Miss Representation: media coverage of women politicians

Miss Representation (which is now streaming on Netflix) covers an array of issues, and the whole thing is worth watching. If you’re like me, you’ll re-watch it a few times, and you’ll want to break it down and take it apart piece by piece, especially the part 41 minutes in that digs into the gaping gender disparity in politics.

After a long and all too familiar sequence of political commentators disparaging the credibility of female politicians based on looks and gender, Pat Mitchell, who is the president and CEO of Paley Media Center and the former president and CEO of PBS, says:

“There’s probably no more powerful influence on the way we view power than the way media treats power, and media treats power as defined by men because it has been, throughout our generation and the ones before, generally defined that way.”

Interviewees in that section of the film goes on to explain that writing articles about a politician’s looks or insulting a piece of clothing she wore is not only irrelevant and objectifying, but it also trivializes that individual, making her appear less powerful or credible.

At a panel I attended last year, former NC senator Ellie Kinnaird’s final words to the audience, nearly all of whom were women, was to run for office. She brought up the fact that women are often not asked to run for office as persistently or as frequently as men are, so she encouraged us to tell the women leaders that we knew to consider running.

Media is perpetuating the image of what power and intelligence looks like, and with its often embarrassing coverage of female politicians, it affects what we imagine politicians can hope to be in the future, as well. If we see strikingly few female politicians holding public office and watch as so many media organizations follow their careers in a horribly sexist way, how are we supposed to see a future when it will be desirable for more women to pursue public office?

The best we can do now—and absolutely must do—is encourage women to run and demand that the press will fairly cover their achievements and actions and than it will stop visually dissecting bodies and discounting logic as emotional defeat.

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