According to the 2012 Project of the Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics, more women are running for Congress this year than ever. But how can we make an intelligent choice as to the best candidate when overwhelming research shows the decision is being made for us via skewed, imbalanced media coverage that has a predisposition toward taking men seriously and treating women like novelties?
Research on media behavior in the 2010 midterms revealed women candidates got a whopping 68% less coverage than men on the issues and 3 times more attention paid to their appearance than their male counterparts. The Fourth Estate’s disturbing study found that men were quoted at ratios of five to one over women on women’s issues, and overwhelmed women’s opinions on the economy and foreign policy. No Republican woman is being seriously vetted for VP this year. Despite Mrs. Romney’s recent inference to the contrary, it is likely Mitt Romney will go with a “safe” choice.
Conservative Pat Buchanan was just on a panel with the McLaughlin Group arguing that a female president would not be elected for another 40 years. Annoying as he is, he may be right. Why? Well, if past is prologue, let’s look at recent high level races.
A blockbuster study conducted by George Washington University revealed Sarah Palin received twice the scrutiny as Joe Biden in their race for the Vice Presidency in 2008. We obsessed about Palin’s appearance, stand on social issues and family while Joe Biden got coverage on his stances on foreign policy and the economy. Furthermore, twice as many articles were published that obsessed over her every move whereas he got a relatively quiet ride. Mr. Biden is known for his “rhetorical flourishes” as President Obama calls them – otherwise known as gaffes. I like Vice President Biden, but no one could argue that he has a very long “blooper reel” to his credit. We just laugh it off – but if a woman said those things….
Leticia Bode and Valerie Hennings published their studies on the VP race in the journal Politics and Policy, writing:
“Each of these differences could have had important influences on public opinion formation and the public’s voting decisions in this particular race.”
“If gender stereotypes in media coverage have the ability to negatively affect women candidates, this calls into question the American political system’s ability to produce elected representatives in a fair and democratic manner.”
If you are talking about a woman like a homemaker, a mom (good or bad), and fashion plate, how likely are we to take her seriously as a leader?
Last December, Paul Bedard of U.S. News & World Report reported on two scholarly studies fromUniversityofUtahresearchers, published in the prestigious Political Research Quarterly. Both concluded that Hillary’s 2008 presidential bid “was doomed by media sexists.” That, more than ideology, “drove the media’s anti-Clinton theme.” They exposed a “lopsided reliance on male reporters” who “first belittled her effort against Barack Obama, then jumped the gun to push her out of the race earlier than any other recent strong primary challenger.”
There has been significant ongoing discussion about Hillary Clinton taking the Presidency in 2016 — and that it is “hers if she wants it.” She has repeatedly stated that she is not interested. But is the LA Times Meghan Daum’s statement of Hillary, and women candidates in general, true: We want her to ‘pursue the White House without looking like a pursuer.’ Does a woman still have to play hard to get? A nonsensical notion when you consider how many women are doing heavy lifting at home, at work and now, even in the military…
There is currently a big stink since Rep. Joe Walsh, who is running against war veteran and double amputee Tammy Duckworth made the comment that she is not a “true hero,” and that she talks about her service “too much.” So first we are dealt with as emotional beings, and then when we participate and sacrifice in what has traditionally been a male province, we are talking about it too much and not entitled to be taken seriously? Have I got that right?
I also encourage you to read Karrin Anderson’s article discussing “Pornification” in our political culture, wherein pornographic images, metaphors and narratives were used to negatively frame and diminish female candidates in the 2008 race. She contends this “signals a backlash against the gains women have made in the U.S.political system.”
Linking the studies together that show a lopsided reliance on male reporters and male opinion, and the diminishing of women by turning them into objects to be used or manipulated, it is clear that we have many hurdles to overcome if women are to be given fair hearing when they seek legislative and leadership positions.
Reading much of the commentary that still dominates cable shows and print articles, it is as if men who hold on to traditional power structures (and complicit women who likewise do not want to lose the illusion of male-provided security) are digging their in their heels, stubbornly hanging on to tired, yet comforting stereotypes that maintain the status quo and stifle competition from the encroaching female.
In today’s complex and troubled world, we need the best leadership, ideas and representation possible. Hormones and X or Y chromosomes have nothing to do with it.
Bias isn’t going to stop until we stand up and insist it stop.
Anita Finlay is the author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin: Sexism and Sabotage, a Hillary Supporter’s Rude Awakening, available on Amazon in print and kindle editions.
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