By Zainab Khan
Negative stereotyping of women in the entertainment industry has received widespread media coverage, however the disadvantageous portrayal of female politicians is a topic that has not been discussed in nearly as much detail.
The gender bias means that women as a whole are extremely under-represented in politics, and when they are, the emphasis is placed on what or who they are wearing and not on their policies. Erika Falk, author of “Women for President: Media Bias in Nine Campaigns” examined the campaigns and news reports of every female presidential candidate from Victoria Woodhull in 1872 to Hillary Clinton in 2008. She discovered that female candidates were subjected to quadruple the amount of appearance-based coverage in comparison to their male counterparts. Irin Carmen describes this as “trivialising” and “undermining” which sums the matter up perfectly. Never has there been a headline about a male politician’s rumpled suit, yet there have been headlines about White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler’s collection of Louboutins... Obviously the most pressing concern of the decade.
After being unfairly labelled as “an angry black woman” due to her strong political views in 2008, Michelle Obama took conscious steps to become more “likeable” in order to attract potential voters. However, even women that live up to the stereotype of being soft and friendly run the risk of being regarded as “cheerleaders” rather than the strong leaders that they are. The political field has always been tricky to navigate, but it is more so for women as they struggle to strike a tenuous balance between demonstrating an appropriate level of femininity and having the strength to enforce their own views; if they seem too strong they face being attacked by the public for being too harsh, yet if they are seen as too soft, voters will not take their policies seriously. Costa Rica’s first female President, Laura Chinchilla feels that, “successful women face typecasting largely because society is still adjusting to women’s recent decision-making power.” Arguably, it is also because the ratio of women:men in politics is extremely low.
If women truly want to change the way the fairer sex is portrayed, they must begin to involve themselves in matters of their country. Women such as the German Chancellor Angela Merkel (who topped the Forbes list as the world’s most powerful woman) and former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have blazed a trail for women in politics. Although there has been amazing progress in the area of women’s rights and liberation, there is much more to do. Negative portrayals of female politicians do not affect them singularly, the effects last a lot longer and have a significant impact on the women that enter the political field today. If we as women want to be taken seriously as lawmakers and politicians, we must collectively work to dispel the impact that negative media coverage has had on society.
"Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the President's spouse. I wish him well!"
- Barbara Bush, ex First Lady