Monday, August 22, 2011

Notes on Politics: Ingraham ‘Just a Pretty Girl,’ Sexism Hurts Female Pols, Pining for Hillary & Political Moms

Talk Show Host Ingraham ‘Just a Pretty Girl?’

While filling in for the vacationing Bill O’Reilly on The O’Reilly Factor last week, pundit Laura Ingraham was grilling Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel by lobbing a series of tough, rapid-fire questions his way, many of which went off the original topic. Rep. Rangel’s response, after he said Ingraham was simply issuing “mini-speeches” instead of questioning him, was to say this: “Bill O’Reilly told me he had a secret weapon. I didn’t know it was just a pretty girl that they’d bring in.” At the tail-end of the interview, he “apologized” by saying, “I’m sorry I said you were attractive.”

This was just last week. In the year 2011.





Sexism Hurts Female Politicians

If you scroll down on the Mediaite web site, where I first read about Rangel’s comments to Ingraham, you’ll see that many of the comments degenerated from discussing the actual content of Rangel and Ingraham’s words, to Ingraham’s looks (both positive and negative), comparing her appearance to those of other political women, calling her sexual slurs and suggesting that she had sex with another famous TV pundit.

It’s comments like the ones directed at Ingraham based on her gender that, when directed at female politicians, actually have a measurable negative impact on those women’s chances of getting elected, even if those comments are flattering, like calling someone “pretty” or “hot.” That’s the centerpiece of my pop culture and politics column this week, that even when people call Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann attractive, or put Bachmann on the cover of Newsweek looking crazy after a pundit had asked her if she was a “flake” not too long ago, or when a fashion “guru” criticizes Hillary Clinton’s clothing selections using gender-specific language, that type of commentary erodes people’s confidence in the female candidates:

“Last fall, a study conducted by the Women’s Media Center, the WCF Foundation and Political Parity found that demeaning female political candidates with sexist language and images ‘undercuts her political standing,’ USA Today reported. The Democratic pollster who ran the survey told the newspaper, ‘I was stunned at the magnitude of the effect of even mild sexism.’ What kind of effect? The survey found that in a hypothetical campaign between a male and a female and the female was criticized or depicted in a sexist way: ‘The female candidate lost twice as much support when even the mild sexist language was added to the attack’ and ‘the sexist language undermined favorable perceptions of the female candidate, leading voters to view her as less empathetic, trustworthy and effective,’ USA Today said.”

This is why, while I was researching this piece, I was happy to come across the web site Name It. Change It. whose sole goal it to point out and speak up when they see women candidates, of all political stripes, assailed by misogynistic remarks in the media. They do not let it lie. And neither should we.

The 2012 presidential race isn’t off to such a great start, as far as sexism and the media are concerned. Let’s hope the folks at Name It. Change It. can help improve matters.

Pining for Hillary

Are those who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary suffering from buyer’s remorse? That’s what Rebecca Traister suggested in her column in the New York Times Magazine this past weekend in a piece entitled, “If Hillary Were President.”

“Three years after that intense and acrimonious time, in a period of liberal disillusionment, some on the left are engaging in an inverse fantasy,” she said. “Almost unbelievably, they are now daydreaming of how much better a Hillary Clinton administration might have represented them.”

And Traister wants those who are idealizing the could-have-been Hillary Clinton administration to cut it out: “. . . [T]o say it [that they wish Clinton had been elected] – much less to bray it – is small, mean, divisive and frankly dishonest. None of us know what would have happened with Hillary Clinton as president, no matter how many rounds of W.W.H.H.D. (What Would Hillary Have Done) we play.”

Of Political Moms

Speaking of women in politics, I just received my review copy of Joanne Bamberger’s new book, Mothers of Intention: How Women & Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America. Bamberger goes by the handle “PunditMom” online.) I’ll report back here after I’ve read it.

Image credits: Name It Change It, Amazon.

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