The large number of women campaigning for election in the upcoming mid-term elections has commanded the media’s attention for better or for worse. With the increased coverage of women candidates, there are more examples of intentional and unintentional sexism in reporting and even in the way their own colleagues address them. (Uh, hello Harry Reid.)
In an effort to raise awareness of and combat sexist media coverage, the Women’s Campaign Forum (WCF) and the Women’s Media Center (WMC) have joined forces for the Name It, Change It campaign. The goal is to:
“erase the pervasiveness of sexism against all women candidates — irrespective of political party or level of office — across all media platforms in order to position women to achieve equality in public office.”
WCF’s president, Siobhan “Sam” Bennett is all too familiar with the way sexist coverage affects women running for office. As a congressional candidate in Pennsylvania’s 15th district in 2008, she experienced vicious attacks in the media and belittling comments from her male colleagues. She recounts an incident in which she was in the midst of delivering her first stump speech to a room full of men and the chairman interrupted her with this:
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“Sam, I want to ask a question all the men in this room have been dying to ask you: Just what are your measurements?”
Needless to say, that was the beginning of attacks on her which included sexually explicit insults about her oral sex skills and the legitimacy of her genitalia. Bennett cites this example:
A known anti-woman blogger posted this comment on the blog Lehigh Valley Ramblings: “Sammy Bennett is phony political w**** who gives good h**d and makes cheap, blatant political opportunists look like Mother F****** Teresa. Even her p**** is made of plastic.” In addition, her local paper, the Morning Call, printed the quote on their front page. It ran day after day, with a large color photo of Bennett right next to it.
You can’t make this stuff up. Bennett used this experience as a catalyst for this campaign to call out sexist media coverage. While the WCF strongly supports women candidates who advocate for women’s sexual and reproductive rights, the Name It, Change It campaign is denouncing sexist coverage of all candidates, even the Tea Partiers like Christine O’Donnell who is adamantly anti-choice. Even if we disagree (strongly) on issues that affect women’s sexual and reproductive health, we as a community cannot condone sexist coverage. Stick to the issues, there’s plenty of fodder there!
When you look at the statistics that show women are 50 percent less likely to seriously consider running for office and 33 percent are less likely to view themselves as qualified, we can assume women are receiving context clues that they are not viable political candidates. The media is not entirely responsible for this as larger societal issues can undermine women’s worth, but it is a deterrent from even stepping into the race knowing that you’re going to be publicly attacked for being a woman, aside from your ideologies and platform. It’s no wonder that out of the 13,000 members of Congress in U.S. history, only 2 percent have been women.
So what can we do? On the “Name It, Change It” site, you can contact the WCF when you see or hear sexist coverage on TV, radio, online, anywhere, and they will call attention to it via their networks. You also can watch their recent press conference online for more details about the campaign. There’s strength in numbers and this is an opportunity for our community to stand up against sexism in the media, and to pave the way for lady candidates of the future.