By Gloria Romero:
Vice President Kamala Harris is just not that likable to 57% of American voters, according to the most recent Rasmussen survey. She is now the least popular U.S. Vice President in modern times. More than half of voters have a negative opinion of her—including 50% who have a very unfavorable impression of her, and don’t think she’s ready to take over if President Joe Biden leaves office.
Some of her allies claim that criticism of Ms. Harris is attributed to those sexist and racist Americans, particularly from “some in the right-wing who have gone after her because she is the first woman, the first woman of color” to serve as Vice President.
Certainly, and as I point out in my book, Just Not That Likable: the Price All Women Pay for Gender Bias, women in positions of authority are subtly penalized for being assertive, decisive, strong, forthright, abrasive, manly—in a word, “unlikable.” We expect men to succeed. We expect men to lead. We expect men to be in charge, to command, even to demand. But for women? Not so much. Indeed, one of the most pernicious and persistent barriers to women’s advancement is the “mismatch” between qualities associated specifically with leadership (which we often presume to be masculine), as opposed to qualities associated with women (which often precludes leader attributes).
And these stereotypes of women leaders aren’t new. In fact, it was 1989 when the U.S. Supreme Court sided with plaintiff Ann Hopkins in her historic suit against Price-Waterhouse and issued a groundbreaking ruling few of us even remember nor commemorate today: employers could no longer evaluate employees based on stereotypes. Yet, decades later, research studies still show a perceived “mismatch” between the qualities associated with leadership and the qualities viewed as attractive in women. Most characteristics associated with leadership are masculine-oriented: dominance, authority, assertiveness, etc. But for women? Not so nice. Think “dragon lady.” Or bossy. Or bitchy. Quite frankly, traditional gender stereotypes still leave women with a double standard and a double bind. She’s abrasive but he’s assertive. Women are expected to work in narrower emotional channels than men and more likely to be judged unlikable when we don’t. And, sadly, women of color, including Latinas, face the additional negative stereotyping of both race and gender (e.g., think ‘angry Black woman’, or ‘fiery Latina’).
Women world leaders have long faced similar insults: England’s Margaret Thatcher was called Attila the Hen; Golda Meir, Israel’s first female prime minister was called the “only man” in the Cabinet; Indira Gandhi, India’s first female prime minister was called the Old Witch; Angela Merkel, German chancellor, is known as the Iron Frau.
Virtually every woman who has run for the U.S. Presidency in recent years has been labeled “angry” and unlikable, including Harris, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar. On the other hand, U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, that white-haired male socialist with three homes, was perceived as being affable, even though he seemed to always be shouting.
Research studies continue to find that even today, we hold double standards about how we judge and evaluate strong women contrasted with strong men. Men laugh; women cackle (a term we typically associate with a witch). And both men and women report they would rather work for a male boss than a female.
So, when White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, claims that sexism and racism enter the equation, she is right–up to a point.
Once in a leadership position, women still need to deliver results, and the Vice President can’t be excused on this point. Quite frankly, Harris seems surprised at her own failures, and rather than tackling them directly and correcting course, her spin has devolved into a “but she’s a first”, conveniently ignoring that she also was the first to drop out of the 2020 presidential race before the first votes were cast. She was polling seventh in South Carolina, where most of the Democratic primary voters are black. In her home state of California, she was polling near the bottom of the pack of candidates.
In reality, Harris’ ratings, while impacted by a genderized likability standard, are also a product of the identity politics that now govern the Democratic Party. She has become the personification of the worst interpretation of what Affirmative Action means. And she can thank a floundering old white man seeking the Democratic nomination who promised to choose a woman—and a woman of color—to satisfy a “woke” Democratic electorate and save his political hide, irrespective of her ability to succeed.
Harris’ supporters have complained that she’s been given “tough jobs”, “unsolvable jobs”. Seriously? She ran to become President of the United States. Not once did she campaign by claiming “but I only want the easy jobs”. She understood—or should have understood—that a Vice President is a heartbeat away from the Presidency. She has bragged about being “the last voice in the room. So, sob stories about “tough jobs” like dealing with an unmitigated full border crisis just don’t jive.
Uncle Joe—and all his men—shouldn’t be expected to rescue her now. The back rooms are gone. She’s in full view now. Southern border voters have noticed her inability to lead and her preferred invisibility when challenges arise. Rather than going to the border to handle her job of being the border czar, she flew to Guatemala to “look for the root causes of immigration.” When she finally was forced to go to the border because former President Trump announced he was planning to visit, she chose the farthest point of entry, failed to meet with border agents and impacted communities, and stayed for the shortest time possible.
Undoubtedly, recent elections clearly show that Latinos—long having voted Democratic but have been taken for granted by Democrats—are increasingly voting Republican in greater numbers than ever before. According to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, Latinos are now almost evenly split between the Republican and Democratic parties. As the Biden-Harris Administration continues to flounder and fail under the weight of its own woke but out-of-touch politics, Harris’ ratings will continue to sink. And her being “a first” will have nothing to do with the sinking numbers.
Now that Harris has returned from Europe, I’d urge her to put on her “Big Girl” pants, stop complaining, and for crying out loud, stop giggling, and high tail it down to the border and start projecting leadership. The voters have watched her in action, and are not impressed. She can no longer expect to rely on the kindness of strangers to keep opening doors for her to waltz through, reminding us that she’s “a first.” Leadership still matters to American voters and we aren’t seeing it in her. No “isms” need blaming.
Gloria J. Romero is a former California State Senator and the Democratic majority leader of the California State Senate from 2005 until 2008. She was the first woman to ever hold that leadership position.