Don’t underestimate the biases that female political candidates face
Letter to the Editor by Erin Loos Cutraro and Susannah Wellford
It may well be that the contemporary news media and most voters treat women in politics no differently than they treat men, as Jennifer L. Lawless and Danny Hayes argued in their June 12 Outlook essay, “Are voters biased against women in politics? Actually, no.” But it was misguided to conclude that there is no “systematic gender bias in politics” and suggest that “the perception of gender bias” keeps women from running. That veers on blaming women for feeling too discouraged to run.
Politics is not a system unto itself and cannot be divorced from the larger systemic gender bias that pervades society and the economy. And because women don’t have the same access to money and power that men routinely have, their climb into politics is steeper than what men face.
Besides not having the same old-boy network that smooths the path toward a political candidacy, it takes an enormous amount of money to launch a campaign, and women, because of “systematic gender bias,” don’t have the same access to funds as men.
There may not be any “systematic gender bias” among journalists and voters, but that is only a small slice of a larger political culture in which “systematic gender bias,” unfortunately, continues to govern.
Leonard Steinhorn, Washington
Jennifer L. Lawless and Danny Hayes concluded that women don’t face systemic unfairness in elections and that the real barrier is women merely believing that they do.
Research shows that once women enter elections, they have an equal chance of succeeding, but the reasons they aren’t in the pipeline are complex and myriad. We work with thousands of women who are thinking about running, and they tell us that family expectations, feelings of not being qualified, fear of increased media scrutiny and lack of fundraising connections are just some of what keeps them from running. A recent report from the Barbara Lee Family Foundation confirmed that these are widespread concerns among women as a whole. Furthermore, women routinely face a base level of sexism, especially when seeking positions of authority. The sexist treatment of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina compounded women’s fears that this is not an arena they should enter.
We urge caution before concluding that running for office as a woman poses no special challenges. By underestimating the barriers, we face the real prospect of fortifying them.
Erin Loos Cutraro, Maplewood, N.J.
The writer is co-founder and chief executive of
She Should Run.
Susannah Wellford, Washington
The writer is president and founder of