NEW YORK (Reuters) - When Hillary Clinton made a strong showing and Sarah Palin was named to the Republican ticket in the 2008 U.S. presidential race, the election of the first female president seemed not so far off.
Not so fast, writes the author of “Notes from the Cracked Ceiling,” a book released this week that explores why Clinton and Palin lost, what role gender played in their candidacies and what it would take for a woman to win the U.S. presidency.
Author Anne Kornblut argues that Clinton and Palin were at a particular disadvantage because they were women and that a number of hurdles will need to be cleared before a woman succeeds in winning the White House.
“I don’t think it’s automatically right around the corner,” Kornblut, who covers politics and the White House for the Washington Post, said in an interview. “Some people do and think, ‘Well we elected an African-American. We’re obviously able to do it.’
“I don’t think that. I’m definitely in the skeptical camp,” she said.
Women candidates are faced with undue emphasis on their looks and family life and dogged by concerns over whether they are tough enough. They face stereotypes that would not trouble male candidates and dismissive attitudes about their qualifications and abilities, Kornblut writes.
Clinton, now U.S. secretary of state, made history as the first mainstream female candidate to seek the Democratic nomination for president. Palin, then governor of Alaska, was picked by Republican presidential candidate John McCain as his vice presidential running mate.
“They didn’t lose because they were women, neither of them, but there were things related to being a woman for each of them that contributed to the problems they had that were not immediately apparent,” Kornblut said.
Their candidacies may have helped pave the way but also exposed the difficulties a female candidate could face in future elections.
“While Clinton might have made it easier in some ways because people can envision a woman president better now, she also pointed out how hard it actually is,” she said.
“With her money, her fame, her obvious ability, her network, if Hillary Clinton couldn’t do it, it’s going to take someone really amazing who can.”
A number of ingredients will be needed for a woman to succeed in winning the nation’s highest political office, such as a concerted effort by a political party to back a woman, more female candidates in lower offices and in the pipeline for a presidential run or perhaps a national crisis, she writes.
The book grew from Kornblut’s experience covering Clinton and Palin, two high-profile candidates running in the same year who provided a unique opportunity to assess how female candidates are looked at by the public and by the media.
“It’s a re-examination of what gender meant in the hopes of maybe all of us watching it more intelligently the next time,” she said.
“Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win” was published by Crown Publishers.