The Double Bind: Women in Positions of Authority

1L WLSO member Chloe Bilodeau shares her thoughts on the double bind women in authority face while focusing specifically on Secretary Clinton. Next year, Chloe will be WLSO’s secretary. 


This presidential primary has drawn attention to many issues our nation faces. For many women this election has also highlighted the issues they face every day, making it very personal.  One issue in particular has not been a premier topic of discussion but has certainly been noticeable. This issue concerns the unique hurdles women in positions of authority face. Undoubtedly, Hillary Clinton has endured the kind of scrutiny that is all too familiar to these women. The qualities society admires in leaders (confidence, assertiveness, overt passion) are contrary to the required characteristics of femininity (gentleness, compassion, self-deprecation). This is called the “double bind.” Hillary Clinton has found herself at the crossroads of these opposing, yet necessary, traits.

As First Lady of the United States, the first female Senator of New York, and Secretary of State, Clinton has seen more simultaneous criticism and praise than almost any other candidate for president. No other candidate has had such a lengthy and high-profile political career. Her positive reputation in the eyes of many voters has stayed intact, an almost unbelievable accomplishment in light of all of the criticism she has faced. But this did not come easily. She’s been seen as “overly ambitious,” “inauthentic,” and “untrustworthy.” She has had every aspect of her personality dissected. Why? If you ask someone they will likely acknowledge it has something to do with the way she comes off in a speech, interview, or photo. Basically, it is her body language and tone of voice that causes voters and media outlets to come up with these criticisms. If you think critiques of Hillary’s trustworthiness or authenticity sparked after Benghazi, you forget that she’s dealt with these judgments long before then. It’s nothing new to Clinton. Maybe, just maybe, the decades of commentary on her personality have caused her to be much more careful in how she speaks, walks, and dresses. I think this adds to the “inauthenticity” that some voters complain about. If you’re wondering why Clinton, as one of the most visibly ambitious and successful female leaders in our nation’s history, has to deal with this…realize that she’s not alone. Women in positions of authority deal with this sort of criticism every day. It’s also not just female politicians and celebrities; women in any type of leadership role constantly undergo the same scrutiny.

As a female law student, I can say first-hand that my female classmates and I feel the added pressure as women entering a conservative profession. In 2014, I attended a seminar at my undergraduate university where female lawyers spoke about their experiences and gave advice for young women interested in a legal career. They spoke about the ways in which women must constantly monitor their dress and tone in order to fit in with their male counterparts. I didn’t realize the reality of this until my first semester of law school.

Early on in the semester, I noticed students being openly criticized for their tone of voice in class. I noticed they were often women and often the criticisms were the same: “She sounds condescending,” “She needs to control her emotions,” or “She sounds angry.” Following this, I found myself containing my passion for certain topics and speaking in an unsure way so that I did not sound “emotional,” “angry,” or “condescending.” I think many women monitor themselves in this way, or they choose to just keep quiet.

When women try to avoid sounding “overemotional” or “too confident,” they are prone to coming off as inauthentic. Women have to monitor their tone of voice, body language and dress far more often than men. This is a fact that any women in a position of authority or conservative profession recognizes. Sadly, the political commentary on Hillary Clinton continues to speak without any self-awareness of perpetuating this double standard.

No one should consider voting for Hillary Clinton simply because she is a woman. This would undermine her strengths, accomplishments, intelligence, and experiences that make her a qualified candidate. The idea that women want to vote for Clinton simply because she is a woman is another blatant example of sexism. It’s as if you are saying some women are not intelligent or level-minded enough to choose a candidate for president. There is no such thing as “voting with your vagina.” What you should do during this presidential election is consider how you are critiquing Clinton. Are you judging her fairly, acknowledging the “double bind” that women in positions of authority face?

Recognizing that this “double bind” is unique to women and ever present in Clinton’s campaign can be enlightening and beneficial to society in the long run. Considering as few as 4.6 percent of CEO’s in fortune 500 companies are women and only 20% of Congress is female, we desperately need to start acknowledging the reasons why these gaps exist.

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