Saturday Night Live parodied Sarah Palin’s contribution to the McCain ticket as a beauty pageant, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign as bitter and power-hungry. The show even poked fun at the women addressing the sexism they were experiencing. “Please stop photo-shopping my head on sexy bikini pictures,” said Tina Fey, as an adorably ignorant Palin. Gender, however; was a large factor throughout the press’s handling of each woman.
Hillary Clinton’s wardrobe and tendency to wear pantsuits became an issue, when clothing hardly plays a role in any man’s campaign. Clinton was also berated for her likability. Many women in politics experience a no-win situation where displays of too much emotion are signs of weakness but too little emotion is regarded as intimidating and unsympathetic.
In 1987, Patricia Schroeder reacted to dropping out of the presidential race with tears shed.
“It seemed refreshing that people could show emotion in public life,” said Dr. John Christman, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Political Science and Women’s Studies at Penn State. “Bill Clinton can get away with the phrase, ‘I feel your pain.’ A woman has to be unfeeling to be successful. It is a double standard.”
Another way that sexist attitudes were exposed was in the sensitivity on the commentators’ parts with women in politics. Some of the criticism was very valid, but the focus on the way the candidates dressed or expressed emotion may have indicated an unwillingness to discuss their ideas. Punditry and opinion journalism are entertainment, and the most entertaining aspect of either campaign was not the radically different political views, but the subservient gender that they had in common.
Although the presence of women in high political standing brought women’s issues into discussion, there has yet to be actual change.
“People get caught up in symbolic issues: the objectification of women, the degrading way women are talked about in politics, the inequality of conditions," said Christman. "People will talk in terms of respect as if they want recognition and esteem. These are important things, but what they also really need is resources."
The internet provides the grounds to address female concerns, even when party machinery prevents the disadvantaged from viable candidacy. These removed contributors could influence which candidates arise, though, and garner support for those who represent their interests.
While the word “feminist” still holds negative connotations, and many male politicians may not consider themselves as such, most pride themselves in their sensitivity to women’s causes. The irony is that some women, such as Ann Coulter, hold opposite beliefs, going back to the entertainment concept and the great deal of attraction brought on by anti-feminists who are females themselves.
The reintroduction of existing sexist attitudes in the public sphere was a needed wakeup call, but it just shows that the country has a long way to go before it witnesses a “First Gentleman.”
By Chelsea McCartney