“But what was she wearing?”…of Women, Politics and the Media

Last Thursday I attended the monthly meeting of the Mecklenburg County chapter of Woman for President 2008 where UNCC lecturer Carol Gay was presenting the topic “Media Coverage of Women in Politics.”

Although I hadn’t attended any prior meetings of the WFP ’08 group, I knew I had to participate in this discussion. You see, just a few weeks before receiving the invitation, I had read the Washington Post’s coverage of Speaker Pelosi’s decision to appoint Alcee Hastings as chair of the House Intelligence Committee over the Committee’s Ranking Democrat, Jane Harman. While Pelosi’s choice to by-pass the ranking member may have been notable, the most astonishing aspect of the story was how it was played by the media, specifically, through the use of the term

Cat Fight.

I’m sure no one here will dispute that politics is a tough business and the relative success or failure of a politician may very well come down to personal relationships forged between political colleagues. In that vein, commentary on politicians having a falling-out or speculation regarding alliances and how they play into appointments or even policy decision would seem par for the course.

Even so, using a term like

Cat Fight

to describe the political jockeying of two of the most influential members of Congress is hard to justify…especially when used by one of the most highly respected newspapers in the country. When Dennis Hastert became Speaker of the House, was he accused of being “Catty” for Committee Chairmanship appointments? No, he wasn’t. When Hastert gave out new Committee assignments in 2001, replacing some sitting Chairs with new appointees, were the re-assigned or ousted members described as “Devastated”? Was the decision process labeled a “Cat Fight”? Of course not.

Here are some of the phrases used to describe Hastert’s decision to appoint several new committee chairs:

sweeping shuffle of leaders
highly placed lawmakers were bumped
finds himself deprived of his longtime chairmanship
waged a bitter battle for the post

And here is a list of phrases used to describe Pelosi’s decision to not appoint Harman:

Catfight aftermath
is still quite irked
she's not exactly being stoic
hard for her not to take it personally
Harman "really needs to grow up"
overtly aggressive campaign

Again, I feel compelled to point out that we’re citing CNN and the Washington Post, not E! Online and the National Inquirer.

Fast forward to last week’s discussion. Carol Gay (Women’s Studies, UNCC) asked the following question.

Compared to reporting on male politicians, do you see media coverage of women in politics that:
*Focuses more on personal characteristics, such as clothing or hair?
*Focuses more on personal relationships (such as who their husbands are and how many children or grandchildren they have)?
*Sexualizes women more, presenting their sexuality as disruptive or distracting forces in the world of government and politics?
*Presents women in more stereotypically female (and mostly negative) roles such as witches, Cinderellas, Lady Macbeths, or even as victims of violence?
*Highlights men’s positions or records on the issues more often then those of female candidates?
*Quotes male politicians backing their claims with evidence or reasoning more often than female candidates?
*Exaggerates female candidates’ combative behavior (such as interrupting, shaking fists, or pointing fingers)?

As you can imagine, it didn’t take long for the dozen or so professional women in attendance to come up with examples for each of the characteristics listed above (with links to but a few of these provided above.) As a group, we also discussed that this phenomenon is not limited to main stream media or to well-known right-leaning outlets. This type of double standard exists across the ideological spectrum, among journalists, bloggers and your average voter. (Don’t believe me? Google search any of the topics listed above with a candidate’s name and see what you get. It’s not all Fox News and the NY Sun, is it?)

Identifying the problem wasn’t the hard part. The more difficult task was determining what to do about it. One approach is the good ‘ol Letter To The Editor. Participants agreed that we must refuse to accept a double standard in our political coverage.

Case in point:

Just yesterday, I received an email from a WFP ’08 member who saw a Time Magazine article about the leading 2008 contenders. The article cited a recent poll showing Edwards gaining momentum on Clinton. The article went on to say,

Although Clinton's lead is slipping, poll respondents did give her three victories, saying she would make the best high school principal, the best babysitter and the best contestant on Dancing with the Stars.

As if it’s not amazing enough to have Time Magazine poll readers about whether a candidate would make a good babysitter or reality show contestant, it turns out to be complete BS. The poll DIDN’T INCLUDE ANY SUCH QUESTION

That’s right…Time Magazine arbitrarily assigned the qualities of a baby sitter and reality show contestant to just one of the leading Presidential contenders…the female.

If you are as outraged as my fellow WFP '08 participant and I, feel free to contact Time at letters@time.com and feel free to echo some of my compatriot's sentiment:

Please, Time Magazine, help me understand this last paragraph of Crashing the Party on page 43 of the April 9, 2007 issue regarding the so-called Time Election Index.

“Although Clinton's lead is slipping, poll respondents did give her three victories, saying she would make the best high school principal, the best babysitter and the best contestant on Dancing with the Stars.”

I’ve read it dozens of times now. I’m still shaking my head. Dismayed. Insulted. Irritated. Bewildered. Angry.

Incredulous, I searched the internet and found the 15 page report of the poll results from SRBI—and as I suspected—there were ZERO questions on the survey about high school principals, babysitters, or prospective contestants on Dancing with the Stars.

What the heck kind of magazine are you publishing these days? This is 2008! This particular commentary is the unfunniest I have ever read. It is blatantly irresponsible and reprehensible. Plus, the simplistic graphic exacerbates the commentary.

Never before has this country had such a dedicated, intelligent, experienced, passionate, highly-regarded Senator and superbly qualified presidential candidate who just so happens to be a woman—a woman who lived and worked as a public servant in the White House for eight years—a woman who deserves the utter respect of any fair-minded person on Planet Earth. The persons responsible for this journalistic atrocity ought to be lampooned in your next issue. The margin of error for this article is 100 percent.

Also, Karen Tumulty’s article on page 42 appears to be a lot tougher on Senator Clinton, using catastrophic adjectives such as disastrous to describe the then First Lady’s attempt to help jump-start health care reform. Tumulty’s “hunts and pecks” style of quoting Senator Clinton is incendiary compared to her “sedate” paraphrase of Edward’s plan.

Perhaps you should ask ALL of your political commentators and reporters to look up the definition of impeccable and consider how American politics might be different if they attempted to be impeccable with word, thought, and deed for the duration of the 2008 Presidential Campaign.

A thoroughly disgusted subscriber,
(signature here)

I guess we still have a long way to go, Baby.


It didn't include the question....

OMG. I'm not a fan, but this is bull**it, we need to call these Republican media conglomerates on this crap.

One man with courage makes a majority.
- Andrew Jackson

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.

I know.

It's beyond ridiculous.

I read all 15 pages of the survey. Nothing even remotely close to that kind of question.

Larry Kissell is MY Congressman

Time sucks

along with 99% of the rest of the mainstream media. What's really scary is that people read that crap and think they're staying "informed."

Very great post. Much appreciated.

You'll like this...

the woman who leads the WFP '08 group is also with the Meck Cty League of Woman Voters. This is her letter to Time:

Dear Editor

Where in the world did you come up with the poll respondents characterization of Senator Clinton as best high school principal, best babysitter and best contestant on Dancing with the Stars? I cannot find any of these questions in the referenced poll. At best this type of reporting is adolescent chatter and at worst a deliberate attempt to undercut her as a legitimate presidential candidate.

Reporting of this nature is beyond the pale. It reflects poorly on Time and reduces the reporting to juvenile gossip. Voters depend on fair and accurate reporting from the media and this type of chatter does nothing to raise the level of civil discourse that we need to find solutions to the very important and major issues our country faces today.

I expect more of Time.

Larry Kissell is MY Congressman


Oh, yes, I've seen lots of ink spilled over Pelosi's choice of designer suits and a CNN commentator (female) made the point the other day that the french press seem obsessed with Royal's white suits.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Sam has posted on KOS

requesting questions for a Vlog with Joe Biden. Maybe we could ask him what his favorite color suit is...or does he have his nails done on a regular basis....or where does he buy those gorgeous shoes!

No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.

Progressive Discussions

Good ones, Mo ...

And can we also get the scoop on whether he's gotten into any cat fights with Sen. Reid? Also, what does he do if he gets to the Senate floor one day and he's wearing the same suit as another Senator? **gasp**

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Great post, working for change!

And, the really sad thing about all of this, many people don't even notice when sexist language or stereotypes are being employed...or worse yet, when they are addressed, those bringing it up are accused of being overly sensitive, hysterical, overly emotional women.

Now, scuse me, Oh.My.Gawd..I feel the vapors comin' on! ;) Mercy me.

Thanks, NCDem.

It's amazing to me that in 2007 we have to worry that candidates for the highest office will be covered more for their wardrobe than for their positions on the issues.

This "phenomenon" is like one of those optical illusions...once you see it, you can't un-see it. Unfortunately, there's a lot to see.

Larry Kissell is MY Congressman

Thank you, WFC

This is great great stuff. Every five or ten years it seems like we talk about these issues and yet, it doesn't seem to improve. But at least we're talking about it. I can hardly research this stuff because it makes my blood boil . . .

Bill Moyer is talking tonight about the complicity of the mainstream media in promoting the administration's blatant bullshit leading up to the war. It's seems to me that most of the media are basically traitors. Screwing women or minorities or future soldiers. Whatever they think their audiences want to hear. That's what they say.
“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.”
So enjoy the drama.

Speaking of...

how women are treated differently

Anyone notice the media blitz last night regarding Rosie O'Donnell? Why is everyone so up in arms about this woman that dares speak openly about her views while broadcasters like O'Reilly and Limbaugh continue to say any freakin' thing they want without consequence?

Seriously...it p*sses me off!

Larry Kissell is MY Congressman

I'm not positive about the

I'm not positive about the mission statement of "The View" or their target market (thus advertisers) but I'm thinking maybe they were hoping to get the "nice Rosie" that was on when she first had her own talk show or at least milder than what she became on The View. Perhaps her style or content was not compatible with the show she was being paid to be on. O'Reilly and Limbaugh are what their respective shows are all about.

I don't buy it.

I don't watch the show, but my understanding of the premise is that there are four women with differing opinions to represent a full 360 view of how women think. ODonnell was brought on the show specifically because of her opinions and to stir things up a bit.

Apparently, ODonnell's one-year contract is up and she decided not to renew because she didn't like the terms that were offered. Her views, at least as far as her bosses on the show are concerned, are not an issue and have brought big ratings to the show.

The double standard comes from these talking-heads that throw their hands up in dismay over the "controversial" things Rosie O'Donnell says while turning a blind eye to the daily outrage that is Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly.

Case in point: Rush's Barack the Magic Negro.

Larry Kissell is MY Congressman

They get up in arms about any liberal more than

any conservative so that's going on as well.

It's amazing how sensitive conservatives are. Conservatives in the military are afraid of having to work with men who might be outwardly attracted to them (even tho women always have to deal with the same issues). And conservatives in the media are terrified by truth-talking by a liberal, and particularly by a liberal woman.
News of the 10th district: See Pat Go Bye Bye,

It just belies the point. . .

That many in society, even in the "liberal" media (whatever), are very, very uncomfortable with women running the show. They are uncomfortable with women CEOs (see: Carly Fiorina), politicians (Sen Clinton and, especially Speaker Pelosi).

It's a shame, too, because Pelosi and Clinton both do a hell of a good job representing their constituents. That's what gets lost in the shuffle of "catfighting." If Steny hoyer had battled with Jane Harman he would have been seen as positively asserting his authority to build his own leadership team. Pelosi does it, and it's a catfight. Jesus.

Screw Time.

War is over if you want it.

This has really made me think

about the way I react to women in politics. I catch myself saying things (particularly about Clinton) like "She could have done something about her hair", or "Geez, what was she thinking," if i don't agree with her sartorial choice. I've also noticed that women in general tend to be harder on other women about their looks, clothes, etc. - but I really hadn't been aware of me doing this - and yes, I only do that to the female of the species. Except for ties - some of the gentlemen who represent us have awful taste in ties.

My question for myself is: I wonder how much message I've missed because I've been focused on being the fashion police? I kind of snarked on Blue South for describing what Liddy was wearing when she fell in line with the White House's wishes on the Iraq Spending Bill, but I suppose I'm guilty of the same thing.

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." - Gandhi

After an evening with Elizabeth Edwards

when the Senator ran the first time, I rode home with a van full of men and women. The women went nuts over elizabeth's hair and shoes. I kid you not.

And then they told me about buying the wife of some other candidate a dress. I kid you not. Polk County, NC democratic women bought some state-level woman (I will not say her name) a dress. Boy, were they pissed when she didn't wear it!
News of the 10th district: See Pat Go Bye Bye,

Women are often our own worst enemies.

Last election cycle, the wife a candidate was vilified because she wouldn't (read couldn't) take time off of work to travel around the district to campaign with him. Men weren't concerned. Women, however, were almost vicious in the whisper campaign about it. "Why isn't she here?" "I know, you'd think she'd be here for this.

Yet, during the same election cycle, I traveled a lot with a female candidate for county commissioner. Her husband was often unable to be at campaign stops with us. She was never asked where he was, and there was never a whisper campaign about that.

We really can be bitches. I will certainly be more aware of this in the future.

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." - Gandhi

You got it!

That's exactly what we discussed last week...how we are ALL guilty of imposing this double standard.

If the first step toward making a change is being able to admit you have a problem, I think we are making fantastic progress here at Blue!

Larry Kissell is MY Congressman

I heartily agree

Diversity issues tend to fade in the light of day. If we just keep the discussions open we can't fail to improve things for everyone. This is all great stuff!!!!
News of the 10th district: See Pat Go Bye Bye,