The Rules for a Fair Fight

By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Okay, folks, we've been here before. Not in this exact spot, but the trees sure look familiar.

Is a woman candidate primarily a woman or a candidate? (Can't separate the two? Right! Advance to the next question.)

Can a guy ask her tough questions without being a jerk? Can she cry without seeming weak? And what happens when a feminist running a post-feminist campaign is described as "one strong woman" but tells voters "I'm your girl"? Are there rules for any of this?

Hillary Clinton is going back on some debate stage with all those men again next week.

Get used to it, people!

We're going to tell you what The Rules are.

(And why are there always more rules for the women?)

The Rules for Female Candidates

Be tough, tough, tough.

Project strength, ladies! Set that jaw! If there is a single rule for female politicians -- especially those seeking an executive office such as governor or president -- it's that they must work harder than male candidates to appear strong and decisive. When voters don't know the candidates well, they are more likely to fall back on stereotypes of women as nicer, more conflict-averse and more emotional, says Leonie Huddy, who directs the Center for Survey Research at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Georgia Duerst-Lahti, a political science professor at Beloit College, says the phrase she sees most often in media reports to represent concern about female weakness is whether the candidate can handle "crisis decision-making." (None of that looking into another leader's eyes and just trusting him!)

You, Geraldine Ferraro, you remember! You were running for vice president in 1984 and got the question about whether you were tough enough to push The Button.

"They would never ask that and they never did ask that of a man," Ferraro says.

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