Sophomore Reese Guckert said that she first became interested in politics after feeling judged for expressing her views during the 2016 presidential election. Today, Guckert said she is both inspired and frustrated by both party’s responses regarding women in politics.
Guckert, the public relations chair for the university’s College Republicans club, said that a candidate’s appearance is not something that the candidate themselves nor voters should be focusing on. Guckert said this is something she likes about Republican 2024 presidential candidate Nikki Haley.
Haley previously served as the governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017 and was the Trump administration’s U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Haley is also an Asian American woman with immigrant parents, making her the first female governor with Asian American heritage in South Carolina.
Guckert said while she likes the idea of more women in politics, she doesn’t think the candidate’s appearance needs to be a main focus.
“I also liked how a lot of her campaign — she's not basing it on the fact that she's a woman,” Guckert said. “It's kind of a little more powerful because she's trying to get people to focus on her accomplishments, instead of just her gender or what she identifies as.”
Sophomore Sami Engel said part of the problem for women in politics is less that they make their campaign about their identity, and more that women have to do certain things to appeal to a larger group of voters.
“I think women in politics make a point to talk in a lower voice and present themselves more masculine than they normally would to show that their femininity will not be a distraction as president,” Engel said. “Women in politics definitely make a point to demonstrate that being a woman is not a negative aspect.”
Guckert agreed that women receive more criticism for feminine characteristics, and pointed to the 2016 election where the attacks between former President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton became more personal.
“Trump also focused a lot on the appearance of Hillary,” Guckert said. “Women get judged for appearance, smiling, whatever.”
Jason Kirk, professor of policy studies, published “Rising Star: The Meaning of Nikki Haley, Trump's Unlikely Ambassador” in late 2021. Kirk said that looking ahead to the 2024 presidential election in a race with a candidate like Trump, it is likely that he would weaponize language against a candidate like Nikki Haley — as he has before.
“He's called her an ambitious woman, which is kind of coded language,” Kirk said. “It lands a little differently often when you're talking about women as leaders, as compared to men. … Ambitious can have more negative connotations when it's associated with women as leaders. So Trump will probably continue to try to use that framing in a negative way.”
Engel said that the language used in the 2016 election showed her how women running for political office were perceived.
“People use the argument that women are too emotional, and their menstrual cycles will take a toll on them,” Engel said. “Gender should not be playing a role in politics and I think in the 2016 election, Trump really took advantage of calling women horrible, horrible names.”
Engel also said that overall gender should not be the main criteria people use when voting; however, she views having more women in office as a good thing. Engel hopes to pursue a career in working for political campaigns and said that she hopes to see people in office who better represent the overall demographics of the U.S.
“I'd love to see a woman who meets the standards and the qualifications,” Engel said. “There's so many women that are qualified, that should be running for president, and I'd love to see them win. And just because you're a man doesn't mean you should win. Just because you're a woman doesn't mean you should win. But I think it would be great for the future of the country if a woman does become president.”