What Women (Don’t) Want

A new feminist force on Twitter attempts to attack the sexism in the media that most female political candidates face

More than one third of British journalists are women, and yet newspapers and magazines still fill their pages, day after day, with sexist trash. Just a glance at some recent papers is all it takes to prove my point: Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks is criticised for covering up her sizeable assets in a dress that therefore must be “dowdy” (note how it’s common to refer to large breasts in terms of economic value); there’s a piece on a scientific equation which, by measuring a woman’s hip-to-waist ratio, shows how attractive she is; and an article headlined “She’s got legs — and she knows how to use them!” (What, to walk?) 

All three articles are authored or co-authored by women. So not only are women condemned to reading misogynist rubbish, but apparently they’re condemned to writing it too. And commenting on women purely in terms of their breast size, leg length, fertility and fashion choices is bad enough when actresses and singers are the targets, but is lamentable when it becomes the habitual way of assessing women who work in business and politics. Fewer than 20 per cent of MPs are women, and it’s unsurprising given the way they are treated by the press, who casually refer to them by their bed-ability or style rather than their political judgment. Before Jacqui Smith got caught up in rows over expenses and porn videos, she was consistently referenced via the depths of her neckline. In more cases than not, an article about Theresa May will have a tenuous link to a pair of kitten heels. Being Home Secretary is not, it seems, enough to make the media take a woman seriously. 

There’s a new feminist force for good on Twitter, associated with the Women’s Media Centre (@womensmediacntr), an American organisation which seeks to empower women and promote diversity in the media. 

They have just launched a “Name It Change It” campaign that aims to fight the sexism in the media that female political candidates are faced with when they run for office. You can follow their tweets at @nameitchangeit. They recently looked at a Vanity Fair article about Sarah Palin from the October issue, which showed an unhealthy interest in her Spanx girdles and push-up bras. They are now focusing on the November mid-terms, and have asked people to report any unfair coverage to them. 

They have also published a “Pyramid of Egregiousness” on their website www.nameitchangeit.org with three categories of sexist vocabulary that people should pick up on and criticise: Just Plain Sexist (Sweetheart, Bossy, Emotional); Really Damn Sexist (PMS, Nagging, Shrill); and Severe Misogyny (Man-Eater, Whore, Milf). 

I’d bet that to some extent Sarah Palin is happy to exaggerate her sexuality and use it as an aggressive political tool against the men that make up the majority of the political sphere, as many women tend to — it can work, after all. But surely women such as Palin, Smith and May deserve as much serious political criticism as the men do. 

Do we really want a woman making it to the White House just because she chooses the right lipstick? 

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