With the recent announcement of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential candidacy gaining attention in the mainstream media, it seems necessary to remind the public to be wary of media messages.
Throughout Clinton’s political career, the media has played a huge role in determining how the public perceives her. During her first run for presidency in 2008, several prominent TV and radio hosts, both liberal and conservative, portrayed her as bitchy and emasculating to men. “Hardball’s” Chris Matthews dubbed her a “she-devil.” Tucker Carlson famously claimed that seeing Clinton on television made him feel the need to involuntarily cross his legs. Her appearance was also harshly criticized, and her clothing was a constant topic of conversation. Article after article focused on her fashion choices and how old she looked instead of discussing the topics of her debates and the issues her campaign was about.
The goal of these tactics is to discredit Clinton’s campaign and make her unlikeable without even needing to attack her campaign strategy. People often fail to notice when women are degraded and devalued in media because it has become so normalized for us to see women as powerless.
The idea that women are inherently inferior to men or incapable of being in a position of power is so prevalent in our culture, that it has become dangerously common in the minds of both men and women. The views of our male-dominant society have become the norm because those are the beliefs that permeate through the mass media and stick with audiences.
Media’s representation of women is a significant factor that influences the level of respect that women receive from society. If women are only shown in passive, low-power occupations on TV and in magazines, then that is all society – women included – will think they are good for. Young girls who only see images of women as sex objects and trophies for men will grow up without aspirations to be anything else.
Even though Clinton is known for adopting the assertive, direct and serious behaviors associated with masculine authority, she has never been taken as seriously as her male rivals have been. And when Sarah Palin ran for office and tried the opposite strategy of embracing her femininity in the hope that it would make her more likeable, the media made a joke out of her. Her femininity was a weakness and media coverage of her was based on how physically attractive she was to men.
Women are rarely shown in positions of power in our media. Our patriarchal culture supports the male-dominated media corporations that benefit from reinforcing the ideologies of white men holding the power while women and other minorities are oppressed.
Clinton’s validity as a candidate for president should be determined by her professional views and political strategies, not by her gender, what she wears or how her hair looks. But as long as the gatekeepers of media and the leaders of the corporate world are predominantly masculine, the dominant view of power and politics will not change. Women will continue to be criticized for attempting to do a “man’s job.” Positions of authority will continue to be gendered masculine. And women will never gain the same amount of respect as men in the same line of work.
Until that changes, we all need to be aware of how genders are portrayed in media and the workplace. Instead of taking the images and ideas for granted and letting them shape the way we think, we need to recognize why women might be portrayed as less powerful than men and where this viewpoint comes from. Then, we need to work to change that by resisting the dominant way of thinking about gender as masculine versus feminine.