I wasn't following the NYC mayor's race very closely, for obvious reasons, but Slog tipper Anne pointed me towards this New York Times article exploring how gender and sexuality might have impacted NYC city council member Christine Quinn's bid for mayor. Quinn is a lesbian. While she was once considered a frontrunner for the seat—which would've made her NYC's first female mayor—she came in third in the primary this week.
Ms. Lavine said that on the occasions that she had tried to engage Ms. Quinn’s most strident opponents, the conversation often devolved into insults about Ms. Quinn’s appearance. She said they would call her “ugly” or “fat” or that her red hair made her look like a clown.
Ms. Quinn never blamed her problems during the race on sexism or homophobia. Still, her inner circle debated how to grapple with the question of gender.
Some supporters wanted a more direct appeal to female voters early on, and Emily’s List, the influential national political action committee that backs Democratic women, endorsed her in January, hoping it would generate excitement among women.
But her advisers preferred to play down a gender-specific message as she emphasized her ability to get things done. In fact, Ms. Quinn seldom raised her gender until the final stretch of the primary, when she was clearly behind, making her pitch seem more desperate.
My takeaway form this article wasn't that being a woman, and a lesbian, cost her the election per se. Rather, they're factors that minority candidates are still struggling to address in their candidacy. For instance, if a female candidate brings up societal bias against women in politics, voters could respond negatively, by dismissing that candidate as playing for sympathy or running on her gender instead of her accomplishments. But if a female candidate doesn't bring it up, it implies she's running on an equal playing field with her male counterparts, which isn't accurate, as comments about Quinn's attractiveness and clown hair show. Basically, she's screwed either way.
Or, as Gloria Steinem said of Quinn's mayoral bid: "If you’re tough enough to run New York City, you’re too tough to be considered acceptably feminine.”
Granted, in politics everything is calculated to some degree. You've got advisers telling you what events to attend, what your message should be at those events, how to talk and gesture, what patriot shade of clothing to wear. But when you're what people deem as "other" in a race—basically, when you're not the standard middle-aged white man—it's hard to predict how people will respond to your otherness, and what their criticisms will be.
It seems like Quinn wasn't willing to play up femininity that voters and her handlers wanted to see—she wasn't willing to change her suits or make her voice less "grating"—and it cost her support. How much support is hard to quantify, but certainly it contributed to her slip from frontrunner to third place.