According to www.alternet.org, “two recent Gallup and Roper Public Affairs polls show overwhelming support for female politicians among the general public: between 79 and 81 percent of Americans say they would feel comfortable with a female president, and similar numbers believe a woman would handle homeland security and foreign policy issues as well as or better than a male president.”It is surprising to me that these numbers are so high, since most of what we usually hear about females in politics is either about their clothing, looks or other feminine characteristics.
For instance, the Associate Press reported that Harriet Miers “bakes a mean sweet potato pie,” according to AlterNet. Aside from the fact that she had almost no credentials, the press coverage around Miers was gender-specific, reinforcing the traditional stereotype that women are nurturing homemakers and only men can operate in the public realm of politics. Who cares if Miers bakes a good sweet potato pie? That has nothing to do with her qualifications. There is little reporting being done on trivial aspects of a male candidate’s life, except for maybe in presidential races when the press runs out of things to say.
Condoleezza Rice is also often criticized for her looks, as well as not being married. Does Bush try to surround himself with only women who are not married?
Or is it just the fact that, in order to achieve a successful career in politics, one must not spend much time at home, a quality that not many men would want to have in a wife. Or is it just that these women are powerful, do not need men, or are perhaps lesbians?
The real question is: why do we care? Why is marital status so important for women, but never even a topic of consideration among male politicians? My theory is that it is because society is still not ready to accept the fact that heterosexual females can exist without marriage or without men. Not every female wants to have children, either.
Nevertheless, the polls show that people would be fine with having a woman president, but would they vote for one? These days, it is difficult to even know a candidate’s credentials, what with the biased, gender-specific reporting that the media engages in.
Some may say that the fashion sense of female candidates is the same bias as the “who would you rather have a beer with” for male candidates. However, the latter question is also hurtful for American politics.
It should not matter who would be fun to socialize with, who has good fashion sense, or who would make a good wife. Those things have nothing to do with the ability to run a country and the media is only hurting American society as a whole by even suggesting these questions as weigh-ins for political capability.
Bush also did not do anyone any favors when he announced Miers for a candidate by describing her as “a pit bull in size six shoes.” I have to ask myself if any male candidate would ever be referred to in this way: “Samuel Alito: a bull dog in size 12 shoes.” It just wouldn’t happen.
I learned in political communication class that women are often relegated to the private spheres and men are the ones who dominate the public arena. This includes politics and sports for men while women usually talk about fashion, kids and things like craft-making.
This communication theory has proven true with the media coverage of female candidates. Their qualifications, if any, are only stated because that is the nature of the argument. Looks, fashion sense and dress size are brought in as variables because that is what our society has come to hold important in a woman.
What about her level of intelligence, all of her accomplishments and being heralded for society’s pressure NOT giving in to society’s pressure to be married with children?
Jennifer Pozner, the executive director of Women In Media & News, a media analysis, education and advocacy group, writes in her AlterNet column that “this sort of media marginalization reinforces the regressive notion that women are more emotional, less knowledgeable, less qualified to lead and, by proxy, less electable than their male counterparts.”
If the media continues to engage in this biased reporting about female candidates and women in general, we will never be able to get out of the dark ages where women are seen as homemakers. Granted, women who choose to have children and stay at home have jobs that are just as important as any other. Raising the nation’s children is a valuable accomplishment, but a woman who wants to affect change in the nation should not be relegated to the ranks of fashion, baking and typical nurturing qualities.
While men should take more care to become sensitive, emotional and transcend the masculine box that society has constructed for males, political reporting should only be about the candidate’s qualifications that are directly related to the job. I equally don’t care if a man in politics has bad fashion sense, yet I feel as though it’s not reported on as much.
A response to Pozner’s article on AlterNet.org points out that men are not as exempt from comments on appearance.
“The Washington Post had a long article about Alito’s lack of fashion sense and his social awkwardness (contrasted, no less, with Roberts’ golden boy, GQ looks and manners). A while back, several media sources gave Dick Cheney flack for wearing a puffy parka and goofy boots. Bill Clinton was constantly picked on about his weight, eating habits and exercise habits. We discuss the physical appearance of male political figures all the time; we just don’t seem to notice it or allow it to influence our judgments as much.”
Exactly. Even if public figures’ appearances were reported on more equally which is NOT the answer those factors don’t weigh in nearly as much during election time, unless the candidate is female.
Sally Cramer is a senior majoring in studio arts and minoring in communications.