Women Candidates Face High Standards

The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 1, 2007; 2:54 AM

NEW YORK -- For the first time in history, a woman has the visibility, the reputation and the cash to make a serious run at the presidency.

It would seem that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, would be in a solid position to parlay the female vote into success against an all-male field in 2008.

But women running for office face an unusual political conundrum: Women sometimes set exceedingly high standards for female candidates.

It's in part because some expect the first female president to be a reflection of them, only better, said Marie Wilson, president of the White House Project, a group that aims to encourage women to lead in business and politics.

"We look at them and we say 'We want them to be perfect. ...' We hold them to a higher standard because they do represent us," she said. "Most of the male candidates running wouldn't be running if they were women. A woman John McCain's age would have a hard time, a woman with Barack Obama's experience would have a hard time."

As a result, female candidates are more scrutinized, an extension of gender-specific criticism still part of American culture, experts say.

"It's as if each woman is forever competing to be the prom queen, or the wife, and every other women is a competitor, so if she wins it means you lose, instead of experiencing the woman's victory as group," said Phyllis Chesler, psychologist and author of "Women's Inhumanity to Women."

Women aren't necessarily against female candidates.

An AP analysis of data from the 2006 American National Election Study Pilot Test found that when it came to selecting a candidate for president, gender matters more for women than for men. But it's a two-way street; women are more likely to vote for a candidate because she is female, and also more likely to dismiss a candidate because of her gender, according to the analysis.

While women have made great strides in advancing through the political ranks in recent decades, they still make up just over 16 percent of Congress and a similar number at the state legislature level.

But there are currently several high-profile female leaders, like Nancy Pelosi, the first female speaker of the House and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as well as a slew of governors and state lawmakers.

Among the trailblazers was Democrat Geraldine Ferraro, who became the first female vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket in 1984. During that campaign, she said she felt women were behind her.

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