Demand Better Coverage of Female Candidates
Thursday 04 November 2010
by: Connie Schultz, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed
As we near the end of the latest round in political coverage of female candidates, let's consider what we've learned.
About the coverage, I mean. Not the women.
No. 1: It's big news in The New York Times when a female candidate does not wear a pantsuit -- an outfit, by the way, that is considered "mannishly functional." At least according to The New York Times.
No. 2: More Republican women are running for office than Democratic women.
Oh, ho-ho. Kidding. Just kidding.
But you're forgiven for thinking it's true, because the GOP kept saying it and way too many others have repeated it, as Rebecca Traister so eloquently pointed out in a piece for The Washington Post last weekend titled "Five myths about female candidates."
Traister is a senior writer for Salon and the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women." She also is a woman who does the math, as they say, which is how we know that despite GOP claims, the majority of female candidates were actually Democrats.
Wouldn't it have been nice if the Democratic Party had bothered to make a point of that during the campaign season?
On to No. 3: If you're an anonymous guy with the ethics of a pimp and a storyline to match, you can get lots of attention by writing an online essay complaining about the sex you didn't have three years ago with U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell.
His name and photo are popping up on other websites, and not in a good way. Apparently, if you're the kind of guy who declares a woman's unwaxed pubic hair "a big turnoff," a whole lot of people immediately assume you're way too fond of pornography that depicts full-grown women as pre-pubescent girls. Good luck with that job hunt, pal.
Fortunately, the National Organization for Women, the Women's Media Center and countless bloggers immediately condemned this rampant misogyny. Unfortunately, his essay has garnered nearly 2 million hits and countless defenders, including the website that ran it.
Let's stop here. I'm losing enthusiasm for this list.
Let's move on to the good news.
For that, I turn to Gloria Feldt, former president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, lifelong feminist and author of a new book, titled "No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power." I reached her Sunday night at her home in New York.
"Gloria," I said. "Gloria, Gloria."
Patiently she waited for a verb.
"What do we make of this sexist coverage of women? Why does it persist -- even from supposedly liberal guys? How do we change this?"
I could hear Feldt take a deep breath.
"Connie," she said. "There's good news here."
No. 1: Female candidates are no longer on their own.
"We learned from Hillary Clinton's race," Feldt said. "There are so many organizations watching the media now. Each time this happens, they call it to the public's attention."
No. 2: Female candidates are increasingly fearless.
"They don't let the attacks stop them," she said. "And because of that, we now know that leadership comes in a turquoise pantsuit with changing hairdos and a higher-pitched voice. We've seen women become secretary of state and speaker of the House. We know what women can do."
No. 3: Threaten power and power attacks.
"I tell women all the time, 'If they're attacking you, they're paying attention to you. They're telling you that you're important.'"
As Feldt and I talked, it became clear that this column should end with a call to action for women and the men who love them. So here it is:
It takes action to create a movement, and you don't have to run for office to make a difference in the lives of women who do.
Feldt suggests that each person make a list of 10 media outlets and put it next to his or her computer. The goal is to send two e-mails a day, one to a news organization or blog that got the story right and another to the one that got it wrong.
It's a lot to ask, I know, when most of us are so busy. But it could change the lives of women we haven't even met yet.
Feldt said she often tells women, "What (SET ITAL) you (END ITAL) do is going to be somebody else's history."
So think about it.
What kind of history will you make today?
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and an essayist for Parade magazine.
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