VocaLady Magazine will, naturally, be keeping an eye on the treatment of women in the upcoming presidential election! For the second time since her 2008 bid, Hillary Clinton is running for president. On the Republican front, Carly Fiorina is running. As of right now, they are the only women in the presidential race. When the election heats up, you can count on VocaLady to be monitoring the news’ treatment of them. For now, let’s take a look back at the 2008 election, which the 2016 election looks to be echoing with Clinton’s second bid and another bid by a woman of the GOP ticket, as well as the media’s treatment of the female candidates.
The 2008 Election
Presidential Candidate: Hillary Clinton (D)
Vice Presidential Candidate: Sarah Palin (R)
Let’s first applaud these two women on their trailblazing in the field of politics. Sarah Palin was the first women to appear on the GOP ticket and Hillary Clinton was the first to win a state primary. According to US News, in a national poll of women on the media coverage in the 2008 election, an exceptionally high amount felt as though Palin and Clinton would inspire young girls to get involved in politics which is an excellent step in involving more women in politics. However, Palin and Clinton were not exempt from sexist media coverage.
In the same US News study, 65% found that men and women were held to different standards in the election. In an essay by politicalparity.org, it was stated that earlier studies of the media coverage of women found that they were underrepresented, but newer studies found that they now have better representation in the news. In the 2008 election, Clinton and Obama both had a similar amount of coverage. Nonetheless, they found that the commentary faced by Clinton was largely gendered and sexist. In the same essay, they cited an analysis by Erika Falk who found that female political candidates are treated like novelties and portrayed stereotypically. Often times, commentary on Clinton was gendered. For example, Glenn Back called her “stereotypical bitch” and Chris Matthews called her a “she-devil” and equated her success with her husband’s affair.
Meanwhile, a study conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that Sarah Palin was treated far differently from her opponent, Joe Biden. The study by Leticia Bode and Valerie M. Hennings discussed how Palin was under intense media scrutiny, but much of her media coverage centered around her physical appearance, her family, and her stance on social issues. By contrast, Biden’s media coverage centered around his stance on foreign issues and the economy. While Palin was the subject of more media coverage, this media coverage contained gender stereotyping, and Bode and Hennings wonder how this might have influenced voting.
A study entitled “Have You Come a Long Way, Baby? Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Sexism in 2008 Campaign Coverage,” by Diana B. Carlin and Kelly L. Winfrey found that female political candidates receive overall less media coverage than men, but more in areas like their appearance and family. The study analyzed how the media’s treatment of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton objectified them and placed much value on their appearance. Palin’s coverage often touted her wardrobe and her appearance. Her fashion choices were often discussed and she was often described as “sexy,” reducing her to a sex object, particularly when Reuters photographed a young male supporter strategically between her legs as if to seem as though he lusted after her. By contrast, Clinton was treated as the opposite — her age and her decision to wear pants-suits over skirts was put into question. Pitted by the media against Palin, Clinton was constructed as the less feminine of the two. Washington Post reporter Robin Givhan wrote about how out-of-place Clinton’s cleavage was in Congress. For her, her femininity was seen as wrong. This objectification served as to stereotype the two women and seemed to make them appear less legitimate.
Interestingly enough, according to an article in the New York Times, entitled “Media Charged With Sexism in Media Coverage,” many news media organizations deny sexist media coverage on the front of Hillary Clinton. Senior vice president of NBC and executive in charge of MSNBC, Phil Griffin, said that “although a few mistakes had been made, that they had been corrected quickly and that the network’s overall coverage was fair.” Keith Olbermann of MSNBC also admits individual mistakes, but alleges that there was no sexism. On the other hand, Katie Couric, who is the first women to anchor CBS news solo, openly commented on the sexism in American media and “[lamented] the silence of those who did not speak up against it.” Candy Crowley, another female anchor, this time for CNN, said that overall she didn’t see sexism. However, she noted that political commentary on Clinton was sexist, but wasn’t definitive in deciding whether or not it was because of her gender or because she was “this woman or because, for a long time, she was the front-runner.” Nonetheless, a national call by many like the National Organization by Women and Emily’s List to address sexism in the media is absolutely warranted, especially based on openly sexist commentary by some individuals.
At VocaLady we also believe that any sexist media coverage, overall or by individual commentators, should be addressed. No female candidate should be subjected to any sort of sexist or gendered media coverage. Next election, we want to see less coverage on a female candidate’s clothing. We want to hear less gendered language used against them. We want to see less objectification of them. While some members of the news media don’t appear to see some of the coverage as a problem, we hope that others do recognize that any commentary directed at a female candidate having to do with her gender is sexist media coverage and aim to change it. We hope that the media coverage of the 2008 election does, in fact, serve as a lesson and hope to see better media coverage in the upcoming election.
This was merely a brief overview of the media coverage of the 2008 election. For further reading, we encourage you to click the links in the article!