Web Only / Views » October 21, 2010
Media, Stop Abusing Female Candidates
The merits of female candidacies should be based solely on experience and policy positions, regardless of their party affiliation or ideology.
There is a fear both subtle and obvious running rampant through our news media. It is not fear of a U.S. economy stuck in recession, or more housing foreclosures, or Obama-care, or the Tea Party, or feigned socialism, or terrorist attacks, or the flu, or immigrants.
It’s the fear of women–specifically, fear of women politicians and leaders. Because of this fear, female politicians, candidates and leaders face blatant sexism and misogyny in both corporate media and parts of the blogosphere for challenging the male-dominated political system.
Sure, it’s been going on for decades. Strike that: centuries. But recent asinine attacks against female politicians in the media based on their gender, sexuality, appearance, outfits, hairstyle, age, weight, number of children (and how, or if, they hold those children), indicate that the trend is on the rise.
During Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination hearings last year, conservative radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy said, “Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating or something, or just before she’s going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then.”
In September, Boston radio producer Bill Cooksey of WRKO-AM “endorsed” Republican State Treasurer candidate Karyn E. Polito, but not because of her campaign promises or qualifications. Cooksey said on the air: “I think she’s hot. She’s tiny, she’s short. She’s got a banging little body on her. Facial wise, I give her about a seven. Body wise, I give her about an eight-and-a-half. Tight little butt. I endorse Karyn Polito.”
Also that month, Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called fellow Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand the “hottest woman in the Senate”; the label was echoed in the media. In 2009, Glenn Beck called Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) a “high-class prostitute” and former CNBC show host Donny Deutsch said “men want to mate with” Sarah Palin.
And then, of course, there’s Krystal Ball, Democratic candidate for Virginia’s 1st District. A few weeks ago, a right-wing blogger released “racy” photos of Krystal Ball taken when she was 22-years-old. In a Huffington Post column, Ball spoke out about the photos and her bid for the Democratic seat. “For millions of people around the world, I am a joke named Krystal Ball, a party girl or a whore,” she wrote.
In 1982 Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown posed nude in Cosmopolitan magazine at the same age, but the media hardly harped on this fact when he was running for election last year.
Finally, during a recent episode of Hardball on MSNBC discussing Christine O’Donnell’s candidacy for a Delaware Senate seat, Chris Matthews referred to her as “irresistibly cute” and said she was “playing on the cute thing.” He even seemed to know he is crossing a line, saying, “I have to be careful about how I say anything; I’m a male talking about a female.”
Yes, you do Chris. But is it really that hard? Just tell us if you’ve uncovered anything we should know as voters. Referring to O’Donnell’s appearance is irrelevant to the race and devalues her as a candidate. Television hosts and reporters take note: If you wouldn’t say it to or about a male politician, then don’t say it about a female politician.
This mistreatment must stop. The merits of female candidacies should be based solely on experience and policy positions, regardless of their party affiliation or ideology.
“Name It. Change It.,” a new campaign created by the Women’s Media Center, the Women’s Campaign Fund and the Parity Project, is aimed at drawing attention to sexism in the media. The campaign recently released studies that found even mild sexist language has an impact on voters’ likelihood to vote for a female candidate. That may be why only 2 percent of the 13,000 people that have served in U.S. Congress have been women. Or why just 31 women have ever served as Governors, compared to 2,317 men.
People should be angry that our media so often fails to report the track records of female politicians, and place them on a level playing field with male opponents. A platform, for those in the media who don’t know, is a list of issues a politician runs her or his candidacy on; it is not a type of shoe that reporters should be comparing with stiletto heels.
When vitriolic and disparaging comments about women become normalized in our national political dialogue, they harm us culturally. They create deep wounds in women and girls and have a chilling effect on those considering a run for office.
Sam Bennett, president of the Women’s Campaign Forum, put it well during an interview with C-Span’s The Washington Journal: “We have to come out in outrage when comments like this are made–irrespective of the party, irrespective of the situation–because what we have to do… is de-normalize these types of comments. No candidate–male or female–deserves to be on national television being referred to in a sexually explicit way.”
Despite the abuse, more and more brave women are stepping up every year to run for office and endure the media gauntlet. Politics shouldn’t be easy and women should be prepared to defend themselves, but they should be defending their platform, their positions and their views, not their gender, appearance or sexuality.
Ball is refusing to let the negative attention derail her campaign, saying: “We are young women. And we are dedicated to serving this country. And we will run for office. And we will win.”
That is what the established political machines and the corporate media fear most of all.
Megan Tady is a blogger and video producer for Free Press, the national nonprofit media reform organization. She writes a monthly InTheseTimes.com column on media issues. Follow her on Twitter: @MegTady.