What’s Worse — When the Media Mock Political Women or Ignore Them?

The media love to mock women in the political world by using sexist terms that demean us and make us out to be something not worthy of serious consideration.   We saw that time and time again during the 2008 presidential election as talking heads not-so-subtly suggested that Hillary Clinton was only a viable candidate for national office because we felt sorry for her after Bill cheated on her. And instead of focusing on Sarah Palin’s qualifications, or lack thereof, as John McCain’s running mate, the media focused on her looks and questioned whether a mother of five with young children still at home was up to playing with the big boys.

There’s still plenty of that when it comes to powerful women — one of the most recent examples is an article in the Washington Post about Elizabeth Warren, where they question whether she is a “zealot” because of her passion to help middle class families in these horrible economic times.  When I see things like that, it’s hard not to wonder whether a man in that position would have been described differently — I’m betting a male counterpart would be described more positively as something like a “devoted advocate” rather than a “zealot,” which has such a negative inference.  (Not to mention the fact that the article was, yet again, another story about a politically powerful woman that got placed in the Style section.  But that’s another post for another day.)

Another increasingly common phenomenon I’ve been noticing is that some news outlets just act like we don’t exist, implying through omission that it’s just the big ol’ menfolk who are out there trying to make change, with hardly a woman to be found!

The most recent outrageous example is a Politico article entitled, More Bloggers Throwing Hats in Ring.

The article explores the “phenomenon” of political bloggers deciding to take their voices beyond the bloggy world and actually try to get elected to office.  When I learned that the piece was being written, I was excited because I know several women bloggers who are doing just that!

When I saw a call for information about the piece from someone I now know was involved in the research for the article, I e-mailed him with several names — my friend Jill Miller Zimon of Writes Like She Talks who ran and was elected to her city council last year in Pepper Pike, Ohio; my former D.C. Metro Mom blog colleague Aimee Olivo who is running for School Board in Prince George’s County, Maryland; and Ariana Kelly of MomsRising blog who has tossed her hat in the ring for a seat in the Maryland State House of Delegates.

11 men got included in the article, but only two women were mentioned, even though the reporter had at least three more names, and I’d have to bet he had more.   So I have to ask — how does that choice get made and why?  One of the men highlighted in the article is Judd Legum, who is a blogger running for the Maryland State House of Delegates.  He’s talked up in the article as a big money raiser and his head shot is prominently featured just under the headline. Yet Ariana Kelly, who is also running for that same elective body and writes for a very prominent blog and organization that has over one million members is found nowhere in the article.

If one is truly interested in writing an article that fairly represents the growing movement of bloggers running for elective office, why leave out the numerous women and pen an article that implicitly suggests it’s mostly a guy thing?  I certainly hope it’s not because these three women are moms.  Because that would tick me off even more.

When the article does get around to tossing us gals a little bone, it’s with a tone of dismissal with its offhanded reference to the recent BlogHer conference half-day session with The White House Project, that may as well have said, “Oh, isn’t it cute that those lady bloggers are starting to think about running!”

So, other than beating our heads against our computers as it becomes clear that even when we try to step up to the plate with the boys, what do we do to combat the fact that they’re just ignoring us?   I guess we keep fighting — fighting the likes of Politico, who also doesn’t seem to recognize just how many of us women pundits are out here, fighting the Sunday talk shows, fighting NPR, fighting the Washington Post and the media in general that refuses to see political women where they are.

Maybe I should send the writer and his editor each one of these hats as a little reminder?

Or I could just send them an advance copy of this little baby! As the Politico piece said in its opening line, “The blog might be the new on ramp to American politics.”  Politico is right on that one — but we “powerful blogger ladies” will try our best not to run over the menz as we accelerate past them onto the political highway!

Image of MOMocrats at BlogHer ’10 courtesy of Stephanie Himel-Nelson

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5 Responses to “What’s Worse — When the Media Mock Political Women or Ignore Them?”

  1. Susan Getgood Says:

    This phenomenon is not unique to politics. Business is just as sexist. All the while claiming it isn’t because women are in the workforce. Usually making less money than men.

    The only thing *we* can do is to keep speaking up. And throw our support to those organizations that do a better job of equalizing than others.

    I also think that the political situation won’t change until the business environment does. Money talks.

    That’s why I’m going to throw my business to companies that truly advocate for women like Pepsi, one of the few F500 that has a woman CEO (Indra Nooyi) *and* women in senior corporate positions as well as down the ladder.

  2. Debbie Owensby Moore Says:

    I think it is better to be ignored than patronized. And while men are ignoring us, we can continue to make progress. One day, they won’t know what hit them. I can’t wait!!

  3. deborahlquinn Says:

    One of the many aspects of the problem you’re describing is the ripple effect out to generation of women in college and younger, who seem to think that “everything is basically fine, or whatever” when asked about questions of gender equality. In the classes I teach, whenever I address gender issues, I see eye rolling, slouching lower in seats, and feel a general sense of “oh god that’s sooooo not a problem.” It’s hard to address their attitudes without feeling, myself, like a shrill harridan, which is precisely the stereotype they (still) have of “feminists” and which is precisely what I want to combat. Whoda thunk that in the 21st century women would STILL be fighting these battles???

  4. Jill Miller Zimon Says:

    What a great job you’ve done with this situation, Joanne – and really emphasize with all the links to evidence of how pervasive an issue it is. When we ask ourselves, when anyone asks himself or herself, why aren’t there more than 17% women in Congress or 25% in the state legislatures, after all these years, THIS – what you write about – is why. And the points raised in the comments as well (thank you!).

    I don’t particularly care what they think of us because we raise this point up over and over, and I do not get into a hierarchy of “isms” but yesterday on one of the cable news shows w/I think it was Don Lemon, there was a conversation about Dr. Laura and her use of the N word and Tim Wise talked about how its use of putting down, over and over, is to minimize and dehumanize and de-legitimize.

    I say that the treatment fostered and projected by articles like Politico is similar in terms of undermining any power that anyone who is not a pale male manages to develop and wield. Intentional or not – it’s really irrelevant. Because if you are not intentionally seeking to be inclusive and show life as it is, then you are effectively distorting it and diminishing the existence of others.

    They really should be ashamed of themselves, given how they no doubt work to get traffic hits off of headlines about whether this is a year of the woman, or the GOP women, and so on.

    Big ole pffft.

  5. Susan Getgood Says:

    To Deborah’s point about the younger generation not seeing it as a problem, I have seen this over and over again. When you are in the bottom of the economic triangle — at the start of your career or still in school, there are plenty of entry level opportunities. The competition isn’t nearly as fierce. The playing field seems even. As we gain in experience ( ie age), the terrain gets more competitive. And when it does, that’s when you start to see (and feel) the squeeze.

    Hopefully they won’t wait to see that the glass ceiling is real until they bang their head against it. As we all have numerous times.

    I’m not as immersed in the political sphere as you Joanne, but I believe the same dynamic is at play. When there’s plenty of room and lots of opportunity, the boys are happy to share the limelight. You know, in non-election years. But when the big game is afoot. No way.

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