And it’s not just that money doesn’t flow to female-led campaigns; it’s also that many women in my generation were brought up with the idea that being aggressive and hard-charging — inherent in fund-raising — is distasteful or negative in women.
Beyond the recruitment, cultivation and fund-raising difficulties, there is a unique set of hurdles that plague women candidates. We are subject to intense public scrutiny and biased coverage that shapes voters’ perceptions.
When I ran for mayor, I was warned this could happen. But it still came as a deep disappointment to see the media quickly move from focusing on policy stances to critiquing my appearance, demeanor and even the tone of my voice — as if Ed Koch had been melodious. Every time I wore a new color, smiled or put on nail polish, it was covered with the same vigor as a new policy platform. While men are celebrated for their boldness, women are deemed volatile and too unstable to hold higher office. To be blunt, a woman who displays the qualities that are celebrated in male leaders — strength, ambition, pugnacity — ends up being told, “You’re a bitch.”
Women candidates are also held to an impossibly high, difficult to define and even harder to meet standard of likability. It is quite a burden to make 51 percent of people live their lives trying to guess what others want them to be. In my mayoral campaign, I thought that I had to act a certain way so that voters would like me. I twisted myself in knots trying to be less assertive, less of a lesbian and ultimately less of myself. It is a haunting mistake to lose a race when you were not true to yourself, and a choice that I hope no woman running for office in the future is forced to make.
Look, I know that when you step into the arena of a political campaign, almost everything about you is fair game. But negative attention can take a painful toll. Throughout our lives, women are judged in a way that men aren’t: From an early age, we’re told implicitly and explicitly that we’re not pretty enough, we’re overweight, we’re too brash, we’re too outspoken. When women take the courageous step to run for office — entering a contest that is completely about judgment — that lifetime of personal criticism comes back tenfold.
Thankfully, more and more cracks are being made in the glass ceiling across the country. We finally have a female vice president, and more women are running for elected office than ever before because of the tireless work of organizations like Emily’s List, Run for Something, Eleanor’s Legacy and 21 in ’21 to disrupt the flawed candidate recruitment process.
New Yorkers have three accomplished female mayoral candidates to consider in the June 22 Democratic primary, but we first need to stop letting our forward-thinking attitudes blind us from the fact that misogyny affects every facet of our society, including our decisions at the ballot box. Women candidates are not looking for your approval or for preferential treatment. We simply ask to be judged on our merits and not on the basis of our sex.
Christine C. Quinn served as New York City Council speaker from 2006 to 2013 and ran for mayor of New York in 2013. She is now the president and C.E.O. of Win, the largest provider of shelter, social services and supportive housing for homeless families in New York City.