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Media sexism? Depends on who you are

5 11 11

The American media showed extraordinary interest in Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits throughout her public life. Journalists variously described her clothes as ugly, unflattering and frumpy. But journalists didn’t leave it at that. They also sought to decode her sartorial choices in search of a deeper meaning. For critics, her pantsuits were emblematic of an overly ambitious woman transgressing gender norms by wearing an article of clothing associated with masculinity, thus making her unfit for the presidency.

Feminists have long protested against media treatment of women in politics, but to little avail. Sexist coverage continues.

Why would any woman want to seek elected office if she knows that her physical appearance and family life will be dissected in the media?

My research on news coverage of various types of politicians and elections has found that media attention to personal topics is not a major problem for most women candidates in Canada — provided they’re White heterosexual women running for political positions of low or modest importance. Racial and sexual minority women, in general, and powerful women, in particular, can still expect news coverage to highlight their gender, race and/or sexuality.

To unpack all this, let’s start with women seeking public office at the least prestigious level of politics in Canada: municipal council. I examined newspaper coverage of the 2007 Alberta municipal elections and found that women candidates received no more attention for their personal lives and physical appearance than did men candidates. That’s not to say such information is absent in election coverage. Municipal candidates often demonstrate a strong connection to, and interest in, the community by talking about how long they and their family have lived in the area, and news coverage reflects these talking points. Journalists just don’t treat women differently by........

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