Posted by: caroladougherty | January 28, 2015

The Media’s Effect on Women in Politics

Personally, as a woman interested in politics, I have always been interested in seeing more women representing Americans in all three branches of government at the local, state, and national levels.  All American women acquired the right to vote by 1920 when the 19th Amendment was passed securing this right.  Women had been voting at the state and local levels for even longer and some had even been serving in public office in the late 1800’s.  Despite this, only twenty percent of Congress is female today and women are still in the minority in U.S. government offices both appointed and elected.  With women making up roughly half of the nation’s population, we have to wonder why this could be.

This article offers an answer to the question of why women are underrepresented in American politics and its answer blames the media:

As shown in our reading from last week “The Bitch and the Ditz,” women are subject to a greater scrutiny than men because of their gender.  If the female politician is too masculine, possessing too strong of agentic traits, then she is seen as “the Bitch” but if she is too feminine, possessing too strong of communal traits, then she is seen as “the Ditz.”  This article from Political Parity explains that it is not just Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin who are under such pressure from the media, but it is all female political leaders.  When Republican Elizabeth Dole sought the Presidential nomination, the media covered much more on her personality and appearance rather than the actually issues she stood for.  This article argues that the media portrays women as “novelties and not serious candidates,” perpetuating gender stereotypes.

The media has much of the ability to change the portrayal of female political candidates and leaders.  In Hillary Clinton’s race for the Democratic Presidential nomination, many sexist remarks were made towards her during her campaign but the media chose not to highlight those aspects of her campaign.  Not only did many news reporters glaze over the sexism facing Clinton, but some also even made sexist remarks themselves on television or radio reports.  You would think that someone would catch this blatant sexism of the media, but as this article points out, a deeper look at the media shows another gender problem, as there is an inequality of the sexes represented in news programs.  While a large number of the news reporters on screen are female, the majority of news producers and writers are still male.

This article comes from Political Parity, an organization dedicated to getting more women involved in politics.  The organization’s motto is “we need 100% of America’s talent pool” and they argue that getting more women in political office could help end the “gridlock in Washington.”

Do you think the media is the main issue keeping women from being interested and pursuing a career in politics?  What can we do to get more women involved?


  1. Although the media is obviously very powerful in affecting how female leaders are portrayed, and therefore how they are perceived and accepted, it is only one facet of why women are not pursuing careers in fields such as politics. Maybe it is that women are pursuing leadership positions in politics, it may be the question of why they are not succeeding.
    We have spoken about a plethora of barriers and hindrances to women becoming successful frontrunners. Some of these barriers include expectancy conformation, stereotype threats, and implicit leadership. As society forms gender roles and stereotypes, women grow up believing them. As women believe them, they begin to act on them to avoid social disapproval, therefore confirming gender expectations. Women then internalize these norms and judge themselves based on their degree of conformation. But yet if these norms do not match our self-perception of what we have been told leaders look like, then women, and other people, begin to deem these women less favorable as leaders.
    All of these factors have come to build what we describe as the labyrinth: that it is difficult for women to get to higher leadership roles because of these barriers. Is this why we don’t see many women in politics? Maybe it is because they are evaluated on appearance and family life, as you mentioned. Maybe they are being evaluated on entirely wrong facets of their leadership, and then these examples of women leaders are being generalized to whole of the female population and are being used to evaluate women’s potential as leaders. This would greatly prevent women from being successful in higher, male dominated fields, such as politics. It may be a part of an explanation as to why we don’t see them in political leadership roles, but it does not indicate that women are not interested in pursuing these roles.

  2. This article made me think of another story, where a male co-host of a news station wore the same thing everyday for a month and the viewers never noticed. The viewer however always had something to say something about what his female co-host was wearing. So media take females and makes it more about what they are wearing and what they look like, instead of what they can do and bring to the table. One of the biggest thing that women today face is how media portrays them to the public.

  3. I believe the media does play a large part in women having fear of pursuing a career in politics. As was discussed in “The Bitch and the Ditz” article, one woman that represents women poorly is worse than not having female representation at all. Because of the negative or limited coverage women receive when running for a political office, they are nervous to commit to doing so. They may fear unfair scrutiny or misrepresentation by the media just because they are women. If the main women we think of when we think of women pursuing the presidency are Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, I think many women would be turned off to pursuing the position themselves because of the stereotypes applied to these two figures. The “Name it. Change it.” movement mentioned in the article sounds like a great idea. Awareness should be raised about how the media can be sexist, and those who feel personally victimized because of their gender should report these incidents. It also requires us to become more aware of what we are reading/watching and be slower to judge women who are running for political positions.

  4. I definitely think that the media is a large contributing factor to the reason why it’s so hard to get women involved in politics. The media focuses solely on the female candidate’s ability to keep both her home and public life in check. One such example was when I was speaking to a friend about this very subject last week. We were speaking about Hilary Clinton and her race for the nominations. My friend said “how can she take care of a company if she can’t keep her own husband in line.” Referring of course to the Clinton scandal. I then spoke up and said “Why would that matter? If a man’s wife did the same thing, his leadership would never be questioned.” This converstion, while infuriating was very eye opening. I saw first hand how the media has shaped our view of women in large leadership roles. We as a culture need to learn to remove the familial aspect of a woman’s life out of the race. If we begin to look as women the same way we look men, neutral to their family, then we can evaluate solely based on merit.

  5. I do think that media plays a role in the lack of women in leadership roles in politics. I do not think that the media is the main contributor to this issue. As we have studied, women face many barriers like stereotypes, gender roles, and a culture that has historically had women as a caretaker. All of these barriers contribute to the labyrinth that can be applied to politics. To make it worse, the media focuses on “novelties” and almost encourages society to only focus on these hindrances. This is where there needs to be a change, generationally, in the roles women play. Websites like this and others we have seen (Smart Girls) are the small strides women need to take. Something needs to change and media has the power to start that change.

  6. The media has taken over our lives and largely dictates what it important and in a way has disrupted our ability to have true political and public discourse. The failure for women to be represented as fairly as men in the media, especially revolving around politics, is a key issue that can prevent women from being taken seriously. For a large portion of Americans their perceptions on issues and people come from only a few sources. Most people have their favorite news channel and only watch that, receiving biased and sometimes false impressions of people and ideas. This can be especially true for representations and appraisals of women leaders. The media, especially in a world craved for soundbites and the next big story, can and does easily influence our perception of our leaders, including potential women candidates. The sound bites we see about women candidates in elections tend less to deal with their policies and more with their homelife, interactions with others, or appearances. These lead to a devaluation of the women seeking offices, and can poorly reflect on other women seeking positions in the future. It is hard to develop a solution for these issues, but it is something that we need to try and focus on as it not only impacts women, but all of us.

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