Tuesday, April 9, 2013

It's Amazing Women Get Elected at All

I kind of missed the story about President Obama saying California's Kamala Harris was the best-looking attorney general in America. But when I finally did, I thought it was kind of typical of what happens, though I was disappointed.

Chris Lombardi, writing on Women's Voices for Change, brings together the whole story with links to the best commentary. She wrote,

...the feminist responses, including Irin Carmon at Salon, who noted that “women’s looks are considered public property, to be commented on, uninvited, whether it’s on the street, in a job interview, or in the press. Many people find it quite easy to do, many of them men, and many people who should know better, like Barack Obama. At the Grio, Zerlina Maxwell agreed: “Adding her looks to a list of adjectives describing her talent diminishes her accomplishments, even if the president said it in an off-the-cuff passing comment. Harris should be praised for her record, not her physical allure. Women are not objects who simply exist for male commodification.”
The biggest piece of news in the whole thing, to me, was that the Women's Media Center just published research that found comments about women politicians' appearances -- whether neutral, positive, or negative -- all have negative effects on their poll standings.

As Kevin Drum of Mother Jones explained it,
In the survey, Jane Smith and Dan Jones are pitted against each other in a race for Congress. Both have similar backgrounds, and after reading their bios the survey respondents prefer Jane slightly, 49-48.

Then they read a second story. In one version of the story, there's no physical description of either candidate, and Jane's lead stays pretty much the same. In a second version, there's a neutral description of Jane's appearance. Suddenly she's 5 points behind Dan. In a third version, there's a positive description of her appearance. Now she's 13 points behind Dan. A fourth version that contains a negative description has about the same effect.

In other words, any description hurts Jane. 
Kind of an inverse stereotype threat -- mentioning appearance reminds voters that she's a woman, and so that's what they focus on. It makes me feel sick, but at the same time, I'm happy to have this study to point to and hope journalists and particularly editors hear about it and take it to heart.

1 comment:

troutbirder said...

Well yes. Politics. I do like Ms. Swanson on Giant Hospital Mergers for Giant Medical Profits.