Kamala Harris and the ‘Double Bind’ of Racism and Sexism

“She’ll bulldoze her elderly, sentimental boss,” Mr. Carlson, the Fox News host, said Wednesday. “So tonight we’ll be airing the vice-presidential debate, but what we’ll actually be looking at is Kamala Harris’s audition for the presidency. That’s the office she’s running for, no matter what they tell you.”

The attacks on Ms. Harris as “unlikable,” which Mr. Trump pushed on Thursday, also play into a double standard. Voters are more likely to see likability as mandatory for women than for men, research shows, and experts say Black women are often judged even more harshly.

It is something of a tightrope: Stereotypically feminine behavior can lead voters to see women running for office as more likable but less of a leader, while stereotypically masculine behavior can make voters see them as more of a leader but less likable.

This is “the classic double bind,” said Amanda Clayton, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University. “Women can either be seen as leaders or they can be seen as feminine, and the two don’t go together.”

These caricatures and double standards have been accompanied by sexualization, common against women of all races but especially those who are Black. This is another racist trope, the promiscuous, hypersexual “Jezebel.”

After Mr. Biden chose Ms. Harris, the right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh suggested falsely, quoting from a conservative website, that she had “slept her way up.” T-shirts with the slogan “Joe and the Hoe” were briefly available on Amazon. The mayor of Luray, Va., called her “Aunt Jemima,” a nod to yet another stereotype, the “Mammy.”

“These are distinctly misogynoir tactics,” Dr. Brown said, referring to the combination of racism and sexism that Black women face. “We would not see these stereotypes or these kind of threats used against her if she were not a Black woman.”


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