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Sexism in the Media November 3, 2008

Filed under: Media Commentary — NYU WIC @ 11:35 pm

This Presidential election sure has been a heated one, especially since the arrival of Sarah Palin. She’s been picked on a lot, some of it warranted, some of it questionable, but the McCain campaign is crying sexism. The problem is, I’ve been guffawing along with the rest of them every time someone mentions “Caribou Barbie.” I consider myself a feminist. But so does she.

Clearly, everyone has a different idea of what feminism is.

It’s troubling to think that I might be a hypocrite when it comes to my feelings about feminism, so I need to get my head straight on what is sexism and what isn’t. I guess the logical place to start would be to look up sexism in the dictionary. According to today’s use of the word, the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of sexism is prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex, where sex doesn’t, or shouldn’t matter.

That means that picking on Sarah Palin for not knowing diddly squat about politics isn’t sexist; it’s justified. Criticizing her for spending $150,000 of Republican donations on clothes, makeup and hair doesn’t make her a victim of sexism; it makes her a hypocrite. As Tina Fey put it on David Letterman, to not call her out on items of legitimate concern would be sexist because it somehow adheres to the idea that she’s too weak to handle the same scrutiny that men deal with.

Mixed with these valid criticisms are true and blatant examples of sexism. Sure, Sarah Palin is an attractive lady. But if I read one more op-ed by a guy declaring he wants to sleep with her, (whether he agrees with me politically or not), I’m going to hurl ( That’s not how we choose Vice Presidents in America. Transposed images of Sarah Palin’s head on porn stars’ bodies are not okay. Most men will always look at women and imagine them naked. It takes twice the effort to have the slimy ones look us in the eye and not at our chests.

That said, it does bother me that she has admitted to “hiding” her good looks by teasing her hair into a beehive that would make Amy Winehouse jealous and topping it off with glasses. It still doesn’t stop her from wearing 14 pounds of makeup and four inch red patent leather pumps. People say she’s indulging men’s fantasies of the “naughty librarian.” I agree. Her stated intention is not the same as her real intention, and that discredits all women who really aren’t using their looks to get ahead.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s projection of a female identity has taken a backseat to her desire to be taken seriously. As a result, she’s ostracized and called “The Nutcracker,” or the “shrieking, nagging image of every man’s first wife,” In turn, Sarah Palin plays up her sexuality and is objectified. Neither is ideal. I’m not sure how to fix it, but it’s not supposed to be this way. A woman should be able to have a female identity aside from her sexuality.

What about the double standard between men and women? How come we can take sexually-charged jabs at the guys but we have to play nice with the girls? It’s because whether we want to believe it or not, men are still in charge:

One in six women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. One third of military servicewomen are raped during deployement. Women still don’t receive equal pay for equal work. 28.3 percent of single mothers are in poverty because the government doesn’t provide affordable childcare. Women still have to fight to have their voices heard and respected. No matter how far we’ve come, women are still traditionally “the oppressed.” That’s why it’s not funny.

That said, take a look at coverage of Hillary Clinton during her campaign for the presidency. The New York-based Women’s Media Center, an organization started by Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan has put together a reel of moments during her campaign where members of the media have been truly, and inexcusably, sexist.

Sexism Sells, But We’re Not Buying It:

When someone has disdain for the opposite sex, it comes through loud and clear. Why the fear, boys?

Not all media attacks against women are sexist, but many of them are. We have to develop our own personal criteria for what constitutes as sexism and keep our eyes peeled for examples of it. Especially as women in communications, the responsibility is ours to be watchdogs against media sexism and, choosing our spots, pulverize it.

-Lara Drasin


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