THE BLOG
02/15/2016 12:43 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2017

Presidents Day Through a Gender Lens

Fun fact: President's Day is still officially referred to as "Washington's Birthday." However, over the years, it's morphed into a holiday that honors all of our past presidents, from Jefferson to Lincoln, Polk to Eisenhower, Adams (both John and John Quincy) to Bush (both George and George W.).

Adding a woman to this list has been a long time coming; women having been running for the highest executive office for almost 150 years. For as long as they've been running, their ability to serve as commander-in-chief has been questioned. Often the scrutiny comes in the form of gender-based put downs and attacks.

A few examples:

• In 1872, Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to brave a presidential race and was ridiculed as "the petticoat politician."

• In 1964, Margaret Chase Smith was the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for President by a major party, and was subjected to media speculation about whether she was menopausal.

• Shirley Chisolm, who became the first African American woman to seek a major party's nomination for U.S. President in 1972, was asked if she was a lesbian while she campaigned with Gloria Steinem.

• Anchor Tom Brokaw announced in 1984: "Geraldine Ferraro...The first woman to be nominated for vice president...Size 6!"

• When then-Senator Hillary Clinton became the first woman to win a presidential primary in 2008, she was compared to Glenn Close's character in Fatal Attraction.

• Governor and Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin was called a "Caribou Barbie".

And this list goes on.

It's incredibly tempting to say that a lot has changed in the eight years since the 2008 presidential race, where a double standard was on full display. That's just not true. The digs may have gone from overt to cleverly covert -- the kinds of comments women are expected to laugh off, lest they be told to "lighten up" -- but they persist nonetheless. Some recent gems:

• Carly Fiorina's face was scrutinized by a fellow Republican candidate. Commentators wondered aloud "Did she smile enough?" during debates.

• Clinton's position on the Trans Pacific Partnership was referred to as "way too cute."

• When Bernie Sanders and Clinton face off in debates, only Clinton is accused of shouting and being "unrelaxed."

• Likability is questioned over and over again for women, while men like Donald Trump coast along.

Again, this list could go on. And on. And on.

Lena Dunham recently spoke out about the "rabidly sexist" portrayal of Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. In a Buzzfeed video, Fiorina subjected male office workers to the double standard women face by commenting on their outfits and talking over them in meetings. As Clinton herself has said: "People have thrown all sorts of stuff at me, and I'm still standing."

Why is that the standard? Candidates and citizens deserve better.

We need to recognize gender-based assumptions when we see them and call them out.

That's exactly what we're doing at Presidential Gender Watch, a joint project of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation and the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. We're leading a gender-based conversation about the presidential race with research experts, campaign practitioners, and candidates. Follow @GenderWatch2016 and join the conversation at #GenderWatch2016.

This election cycle, let's re-focus the dialogue on the strengths of women candidates running at all levels. Come this time next year, we may be celebrating our first Madam President.