Gawker’s feminist website Jezebel decided that the world needed some guidelines on how to write about women in politics without sounding like a sexist idiots. They might be onto something.
This weekend, the New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan criticized the paper for their coverage of Texas gubernatorial candidate, Wendy Davis, and for a previous piece in which an illustration depicted Hillary Clinton’s head as a giant hairless disembodied planet. Sullivan noted that the Times magazine cover story about Davis had been called sexist because of captions like “A Texas-Size Tale of Ambition, Motherhood, and Political Mythmaking” and the piece was rife with details about Davis’ clothing and how it fit.
But of course the Grey Lady isn’t the only media outlet accused of sometimes describing women in public life differently than they do men. A study out of Occidental College looked at media coverage of Sarah Palin as the GOP vice presidential candidate in the 2008 and found that in the new media landscape, an even greater percentage of coverage was focused a female candidate’s appearance than it had in 1984 when Geraldine Ferraro was the Democratic veep nominee. Much was made of Palin’s attractiveness–she was called “Caribou Barbie” and asked more than once whether she felt like her family would suffer if she were off running for office. She was also famously depicted on a Newsweek cover in short shorts.
And it’s not just the U.S. Recently a column by Edward Lucas, author of “The New Cold War,” in the Daily Mail that described the sexual attributes of former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, writing, “her body language, eyes, coquettish tosses of the head and cooing tones are almost hypnotic. But she is also capable of explosive anger. I have seen her shriek and curse in terrifying eruptions of rage: the kitten turns into a tigress.”
So as kind of a Covering Women Politicians 101, Jezebel published this list DOs and DON’Ts (actually entirely DON’Ts).
For example, “DON’T speculate about female politicians’ diets, as though their dress size has any bearing on their political acumen” and “DON’T write entire articles about their haircuts, or mention their haircuts, or interview their hairstylists.”
You can read Jezebel’s full list, here. But don’t expect that things will change for this year’s election. The Occidental study also predicted that sexist jibes may be endemic to a social media-fueled world.