Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the eighth of those posts. Sarah Muzzillo is a senior majoring in journalism with a minor in women’s and gender studies. When she’s not writing or reading about feminism and social justice, you can find her watching “Parks and Recreation” for the 10th time.
As a feminist writer and journalist, I am hyperaware of sexist language and coverage in the media. Because I’ve taken courses that teach media literacy, I have a particular understanding of the ways in which sexism and misogyny manifest in news. The media literacy project defines this skill as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media.”
If editors fail to adequately provide content to readers that is inclusive and respectful, they consequently perpetuate oppression, harmful stereotypes and gender roles. Communicators, writers and editors have a responsibility to deliver readers inclusive, respectful and thoughtful content.
The past year, for example, provided the public with a seemingly constant stream of sexist coverage. The 2016 presidential election is clear evidence that media perpetuates damaging stereotypes about women in politics.
Hillary Clinton, a prominent figure who has remained in the spotlight for decades and famously became the first woman candidate to win the nomination of a major United States political party for a general election, weathered sexist attack after sexist attack after sexist attack.
In 2014, Clinton said, “The double standard is alive and well, and I think in many respects the media is the principal propagator of its existence.”
And she’s right. This double standard that media perpetuates about women in leadership positions privileges men while oppressing women.
A male politician, particularly a white male politician, is typically framed in media as an in control, responsible, reliable leader. On the other hand, ambitious women politicians like Clinton are characterized as shrill, robotic or dramatic and power hungry.
Clinton’s wardrobe makes headlines instead of her policy positions. She is asked how her career may affect her marriage or role as a mother and grandmother. Pundits say she wouldn’t be successful if it weren’t for her husband.
This coverage does not simply stay on the page or the screen, either. Media representation, underrepresentation and misrepresentation have a powerful, lasting effect on the ways in which society views and treats women in real life.
According to “Miss Representation,” a documentary that analyzes the ways in which women are objectified and misrepresented in media, media representation has a direct correlation to women and girls’ self esteem, health and desire to pursue leadership positions.
“Women who are high self-objectifiers have lower political efficacy,” Dr. Caroline Heldman, associate professor of politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said in the documentary.
Political efficacy is the idea that your voice matters in politics, and that you can bring about change in politics. So if we have a whole generation of young people being raised where women’s objectification is just par for the course, it’s normal, it’s OK, we have a whole generation of women who are less likely to run for office and vote.”
Sexist media treatment of Hillary Clinton is simply one case out of countless other women in political leadership positions who have endured unfair coverage. In order to avoid and combat sexist media attacks, news outlets ought to be committed to inclusivity by increasing diversity training for staff, for example.
Women leaders deserve to be taken seriously. If journalists claim to be fair and report the truth, writers and editors must be committed to tackling sexism, one news story at a time.