Women in Politics: “What is she wearing?”

Upon seeing a photo of Hillary Rodham Clinton in an article about possible presidential candidates in the 2016 presidential election, a classmate of mine said, “What is in her hair?!” It wasn’t an unwarranted question, in the photo she had a flyaway hair. But the next comment that was made was about her age. At 67 years old, if elected Hillary Clinton would be, at beginning of her term, one of the older presidents in American history. However, on the same list of possible 2016 candidates was a man of 73 years old. Though these comments were innocent, they’ve made me think about what our culture is taught to focus on, and comment about, when we see a woman in power, specifically in politics.

I began my last blog post by saying that I wasn’t going to talk about women’s issues, but at this moment I feel called to talk about what I believe is an important issue.

PBS’ Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff
FOX News’ Harris Faulkner

While researching how female politicians are treated differently, I was presented with videos of female news anchors from Fox News’ Outnumbered program. Though I was not pleased with what they were saying (due to my left leaning ideology), I was more shocked by their appearances. Compared to female anchors on other news programs (such as Jane Woodruff and Gwen Ifill on PBS), these women were wearing significantly more makeup, wore more revealing outfits, and were positioned on a couch that showed off their tall heels and long legs. I don’t believe that dressing in a more sexual manner is ever inherently “wrong”, and am an advocate against ‘slut-shaming’, but I find it interesting that these women appear so different from other program’s news anchors. In a study, conducted at Indiana University, about the effectiveness of sexualized news anchors, it was found that the male subjects, “got significantly more current-events questions right when they’d watched the non-sexy anchor, as opposed to the sexualized one.” (WSJ) While the manner in which these young and beautiful women are dressed may be appealing for entertainment purposes, this data suggests that it is inefficient for their professional purpose.

Like many, I believe that this sexualized media trend is directly affecting how female leaders are perceived. Sexualized entertainment advertisements, such as the infamous Go Daddy, Carl’s Jr., and Victoria’s Secret ads, have an effect on the professional role of female leaders. In an interview, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, director of the documentary Miss Representation, noted that, “Unfortunately, the media and our culture is sending back to us the message that a woman’s value lies in her beauty and sexuality, and not in her capacity to lead.” (ABC) I find it disheartening that the women who are in respected and very public positions, especially those who are communicating with the public pertinent political information, are reinforcing the issue. This leads to the many comments about a female leader’s appearances rather than her merit and professional purpose. In the Miss Representation film there is a clip of a, “Fox News commentator criticizing Hillary Clinton for appearing “haggard” and looking 92 years old.” This focus on superficiality also lead to the  New York Magazine headline juxtaposing Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin: “The Bitch and The Ditz.” I feel it important to note that of course the public and the media also comment on the superficial appearances of male politicians (especially how the President has aged over his term), however to a lesser magnitude. Can you imagine a news anchor saying that though President Obama needs to be wearing more makeup, has great legs?

Luckily, this year’s midterm elections have resulted in, for the first time in American history, 100 women in Congress. Though this is monumental for women in America, in gaining better representation across sexes and as an inspiration for future female leaders, legislation is still over 80% male. (HuffPost)

How long will it take for female politicians be taken seriously, and therefore further encourage more women to pursue positions of power? It seems that when the American people recognize that the female values the media is feeding them are wrong, we will begin to see a change.

If you recognize this issue and want to learn more, I recommend watching The Makers on PBS or Miss Representation (available on Netflix).




Harris Faulkner


Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff




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