The sexist portrayal of women politicians in the media is “not just a right wing thing” but a problem spanning across the ideological spectrum, said former President of National Organization of Women (NOW) Kim Gandy in a forum held last night in Emerson Hall.
The event—hosted by the Harvard College Women’s Center—featured the screening of television video clips followed by Gandy’s commentary and an interactive discussion between the current Kennedy School Institute of Politics fellow and audience members.
Gandy called attention to the apparent double standard that exists in the media’s treatment of women either running for or serving in public office, with the majority of the night’s conversation focused on Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential primary elections.
“I did not expect such a degree of sexism to happen in the context of elections for the U.S. presidency,” Gandy said. “Here, people are running for the most powerful office in the world and I did not think that they would stoop down to this almost grade-school level name calling.”
Gandy pointed to the disparity of subject matter in criticism that Clinton faced in comparison to male politicians, citing the media’s repeated references throughout the election season to Clinton’s hair, voice, figure, and clothing.
Gandy further noted that Clinton’s general characterization in the media as “ambitious and calculating” carried a negative sentiment that would never have been applied to her male counterparts, Barack Obama or John McCain.
“If you run for president, you are, by definition ambitious, and yet for women that is somehow an unattractive quality,” Gandy said.
She also cited the usage of specific diction in characterizing Clinton’s laugh and voice, including the denotation of Clinton being “cackling” and “shrill” as “completely gendered terms,” asking the audience when a man has ever been described as “shrill.”
“Gender in politics is something I’ve been aware for a while but hearing Kim talk about it really opened up my eyes,” forum attendee Matthews K. Mmopi ’11 said. “Here are these people who are supposed to be well-respected voices in the media and yet they can get away with so much.”
Gandy said the most effective way to spearhead change was to contact media outlets directly, adding that individual letters or e-mails carry more weight than mass petitions.
“You have to keep pointing it out but networks do respond and eventually get the message,” she said.
Women’s Center intern and event coordinator Kelsey B. LeBuffe ’10 said she hoped that the forum was to able to raise a general awareness about sexism in politics.
“It’s something that people talk about individually but doesn’t always get the coverage it needs publicly,” LeBuffe said.