When Old is New Again

February 19, 2008

One thing I’ll say for this presidential election: I’m finding it much more interesting than usual. It’s gratifying to hear so many people across every age group actually talking about the candidates. But when I listen more closely I realize that some comments and observations I had thought obsolete are still very much in evidence — stereotypical perceptions of women in or running for leadership positions, in this case for president of the United States.

Several recent columns and articles describe this phenomenon better than I could in a short space. Nicolas Kristof’s interesting piece in the New York Times, “When Women Rule,” gives a plausible “pet theory” of why women continue to run into the old perceptions wall. Caryl Rivers, a Women’s eNews commentator, provides a view of the different Clinton versus Obama media coverage.

But the shocking news to me is that women are judging other women on outdated criteria. Why should we be included with those who, as Katie Heimer of NOW said, “trivialize female politicians by focusing on clothing, hair, taste in home decor”? Why do some women perceive a self-promoting woman as too aggressive but a self-effacing one as not strong enough? I know I’m generalizing here and that many women don’t feel this way, but the numbers who do are higher than I ever realized.

I look back through AAUW’s online museum and see the hard battles fought and the long roads traveled toward women’s equity and, ultimately, equity for all. Earlier members faced perceptions that, fortunately, we can look back on with an “it’s a non-issue now” attitude. My hope? That whatever discrimination candidates face today will one day be wiped out through education, common sense, and accurate, unbiased media coverage. Hmm … what is your hope?

By:   |   February 19, 2008


  1. Sandy Kirkpatrick says:

    This sexist, misogynistic tendency in political commentary goes well beyond Hillary Clinton, by the way. As Barack Obama gains momentum, his wife, Michelle Obama, is now more and more frequently called out by media voices for having “an attitude” — a none-too-subtle warning against a woman having (gasp!) intellect and opinions. And let’s not forget the disgusting references to Chelsea Clinton’s campaigning efforts being dismissed as her parents “pimping her out.”

    Thanks to Sherry for sharing the link to the Tim Gunn report. The comments to that report are perfect illustrations of where and how we need to speak out.

  2. I’ve been following gender-related articles in connection with this presidential candidate campaigns. Thanks for raising this point on the AAUW blog. As I see it (and read it), the gender bias is alive and well in the media!

  3. Sherry says:

    I happened to watch Tim Gunn (Project Runway) on Conan’s show and he fell right into describing Hillary as being, in essence, “gender confused” due to the clothes she was wearing. I found the following clip of this segment on E-online, with comments worth reading from women raising voices in protest.


  4. Sandy Kirkpatrick says:

    This question actually relates to the Feb. 15 posting about whether AAUW should endorse Hillary Clinton. Many of the comments to that posting focused on which candidate they supported and why, rather than addressing the issue of how an organization that supports equity for women should support a female candidate into an office that has thus far been a notable glass ceiling for women in politics.

    Since AAUW has a policy against endorsing particular candidates I think it’s safe to say that AAUW members will appreciate being kept informed about the various candidates’ stand on AAUW issues, and that we can each come to our own conclusions and even respectfully support different candidates.

    But the question here is about how we insist on equity for women. And in this case, it means that, whichever candidate we support for president in this campaign, we should ALL be watchful and call out the media whenever their coverage has gender bias or plays into gender stereotypes.

    It’s not about supporting this particular female candidate; it’s about making sure that ALL candidates are given fair, even-handed coverage… in this campaign and into the future!

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