Hillary is smart to play up her gender -- but other women candidates might not be

This context and the recent flurry of bad headlines means the Clinton campaign needs to emphasize traits and characteristics that combat the idea that she is a prototype of the overly ambitious calculating politician. What better way to do this than to play to the unique and historic aspects of her candidacy and the stereotypical perceived strengths of women? If her campaign continues with this strategy, Ms. Clinton will certainly not be the first woman to capitalize on gender to differentiate her candidacy from the stereotypical politician, but she may be the first to leverage it against her own former image rather than that of an opponent.

The campaign is making a smart turn toward talking about historic “firsts” and grandmothers, but if Ms. Clinton wins, future campaigns for women seeking office should be cautious about interpreting hers as a winning strategy. Women candidates can be helped or hurt by decisions about whether to emphasize or downplay their sex. Recent evidence suggests that women running for office are not penalized for appearing too tough in violation of gender stereotypes and that strategies emphasizing toughness actually play well to voters. At the same time, women candidates often appeal to sex stereotypes in their political ads in an effort to capitalize on perceptions of issue expertise. Women’s campaign strategies (gendered or not) should be carefully considered in light of the political context in which they run and their own strengths and experiences. The Clinton campaign is not the first to struggle with the so-called “double bind,” but the set of strategic considerations they are considering is quite unique to Hillary Clinton.