Nikki Haley's Campaign May Capitalize on Gender Stereotypes, but at a Cost to WomenRoundup
tags: Republican Party, womens history, Nikki Haley
Jacqueline Beatty is assistant professor of history at York College of Pennsylvania and author of In Dependence: Women, Power, and the Patriarchal State in Revolutionary America, out April 2023.
Former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced her candidacy in the Republican presidential primary last month — and so far, coverage of the campaign has centered more on Haley’s gender than her platform.
After CNN anchor Don Lemon asserted that Haley, 51, “isn’t in her prime” — remarks for which Lemon (weakly) apologized amid a backlash — the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) posted a video to Twitter featuring a number of women in their House caucus explaining what it means for a woman to be “in her prime.” Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) identified herself as a wife and mother before staring into the camera and asserting: “There’s nothing liberals fear more than strong conservative women.”
As a presidential candidate, Haley has also purposefully leaned into her gender. The closing line of her campaign announcement video, posted on Twitter, invoked a potent symbol of womanhood: “You should know this about me: I don’t put up with bullies, and when you kick back, it hurts them more if you’re wearing heels.”
Haley is following in a long line of female candidates in both major parties who have seen an opportunity to reposition stereotypical assumptions about feminine weakness as uniquely feminine forms of power. While this often advances their political fortunes in the short-term, in the long run, employing such rhetoric undermines the fight for women’s rights by accepting the gendered inequality deeply embedded in patriarchal American culture.
As far back as the colonial period, women leaned into gendered stereotypes to win concessions from men in power.
They submitted petitions for various forms of aid and assistance in increasing numbers during the American Revolution, when the war, an economic crisis and disruptions in their domestic lives made it difficult for women to manage on their own. Petitioners emphasized tropes of feminine helplessness and vulnerability — claiming financial incompetence, ignorance of the law and dependence on their husbands — to bolster their arguments.