Women in politics–a surprisingly level playing field

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For a planet teeming with women, it sure seems as though the fairer sex is still largely misunderstood.

We are something of a mystery, I grant you.

I can’t explain why, for example, we sometimes hold our husbands accountable for the bad decisions they make in our dreams. Or why we feel slightly less passionate about chicken wings than men do. Or why one day we suddenly stopped rooting for Tiger Woods to win golf tournaments.

But with all we do know about women, some things should be rote by now. No, we can not self-abort in cases of rape, though that would be a neat biological trick.

We do not want you to email or Tweet semi-naked pictures of yourself. And Paul Tudor Jones, billionaire hedge-fund maestro, you do not have the slightest clue about what happens as soon as a baby’s lips touch “that girl’s” bosom.

Nor do you, men of Lou Dobbs’ panel on Fox News, know much at all about what is “anti-science” or what constitutes “our social order.”

Even some women seem clueless about women. Last year Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen asserted that stay-at-home mom of five Ann Romney “had never worked a day in her life.”

But there’s some good news in at least one area. If you’re a woman and a political candidate, things have never looked better.

The double standard that women have long faced in running for office seems to have all but disappeared.

The Atlantic’s Molly Ball writes of these surprising findings from a forthcoming book by Dartmouth professor Deborah Jordan Brooks, “He Runs, She Runs: Why Gender Stereotypes Do Not Harm Women Candidates.”

Brooks asked participants to evaluate two fictitious political candidates, one man and one woman, in various scenarios. The scenarios were identical in both cases—the candidate made inaccurate statements in a public appearance, erupted at a colleague, made threats, proved inexperienced.

In the end, both candidates were rated almost identically, with the participants punishing the man and the woman equally for their faults. And when it came to their lack of experience, participants actually considered that to be a positive for the female candidate, even giving her an edge.

And what about in the media? Hilary Rosen and Lou Dobbs aside, women aren’t actually facing the kind of media bias we’ve come to consider de facto. A 2010 study by two political scientists “found that women candidates got just as much media coverage as men, and were no more likely to be described in terms of their clothing, appearance, or family life.”

This is good news for Hilary Clinton, Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican running for Senate in West Virginia, and Christine Quinn—who may have gotten some more good news when Anthony Weiner decided he’s no longer a cretinous troglodyte and would very much like your vote for New York City mayor.

It is very bad news for fans of that much-ballyhooed old social order, not to mention for political activists on the left and the right who rely on the double-standard meme. It’s been a useful one, and habits that help you win elections are hard to break.

It may be still rough out there for women traders, breadwinners and stay-at-home-moms, about whom we continue to have much to learn. But at least the science seems settled on women in politics. That is, until Lou Dobbs decides to host another panel.

Women in politics--a surprisingly level playing field

Updated