Media sexism starts early with female candidates in 2016 race
While too much of the political world breathlessly awaits the next meaningless poll on the 2016 presidential race — still almost 15 months away — it’s worth taking a look at how sexism has already crept into coverage of the contest.
Consider: A story on CNN.com on Clinton’s impassioned speech at the Democratic Wing Ding dinner at the Iowa State Fair described her criticism of GOP candidates as “harsh.” Adjectives used for male candidates included “spirited,” “fiery,” “tough-talking,” etc.
Consider: A Politico story on a press Q&A in Las Vegas described Clinton as “testy” when she gave the same answer to multiple yet similar questions about her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state, a topic that she says never comes up when she meets with voters. “Nobody talked to me about it — other than you guys,” she told the reporters.
Tweeted former Clinton adviser Peter Daou: “Bush was ‘firm’ when he was telling reporters off. But @HillaryClinton is ‘testy’ when she puts them in their place on emails.” He followed that up with: “NEW: The 2016 Gender Bias Thesaurus: T is for Testy (Hillary), F is for Firm (Bush).” Daou is cofounder of #HillaryMen, which has the described purpose of providing “actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics.”
Clinton isn’t the only one on the receiving end of this media double standard. Republican Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, has received her share of sexist coverage and questions on the campaign trail, too, with reporters remarking on her pink nail polish and asking her if she thought hormones would prevent a woman from serving as president. During the Aug. 6 early debate, other candidates were addressed as “Senator” and “Governor,” but she was addressed by the Fox News debate moderators as “Carly.”
“Being a woman is about lot more than our bodies and what we look like,” Fiorina told reporters before a speech in June. In that speech, covered in a story by the International Business Times, Fiorina recalled the sexism she faced in the business world, both at AT&T and HP. “My [AT&T] boss introduced me to my new team as the ‘token bimbo.’ When I started at HP, I was also called a bimbo — and a word that also starts with B and rhymes with witch — words that definitely weren’t used to describe male CEOs at other, similar companies.”
There was no shortage of sexism in media coverage or attitudes during the 2008 presidential contest, either of Clinton or of Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin. Remember when a man in New Hampshire held up a sign asking Clinton to “iron my shirt”? Remember the focus on Palin’s looks, and the questions about whether she would be able to serve as vice president while taking care of a child with Down syndrome? As if male candidates ever get questions about how they’ll handle work-parenting balance.
There’s an eye-popping compilation of sexist remarks in the media about Hillary Clinton at Policy.Mic, recalling remarks during the 2008 campaign and things said more recently. “She isn’t compassionate; she’s ‘nagging.’ She isn’t outspoken; she’s ‘shrill.’ She isn’t tough; she’s a ‘bitch,’ the piece said. One of the worst examples was from Pat Buchanan saying, “When she raises her voice … It reaches a point where every husband in America has heard it one time or another.”
And then there’s real estate mogul Donald Trump’s defense of his sexist and childish insults to women, hiding behind the veil of attacking “political correctness.” Megyn Kelley, normally a popular host on Fox News, received torrents of critical emails and tweets — even threats — from Trump supporters after her tough questions to Trump in the debate. That didn’t diminish even after his hints about the toughness of her questions being tied to her menstrual cycle.
Now that Fiorina has risen somewhat in national polls, Trump has decided to attack her in sexist terms, too, saying that “listening to her for more than ten minutes can give you a massive headache.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders isn’t afraid to call it as he sees it, suggesting that much criticism toward Clinton, especially about her trustworthiness, is rooted in sexism. “I don’t know that a man would be treated the same way that Hillary is,” Sanders was quoted as saying in a CNN story. That was after he answered a reporter’s question about Hillary Clinton’s hair with one of his own: “Do you have serious questions?”
An opinion piece in Huffington Post asks the question, “Is It Going to Be Open Season on All Women in Politics in 2016?”
Let’s hope not. But it seems that the pattern already has been set.