Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sex Sells: Gender in Media

People interested in politics only have one general source for information on candidates and elections: media. Whether it is newspapers, television, or the internet, people’s perceptions of candidates mainly come from the media that they take in. Unfortunately, the media continually creates a political atmosphere that is less than desirable for women. This has been the case in the past two presidential elections. Hillary Clinton has unsuccessfully campaigned to be the Democratic Presidential Nominee in both 2008 and 2012. Both times she lost to current President, Barack Obama. Unequal and unfair media representation occurred throughout both elections to Hillary Clinton. Comparing these two candidates will allow for a specific analysis because they both belong to the same political party, so any difference between their representations cannot be attributed to either Republican or Democratic preferences.  According to a survey done during the 2008 election cycle, 76 percent of Americans thought we were ready for a black male to be president compared to only 63 percent believing that we were ready for a female president1. Media outlets know how their audience thinks and their coverage of the elections reflects these statistics.
A Bloomberg article written while Hillary Clinton was travelling as Secretary of State describes Hillary as looking, “awful, and [she] has looked worse and worse for years.2” Her trips were to many Middle Eastern countries in hopes of bringing peace to that area, a hope that is held by many Americans. In that same year, President Obama also visited many Middle Eastern countries. His venture was recorded much differently, as “a very important time for him to also reinforce U.S. support…3” Clearly, a female potential president here is portrayed as looking ugly and “awful” after her much needed travels, but her male counterpart is praised at making an important sacrifice to show good relations with other countries. With such social stereotypes prominent in American culture, it seems that any female that does not have her hair or makeup done perfectly will be the topic of many jokes and negative advertising. Hillary Clinton did great work on this trip but was punished because of her appearances rather than actions. The media makes it easy for potential voters to overlook good actions of female candidates and focus on these small details that are unimportant in politics.
Hillary Clinton Nutcracker Doll
Another gaping difference between media coverage for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is the use of vulgarity that one had to tolerate while the other would never be criticized in such a way. One item that is on some peoples Christmas list is the Hillary Clinton “Nutcracker”4 doll. This item is the most derogatory reference to a woman with power. For many reasons that do not need to be explained, Hillary Clinton is being as portrayed as a candidate that will take over the “man’s game” of politics and make it a woman’s world. What a horrible precedent to set for any female politician! 5” This is an outrage! All politicians, regardless of gender, need to appear in control and have a handle on situations. Similar actions done by males show that they can take command and get things done, but a woman is considered “naggy” or inappropriate. The country cannot progress while women are being insulted for showing traits necessary to be a true leader of this country.
Why is it that a man winning an election is heralded but a woman possibly winning is received with insult and mockery? While early in the presidential election, Glenn Beck, a prominent talk show host, called Hillary, “A stereotypical B----.
 Hadley Freeman excellently describes this “double bind” situation that women in politics face, which is a situation that penalizes a female if she acts like a lady or a leader. “Obama: when he is emotional, he is persuasive; when she (Hillary) is emotional, she is betraying her feminist roots.6” Women in our society cannot progress so long as there is not equality in media representation. Many people know that the pantsuit Hillary wears does not change anything about her qualifications to be President of the United States; so why do the media focus on such menial things? Focusing on clothing and superficial flaws is seen as more harmful to women considering the differences between overall coverage of men and women. Female candidates tend to receive less overall media coverage than their male counterparts, and a larger part of female media coverage focuses on “appearance, personality, and family.7” A study done at George Mason University shows just how strong this media coverage difference really is. While covering three broadcast networks at the beginning of campaigns for both candidates, 90 percent of comments about Obama were positive while only 61 percent of comments about Hillary were positive.8 Negative comments that were made even bashed her relationship with her husband, “the reason she’s a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around.9” Simplifying her success and degrading it by saying that it was because of her husband’s infidelity undermines women everywhere and reinforces the sexism that is so prevalent in society.
Sign at a Hillary Clinton Speech

Sexism in the media has been a toxin to female candidates in the United States. Hillary Clinton fell victim to this type of sexism while her opponent, Barack Obama, went almost unscathed from such atrocious negative advertisements. While the specifics presented in this blog are solely of these two candidates, they reach into the lives of all males and females in America. A boy seeing negative media representation of female candidates could either develop or strengthen a sense of sexism in candidate choice. A girl seeing the same negative representation will feel timid about entering the political scene and inherently will see other females as less qualified to be in politics. The fight against media corporations is a struggle, but many people are fighting to end this practice. One of these groups is the National Organization of Women; it, along with other groups, are generating mass amounts of support for female candidates and protesting sexist advertisements and the media outlets that air them. The only way that media sexism can stop is if the voice of the people becomes louder than the voice of the media.

1 Stephen, Andrew. 2008. “Hating Hillary.” New Statesman 137, no. 4898: 28. Points of View Reference Center.
2 Kinsley, Michael. 2013. “Hillary Clinton’s Ego Trips.” Bloomberg View. Jan. 8, 2013.
3 Rogin, Josh. 2013. “Obama’s Middle East Schedule Revealed.” The Cable. Mar. 15, 2013.
6 Freeman, Hadley. “Why does Hillary Clinton wear such bad clothes?”
7 Carlin, Diana B., and Winfrey, Kelly L. “Have you come a Long Way, Baby?” Communication Studies. Vol. 60 Issue 4, 2009.
8 Hayes, Danny,  Lawless, Jennifer, and Baitinger, Gail. “Who Cares What they Wear?” Social Science Quarterly Vol. 95 Issue 5: 1194-1212.
9 Boehlert, E., and Foser, J. Media Matters for America.

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