So far, there have been four women who formally announced their candidacy for the US presidential race. We’re taking this, plus the recently concluded midterm elections which saw many women seated in congress, as a sure sign of progress. But unfortunately, media treatment on female politicians is still far from progressive.
Host Samantha Bee perfectly explained this on one episode of her late night show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
Here, she discussed the obvious double standard in the way media discusses men and women political candidates, citing how Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand were immediately interrogated regarding their “likability”—a sexist question which can be linked back to the US’ first female presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. The Guardian notes, “It was, in fact, Barack Obama who in 2008 framed an unfortunate test for female politicians when he told his rival Hillary Clinton: ‘You’re likable enough, Hillary.’”
Unfortunately, that line of thinking bleeded to her 2016 campaign when she decided to run again, that time against Donald Trump. In her more recent run, other issues were picked by the press, like her clothes, her smile, and her being a grandma. For instance, USA Today wrote a piece in 2014 that said, “It’s unclear how Chelsea’s pregnancy will affect Hillary Clinton, who is considering a race for president in 2016.” Needless to say, that type of question eluded male candidates who themselves are also grandparents.
Years later, those kind of sexist ways in which female politicians are being evaluated, apart from their actual credentials, still exist. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for instance, have been subjected to sexist treatment during and after her campaign.
Shilpa Phadke, the vice-president of the women’s initiative at the Center for American Progress, told The Guardian: “Of course voter sexism and outright misogyny still exist. There’s a constant focus for women on what they’re wearing, what they look like and the tone of their voice. It’s almost as if they’re not only running for president but also running for Miss America.”
In regards with Elizabeth Warren being compared to Hillary and whether she’s likable enough, Shilpa said that kind of behavior “is no different from what is faced by working women every day.” She added that it “shows women have to find a sweet spot so they are ‘warm enough’. They’re expected to conform to certain positive stereotypes and avoid certain negative stereotypes.”
How does Elizabeth Warren avoid a Clinton redux — written off as too unlikable before her campaign gets off the ground? https://t.co/E6zfTkzNYy
— POLITICO (@politico) January 1, 2019
Indeed, there are multiple ways in which media contributes to the culture of sexism in politics, whether in a subtle manner, or more obvious. According to The Conversation, the latter includes focusing on women’s domestic life, attaching them to powerful men, saying they get “emotional,” discussing their looks, and commenting on their voices.
If you spot any of these remember Samantha’s reminder: “When we frame women candidates like this, right off the bat it becomes impossible to actually discuss them with nuance down the line.” She stressed, “it’s not that women are too sensitive, or that they don’t want the same tough treatment that male candidates get. The same treatment is exactly what we want.” Achieving that is simple, really. Stop talking about anything that doesn’t have to do with their candidacy. Press them on what really matters, like where do they stand, or what their values are. Like Samantha said, “Bring whatever political fire you have. Just make sure you’re going just as hard on their male counterparts.”
Art by Marian Hukom
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