussion for now. It's been super fun, as always,


Correction, Nov. 5, 2010: This post originally misspelled Gillibrand. (Return to the corrected sentence)



Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?


Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
Oct. 21 2014 8:38 AM An Implanted Wearable Gadget Isn’t as Crazy as You’d Think Products like New Deal Design’s UnderSkin may be the future.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 21 2014 7:00 AM Watch the Moon Eat the Sun: The Partial Solar Eclipse on Thursday, Oct. 23
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.