Susan Milligan, political journalist and resident fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics, argued women in politics are largely judged by their physical appearances rather than the substance of their platforms yesterday at the Harvard College Women’s Center.
Speaking to about a dozen students, Mulligan discussed differences in how the media portrays female and male politicians.
“They are seen as women first and candidates second,” Milligan said at the event, organized by Women’s Center interns Nyamagaga Gondwe ’13, Adrienne E. Slaughter ’13, and Lili C. Behm ’12.
Milligan’s talk comes after the 2010 midterm elections, dubbed the “second coming of the ‘Year of the Women.’” A record number of women ran for both the Senate and the House in 2010, breaking previous records set in 1992, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
Milligan argued women in politics are often subjected to a “hot-or-not” scrutiny as well as critical examination of their family relationships and their ability to fulfill supposedly “womanly roles,” such as raising a family.
Their political record, agenda, and past achievements are often trivialized, she said.
Male candidates, however, do not face criticism of this nature, Milligan said.
“If a women posed nude for Cosmo, she would never be elected a United States Senator,” she said, referencing Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown’s forays into modeling in his youth.
In addition, male candidates’ roles as fathers are rarely questioned by the media, said Milligan, whereas the media has been skeptical that candidates like Sarah Palin are able to fulfill both political and motherly duties.
Milligan also sought to dispel the political myth of the “woman vote,” which assumes that most women will vote similarly and that this voter block can significantly affect elections.
She said there is generally greater voter turnout among women, meaning that “men are the minority and the special interest group.”
“I vote more as an urban person and a single person than as a woman,” she added.
Milligan also argued that, in politics, issues of gender and sex tend to have a greater impact on voter behavior.
As a result, she said, the unfair portrayal of women candidates is more likely to affect election results.