Women Studies/Media’s Focus on Female Leader’s Looks/Sexuality

Media’s Focus on Female Leader’s Looks/Sexuality


While the media continues to enhance the public’s gender stereotypes it becomes clear that their favorite way to do so is by focusing the public’s attention on her appearance. The media’s focus on sexualizing women maintains the degradation of female leaders everywhere. Examples are rampant, in recent years female leaders have been noted for their hair, their clothes, and their makeup often more than their leadership abilities and talents.

With the focus of the United States on the upcoming presidential election, gender differences are becoming even more obvious. While female candidate Hillary Clinton is becoming a front-runner in the Democratic Party her looks are being more and more obviously critiqued and focused on. In Hillary Clinton’s Looks: 65 Looks for 65 Years the Huffington Post website celebrated Hillary’s birthday by selecting what they thought were some of her top wardrobe choices specifically looking at the evolution of her style. In comparison, actor Jesse Williams was honored on his 33rd birthday with 33 of his most powerful quotes by the same website. This focus on female’s looks, whether positive or negative is not helping women in power, in fact it is hurting them.

Research done by those working for the Name It Change It campaign, which describes itself as a “Nonpartisan project of She Should Run, Women’s Media Center, and Political Parity,” focuses on the media’s poor effect on female politicians. Name It Change It used a simulated campaign which changes focus at different levels of using sexist language and focusing on a female’s appearance rather than her politics. The findings from this research overwhelmingly showed that a female candidate is very likely to be hurt by the media’s unflatteringly sexist coverage of her.

In a follow up article by the Huffington Post about this research, Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners explains, "Women candidates pay a real price when they are covered in a way that focuses on their appearance." This article goes on to explain that even flattering coverage of a female candidate, such as the earlier mentioned article about Hillary Clinton, can have a detrimental effect on female politicians noting near the end that “If Michelle Obama decides to run for office, she would be wise to turn down the next offer to appear on the cover of Vogue.”

The Name It Change It campaign has a Media Guide to Gender Neutral Coverage of Women Candidates + Politicians that notes the different language used for men and women in everyday life and in the media. Specifically this campaign is looking to change the sexualizing language used in the media that demeans women and hurts them professionally. While the media continues to demoralize women by treating them as purely physical beings, the recognition for this type of language is important. Name It Change It suggests both reporters and consumers be aware of the damaging effects that sexist language can have on women and actively work not to use that language or to let that language sway their opinions of females. In essence the idea is gender equality, which is summed up well in this quote from the campaign: “If you wouldn’t talk about a male candidate’s eye color, make-up, haircut, singleness, child care, [or] lack of children then don’t talk about a female candidate’s.”