David Nieporent would like to instruct feminists that they should not worry their pretty little heads about such trivialities as “reinforcing the sexist stereotypes that have contributed to the gross underrepresentation in public office”:
It used to be said that women couldn’t be involved in politics because they were just too frivolous, unable to handle serious issues and suited only to superficial, flighty topics. Then feminists came along to try to prove them right.
Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk. Only:
A number of unlikely sources defended President Obama last week when he called California Attorney General Kamala Harris “the best looking attorney general” and was later forced to apologize for it. His defenders mostly sang a common refrain: What’s the harm in complimenting a woman’s appearance?
As if on cue, a study released Monday showed that media coverage of a woman candidate’s appearance actually makes people less likely to vote for her — even if the comments are positive.
“Women candidates pay a real price when they are covered in a way that focuses on their appearance,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, which conducted the survey along with Chesapeake Beach Consulting, said in a statement. “Even what we thought was benign coverage about how a woman dresses has a negative impact on her vote and whether voters perceive her as in touch, likeable, confident, effective, and qualified. And, in close races, sexist coverage on top of the attacks that every candidate faces can make the difference between winning and losing.”
Name It. Change It.’s report didn’t run a similar experiment for coverage of Dan’s looks, so we don’t know how praise of his cuticle maintenance would have affected his chances. But we do know that despite President Obama’s commitment to equal-opportunity physical flattery, female candidates contend with far more superficial coverage of their campaigns than do men, and that seriously undermines their success. In Women for President: Media Bias in Nine Campaigns, Erika Falk examined media coverage of every female presidential candidate in American history, from Victoria Woodhull in 1872 to Hillary Clinton in 2008. Female candidates were subjected to four times the appearance-based coverage that male candidates were. And the trend didn’t budge across the 136-year sample: Journalists in 2004 described Carol Moseley Braun’s body more frequently than journalists in 1872 touched on Woodhull’s looks. Independent studies have found similar gender discrepancies in media coverage of 2008 vice presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, and 2000 presidential contenders Elizabeth Dole, George W. Bush, Steve Forbes, and John McCain.
These issues are, in fact, entirely serious. The disproportionate focus on the appearance of women is well-established and clearly harmful.