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How the Media Creates a Disadvantage for Female Candidates
By Mayya Sharma
For decades, women candidates have been attacked, criticized and villainized by the media. For example, media’s stark differences in coverage between John McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin and then running mate Joe Biden in the 2008 election, to sexist and ageist attacks on Hilary Clinton’s 2016 election and finally, the current attacks on the unpopularity of Vice President Kamala Harris. Women politicians continue to have a disadvantage in media coverage compared to their male opponents. A report by the Utah Women & Leadership Project analyzed more than 380 articles written about female politicians and found that when reporters cover women candidates, they often focus on appearances, stereotypes and prohibit double standards. The report states, “Media coverage of female politicians that uses language focused on subtler forms of sexist language—ambitious, feisty, compassionate, first woman, or work-life balance—reinforces gender stereotypes, and women tend to be seen as either ice queens, grandmas, mothers, or “steel in a velvet glove.”” With these comments, a female candidate's integrity, dependability, character and likeability come into question. The media has created an environment where female candidates cannot succeed. They face baseless attacks on their appearances and personalities and less on their policies and leadership qualities. According to a Pew Research Center survey, “ most say men still have an easier path to the top and that women have to do more to prove their worth.” The reluctance to support female candidates from some voters is amplified by the media’s coverage.
This negative criticism of women can be attributed to the historically vast majority of men holding leadership positions. It wasn’t until 1918 that the first woman was elected to Congress.
When women do not hold political power women’s rights go backwards. It is vital that women have the ability to run for office to make their values heard and progress women’s rights. To support women candidates, it is essential that we create equitable and representational media coverage for women in the media.