I spent the Thanksgiving holiday, like many Americans, at home with my family. The get together marked the first time I would see all of them after spending three months sacrificing my life to work on a Senate campaign. Of course one of the first things I was asked by my very politically minded family was who I thought would be running for president in 2016. Naturally, I said,
“I think pretty much everyone in the Democratic Party is leaving the gate open for Hillary Clinton to run.”
My grandmother and my mother’s response?
“Oh I hope not, I don’t want her to run because people will be so mean to her.”
This threw me off. How could the two women who taught me everything I knew about being a strong independent woman, be against a woman running for president?
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, they will tear apart everything she’s ever done, and I don’t want to watch that again.” My mother responded.
The proverbial ‘they’ my mother was talking about was the mainstream media.
I’ve always known that the media’s image of women was skewed, morbid even. I’ll never forget being a child watching reruns of I Love Lucy and my mother constantly reminding me that my husband was not going to be like Ricky Ricardo. He could not give me allowance or spank me like a child. I was entitled to make my own money and have my own rights.
Granted, that show was on the air over 60 years ago, but the same image of a helpless one-dimensional woman-who’s worth lies within her looks and delicateness-still remains in today’s media, except now she is over sexualized and objectified. Movies, television, and video games, box women up and deliver them on our screens the same way over and over again (with a few noble exceptions-I’m looking at you Parks and Recreation, please don’t leave us!), and because of this, we trap women in this box in real life too, even powerful presidential candidates.
No matter what policies, stances, or successes a woman in power has, the mainstream media often chooses to focus on that woman’s appearance, rather than the words coming out of her mouth and the actions she takes.
We’ve all seen and heard them: articles ranking the most attractive women in Congress; political blogs criticizing Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits; pundits on TV referring to female Supreme Court Justices as ugly or unattractive; radio hosts declaring women incapable of power purely based on their culturally assumed gender roles.
Think about the last time a man in power was criticized for his looks, referred to as ‘too emotional’ or, dare I say, a “bee” with an “itch?”
The sad thing is, we are all so used to this kind of patriarchal behavior being the ‘norm’ in our society that we subconsciously feed into it. I’ll be the first to admit-I would probably read a political blog about Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits purely because I want to read about a woman I consider to be a role model. Therefore, I am feeding into the negative view of a woman. I am trying to put her back in that box of objectivity.
How can we promote women’s involvement in our political system or promote women as leaders if most of what young girls and women read and hear about their powerful female role models is constant criticism for their looks or behaviors as women? Where does the motivation lie for them to become successful and educated leaders rather than looks obsessed, unconfident women?
Sure, we’ve made some progress. When Congress convenes in January it will have 20 female Senators and 84 female Representatives, bringing female representation up to roughly 20%, a 2% increase from the last Congressional make-up. However, women make up 51% of our population. At the current rate of progress, it will take women nearly 500 years to get full representation in Congress.
I have been asked on a handful of occasions if I would ever consider running for public office, and my response has always been:
“I don’t think so, I don’t think I could handle all the judgment and scrutiny that comes with it. I don’t know if I’m strong enough to handle that storm.”
I have trapped myself in the box!
How will our concerns and thoughts as women ever be heard if we shut ourselves down out of fear of scrutiny before we ever take a chance?
How will we ever be paid the same wage as a man if we continue to allow our male colleagues to dominate our political system?
How will we ever raise girls who value their intelligence, their strengths, and their abilities if most of what they read, see, or hear are stories about one-dimensional, objectified, and over sexualized women?
It’s time for women to #breakoutofthebox that the media traps us in and start living our lives based on our passions and our dreams-not what society wants our passions and dreams to be.
Photo Source: Christopher Michel