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Jennifer L. Lawless serves as the current director of the Women & Politics Institute, as well as an Associate Professor of Government at American University. She received her Ph.D. from Stanford University in 2003 and her B.A. in from Union College in 1997; both degrees were in political science. Lawless was hired at American University in the fall of 2009. Before this, Lawless was employed at Brown University as an Assistant Professor of Political Science. Lawless currently serves as the editor of Politics & Gender, a political science journal currently housed at the Women & Politics Institute.
The central focuses of Lawless’s courses and research are women and politics, campaigns, and elections. Courses she has taught at American University include: "Women & Politics," "Women & Political Leadership," and "Women, Politics & Public Policy." Her research regarding female candidates and election results is published in a number of political science journals, including American Journal of Political Science, Perspectives on Politics, Political Research Quarterly, Legislative Studies Quarterly, The Journal of Politics, Politics & Gender, and Women & Politics. News outlets regularly quote this scholarship, particularly during campaign season. Her commentary has appeared in newspapers such as, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and other local publications. She has also been cited on CNN.com, MSNBC.com, and FOXNews.com and has published on CNN Opinion on CNN.com.
Throughout her article “Sexism and Gender Bias in Election 2008: A More Complex Path for Women in Politics”, Lawless chronicles Hillary Rodham-Clinton’s race for presidential nomination in the face of sexism (mostly propagated by the American media) and what this meant for other women throughout their own careers and participation in politics. Although Lawless recognizes that Rodham-Clinton was an exception to the rule in terms of the backlash she faced during her campaign due to her previous 17 years in politics and her husband’s widely discussed extra marital affairs, she argued that Rodham-Clinton’s experience during the race “shed light on at least three gender dynamics that affect women in politics”  therefore suggesting that the political terrain is more complex for women than for men. While the three gender dynamics which emerged from the 2008 election for Democratic Presidential nominee do not represent the full spectrum of obstacles which burden women in the public sphere of politics (as they are mostly based on only one woman’s experiences), they still represent the dimensions of gender and power that men in politics are not required to perform against. Overall, these dynamics include the fact that Rodham-Clinton was forced to manage her campaign within the confines of a sexist environment, recognition of this environment subsequently made other women in politics question the extent to which they were qualified for public office or were willing to face such biased scrutiny and finally, the fact that by endorsing Barack Obama over Rodham-Clinton, women were expected to justify their response at the risk of being considered a “traitor” to their gender.
Furthermore while Lawless states, in many cases “women feel better about government when more women are included in positions of political power” and are accomplished in terms of fundraising and winning elections, despite these successes, women’s own perceptions of bias against their gender describes another hurdle which aggravates their reluctance to run for office. This reluctance and questioning of oneself in turn, represents the deeply embedded sexist attitudes which are prevalent throughout politics and provides one explanation for the gender gap which is still experienced and thereby reinforced. From these dynamics, especially when compared to the long established male-centric atmosphere of high politics, it becomes increasingly obvious that there continues to be sexist and biased standards which women are expected to both measure themselves against and overcome making gender a relevant factor in women’s political participation today.
With Richard L. Fox, Lawless is the co-author of two books: It Still Takes A Candidate: Why Women Don't Run for Office (Cambridge University Press, 2010)  and It Takes A Candidate: Why Women Don't Run for Office (Cambridge University Press, 2005). She is also the author of Becoming a Candidate: Political Ambition and the Decision to Run for Office (Cambridge University Press, 2012), and of a Brookings Institution public policy report which Emerge America, the Women’s Campaign Forum, and other women’s organizations that recruit female political candidates frequently utilize for their own work.
In 2006, Lawless ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in the Democratic Primary in Rhode Island's 2nd congressional district. She did not win the primary and has not run in another election. Through her work at the Women & Politics Institute and her position as a board member of Emerge America she remains active in the political arena.
In this article Jennifer L. Lawless analyzes the role of gender in Hillary Clinton’s 2008 run for presidential candidacy. The campaign was of huge interest to many political writers, reporters, and citizens. Lawless observes the way the media took a microscope to Clinton during the race. People mocked her for tearing up when she was passionate, they criticized her appearance, and they told her to get back to more ‘feminine’ tasks. There was a lot of misogyny present, but most critiques agree that being a woman was not a major factor in Hillary Clinton’s defeat. Lawless agrees, but she still thinks there are things we can learn from this election when it comes to women in politics.
“If 2008 can teach us anything, it should be that any discussion of campaigns and elections that fails to account for the sexist terrain candidates often navigate falls short of fully assessing gender’s role in American politics and women’s place in society”. The article looks at the ways women are influenced by the system to not be involved in politics, or have their involvement in politics controlled. Some women cited feeling pressure or guilt about supporting or not supporting Clinton just because she is a woman. It is clear that feminism still matters when people are voting not based on someone’s policies, but their gender.
Lawless thinks a major issue to examine within Hillary’s campaign is the way her loss affects women’s perspective on politics; 40% of women think Hillary Clinton was not treated fairly in her campaign. When women see Hillary being told to go iron a shirt, while she is busy outlining her platform, they become less likely to put themselves out there politically. In a survey of thousands of professional men and women 12% of women revealed they felt unable to run simply because they were the ‘wrong’ sex. According to Lawless when women run for offices they have a similar win rate to men, but there is still a hesitation among women to run in the first place. “That is, if women who are well positioned to run for office think the system is biased against them, then the empirical reality of a playing field on which women can succeed is almost meaningless”. In truth the playing field is not really level until a woman can run without mockery and scrutiny that has nothing to do with her policies.
This article by Lawless discusses the role of gender in American politics by examining how sexism and gender biases affected Hillary Clinton's run to become the Democratic nominee in 2008. Her article highlights a critical issue in contemporary American politics; namely the powerful role played by the media in perpetuating and reinforcing discrimination against women and stereotypes which ultimately lead to their further exclusion from politics.
Analyzing Clinton’s campaign, Lawless argues, sheds light on at least “three additional ways that gender continues to make navigating the political arena more complicated for women than for men”. Firstly, as Clinton’s campaign demonstrates, women in politics are forced to navigate through an environment filled with sexism and gender biases if they wish to succeed in electoral polices. As a result of perceived discrimination, however, other potential female candidates are often discouraged from running. And with protesters chanting “Iron my shirt!” to Clinton during a campaign rally, and respected journalists directly participating in gender discrimination by criticizing Clinton for her age, weight, appearances and wardrobe choices despite her years of experience and qualifications, who can blame them? Gendered stereotyping it is a self-fulfilling prophesy. As women in power continue to be an abnormality, and in defiance with the role prescribed to them by society, the women who do decide to run are also treated as such, perpetuating the image that politics is, in the end, a man’s game. As Lawless notes, Clinton's loss in the Democratic primary both prove and reinforce the perception that the American political environment is bias against women, and not ready for a woman in power. Lawless points out that other women were forced to defend and justify their choice not to support Clinton in an unparalleled manner; something that would never be asked of a man had he "betrayed" his gender by voting for a woman.
Studies conducted by Pew Research Centre and Lake Research shortly after Barack Obama secured the Democratic nomination prove Lawless’ argument that “navigating the political terrain in 2008 was more complicated and complex for women than for men”. Their research revealed that nearly 40% of women believed Hillary Clinton was treated unfairly during her campaign, and that 51% of respondents believed that American's are “not ready to elect a woman to high office”. Nearly 40% of those surveyed agreed that discrimination against women exists “in all realms of society, including politics”. Such statistics indicate that not only are men uncomfortable with the idea of women in power but that women, too, seem discomforted by this idea.