Politicians and voters say they don't like it, but attack ads and negative campaigning are part of the political landscape. And although they seem to work, they also discourage a fair number of voters who are disenchanted with 'politics as usual' and stay home from the polls. We don't like it, but we accept it.
But when attack ads, negative campaigning, and media coverage target a candidate's gender instead of the issues, none of us should just accept it. We need to name it for what it is and work to change it by demanding accountability for sexist remarks.
For many years, women in politics who've been slandered in this way have been advised, "Just ignore it. Just turn the other cheek." A new study, however, reveals that silence isn't golden -- it's damning to a female candidate's reputation. And if she doesn't respond to sexist attacks from her opponent or in the media, she risks losing support and votes.
The study, conducted by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, confirms what we've long suspected -- sexism hurts women in politics. But it also reveals that women can regain lost ground by swiftly and forcefully addressing sexism when it comes up and emphasizing that it's inappropriate, detracts from the issues, distracts voters and prevents us from moving forward.
The story of how the study came to be is as fascinating as its findings. One woman who heads up a group that spearheaded the project was a victim of extreme sexism during two separate runs for public office. Years later, she's still smarting from the experience. What she endured may have derailed her political ambitions, but it turned her into a vocal advocate for change.
Both Sam Bennett's mayoral bid and Congressional run are a cautionary tale for any woman thinking about running for public office. Although hers may be a worst case scenario, if it could happen in a small town in Pennsylvania, it could happen anywhere.
If and when it does, are you ready to speak up? As Sam notes, when it happened to her, "no one said a word."