Fifteen paragraphs into one of many glowing reviews of Hillary Clinton as the dominant debater among her four rivals in the first Democratic presidential debate, there it was, the start of a new debate:
“She was, in short, a man among boys,” the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote and tweeted. Journalist Soledad O’Brien tweeted a big disappointed “sigh” about the comment to her 410,000 followers, and she was one of many voices decrying the choice of Milbank’s words. A day later, Milbank responded: “Ok, Twitterverse. I surrender. She was a WOman among boys.”
When the Twitterverse erupted, Presidential Gender Watch 2016 captured it all. The nonpartisan project of the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation follows, analyzes, and sheds light on gender dynamics in the 2016 presidential election. Presidential Gender Watch tracks news that is reported through a gender lens, provides perspective on past women candidates’ experiences and offers expert analysis as the election unfolds.
In the course of one news cycle on the Presidential Gender Watch 2016 Twitter feed, you’ll find reports questioning whether the New York Times ran a sexist profile on Carly Fiorina; Senator and GOP primary contender Lindsey Graham’s curious decision to playfully parse with reporters which women candidate he would date, marry or worse; and MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski calling out Hillary Clinton’s claim that Bernie Sanders was being sexist as “pathetic” when he referenced people “shouting” about guns.
Through social media, the gender-politics conversations happening along the campaign trail can be pulled in as they happen.
“What we hope to do is encourage discussion about gender and the way gender influences men and women in the race and how it influences media coverage and voter reaction,” said Kelly Dittmar, a Center for American Women and Politics scholar and an assistant political science professor at Rutgers-Camden.
For nearly 45 years, the center, a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics, has been nationally recognized as the leading source of scholarly research and current data about American women’s political participation. The center is joining forces with the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which advances women’s equality and representation in American politics through nonpartisan political research, strategic partnerships and grants.As a graduate student working at the center in 2008, Dittmar began tracking the election and, particularly, Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. In 2012, with no women emerging as major party candidates in the general election, the center focused on women voter turnout. But with 2016 shaping up to have women candidates from the Republican and Democratic parties, the center partnered with the Barbara Lee Family Foundation for a more in-depth look at gender politics in the presidential race.
The aim, as Debbie Walsh, CAWP director, and the foundation’s Barbara Lee note in this Huffington Post article, is to dive beneath the superficial talk of hair styles and wardrobe choices for an honest look at if, when and how gender affects how candidates are perceived and supported in a presidential election year.
“As longtime observers and analysts of women's political progress, we look forward to seeing how a gender-forward election season unfolds,” they write. “Instead of clichés and easy headlines about pantsuits and catfights, we must see serious and nuanced discussion, drawing on a growing body of research about gender in politics.”
During upcoming debates, you can follow along with live-tweeting. Throughout the long election season, you’ll also find analysis of gender-related issues on the Presidential Gender Watch 2016 website and on MsMagazine.com.
After the “man among boys” comment made its way around social networks, Dittmar considered whether the backlash against the reporter’s choice of words was warranted. Here’s why she says it is understandable.
“In his choice of a single word, Milbank associates the positive characteristics he credits to Clinton – experience, composure and appearing presidential – with men instead of women,” Dittmar writes. “Though likely unintentional, he strips Clinton of her role as powerful woman by implying that her power was earned by becoming more like a man. Her success, in this characterization, came in adapting to a man’s world instead of disrupting its masculine bias.”
In short, language matters.
With more debate about gender bias a good bet throughout the next year, Presidential Gender Watch 2016 will be there to provide expert insight and perspective in this pivotal election.
“We try to raise the questions when we see gender differences,” Dittmar said. “We don’t see ourselves as the sexism watch, but we are asking, are the dynamics any different, is the coverage any different? And we want to empower folks who are engaged in the election.”
For media inquiries, please contact Kelly Dittmar at the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics, at 848-932-8314 and firstname.lastname@example.org, or Dory Devlin at 973-972-7276 and email@example.com