Misogyny in Politics is Real. And it Needs to End.


Juliette Fang, Staff Writer

From Queen Elizabeth I to Vice President Kamala Harris, women have held crucial roles in politics all over the world. Despite the contributions of women like them, it is oftentimes difficult for their voices to be heard. Misogyny, or prejudice against women, is unfortunately still present in governmental bodies today and makes it difficult for women to become politically involved. 

Of course, great leaps and bounds have been made in terms of equality in politics. As stated in a report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, women in government as of 2021 were up by 11% since 1995. Even more recent data has shown that the number of women-led governments has doubled in the past decade.  

However, progress is still slow. According to a report made by UN Women, as of 2023, only about 22.8% of women worldwide are heads of Ministries, and only about 26.5% of members of Parliaments across the globe are women. At this current rate, as the report calculates, national legislative bodies will only achieve true gender parity by at least 2063, four decades from now. 

One of the reasons for this unrelenting misogyny is that women are likely to face more backlash than men. Take Sanna Marin, for instance, the youngest prime minister of Finland who successfully led her country through the COVID-19 pandemic. In the fall of 2022, video footage of her was leaked that showed her dancing at a party. For having the audacity to enjoy herself, Marin was met with an enormous scandal that labeled her as a “party girl”, resulting in her being forced to take a drug test (that turned out to be negative). In contrast, the United Kingdom’s former prime minister, Boris Johnson, while still facing criticism, endured much less severe repercussions despite lying about attending parties amidst the worst of the pandemic. Most of the backlash came from the fact that Johnson lied about partying, not the fact that he had repeatedly done so during the most contagious period of COVID. Meanwhile, Marin faced disaster after dancing once at a time when Finland’s pandemic restrictions had long since been lifted.

The sad truth is that society in general has much higher standards for women than for men. Women are expected to be perfect, and the slightest slip could spell political disaster. But men are given much more leeway, being let off more easily when they break the rules because “boys will be boys”. It’s an unrealistic expectation to demand such flawlessness from women while letting men off the hook, yet it’s still very prevalent in the world today, as Marin’s experience has shown us. 

This misogyny that women in politics face can also be chalked up to the enforcement of antiquated and unfounded gender roles. Politicians are typically seen as powerful and assertive, with ambition and drive to back them up. These traits are usually (and unfairly) classified as “masculine”, meaning that females who display these are thought of as abnormal and some take it upon themselves to put them back in what they believe is their proper place. Obviously, this isn’t true, as there have been plenty of powerful women throughout history and there is no reason for them to be less capable than men in this department. Regardless, many still view them as transgressing natural societal norms. 

Another leading obstacle for women in politics is abundant online harassment. The internet and social media are convenient and mostly consequence-free tools for those who want to oust women from the government through intimidation and aggression. Unfortunately, many women politicians, and women in general, face these misogynistic attacks, which discourage many from participating in politics at all. 

While men do face online harassment, women experience it far more. For instance, in Germany’s 2021 elections, candidate Annalena Baerbock received much more online violence aimed at undermining her campaign in comparison to her two male competitors. Moreover, online harassment aimed at men is more likely to focus on their campaign or policies, whereas harassment aimed at women is far more superficial, attacking their appearances or even parenting techniques.

Although most of the abuse that women politicians receive comes from the internet, some still face very real danger. Just look at New York Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who receives death threats daily and must always be cautious when walking out the door. Or Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal from Washington, who was stalked by a man with a gun who reportedly harassed her and told her to “go back to India”. In fact, according to the Threats and Harassment Dataset, women are more than three times more likely to be targeted compared to their male counterparts.  

“This issue is not about one incident,” said Ocasio-Cortez in a 2020 speech. “It is cultural. It is a culture of a lack of impunity, of acceptance of violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that.”

Women in politics who are part of racial or ethnic minorities are particularly susceptible to violence and harassment. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, minorities suffer the most ethnic harassment and racism, and the National Library of Medicine states that women suffer the majority of sexual harassment. Given these two factors, statistically speaking, this means that women who are members of racial or ethnic minorities face the most harassment overall. Indeed, as Jayapal’s example demonstrates, politicians belonging to these groups do face severe threats.

Understandably, these severe threats dissuade many women from participating in government and push many existing women politicians out, which is an unfortunate loss. Gender representation in politics is important, as it leads to more gender equality in general and brings to light a much wider host of solutions to a more varied range of issues. Research also shows that women in office increase policy-making that benefits other women, families, and minorities, whose voices are not always heard.

Gender norms and stereotypes also affect women’s involvement in politics. Expecting girls and young women to stick to their traditional roles as housewives and homemakers restrict them from branching out into fields such as politics. According to Rising Tide: Gender Equality and Cultural Change Around the World, for instance, underdeveloped countries (which tend to enforce gender norms more strictly) have much less female representation in their governments.

“The endless ‘you stupid woman’, where a woman is quite definitely directed as an insult; the whole ‘get back in the kitchen’ narrative, which even now, in 2023, is still really common,” Caroline Nokes, a member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, in an interview with The Guardian. 

The fact that women politicians and those who aspire to be ones must fear for their lives and are criticized for stepping out of their “traditional” roles speaks volumes about the state of democracy today. In an age where equality is encouraged, attacking women in politics just for being women shows that we are still stuck in the past. Even worse, if this misogynistic behavior becomes normalized, it would harm everybody by preventing a host of problems from being solved. But by protecting women against online harassment, encouraging governments to be more inclusive, and simply supporting girls who want to be involved in politics, we can step out of this mindset and end misogyny in politics once and for all.


Photo courtesy of WIKIMEDIA COMMONS