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Want to Stop Sexism in Media Coverage of Female Candidates? Name It. Change It.

By August 31, 2010

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Remember the old Saturday Night Live "Weekend Update" skit (circa 1977-78) with Dan Aykroyd baiting his co-anchor Jane Curtin with the catchphrase "Jane, you ignorant slut"?

Update it for our times, add a large serving of media misogyny, and you've got NameItChangeIt.org's YouTube video -- a satiric spoof of male-dominated network news shows. Granted, it's a bit over-the-top, but it emphasizes how news outlets frequently portray women in a toxic manner and give short shrift to female opinions.

Timed to highlight what will be a hot-button issue in the upcoming 2010 midterm elections, "Name It. Change It" (NICI) is a media accountability campaign that addresses sexism in the media against female political candidates. A joint partnership between the Women's Media Center, the Women's Campaign Forum Foundation, and Political Parity, the campaign's goal is to raise awareness of gender bias in political coverage in order to remove one of the most serious barriers to America's representative democracy.

That barriers continue to exist are undeniable. As NICI notes, the US still ranks 86th in the world for the number of women in congress. Although 51% of Americans are women, we only hold 17% of the seats in Congress, and 24% of State Legislature seats. Female candidates endure hostile portrayals and sexist media scrutiny which in turn affect voter outcomes.

How can you recognize sexism? Gloria Steinem, founder and board member of the Women's Media Center, says that the concept of reversibility is the most workable measure when it comes to covering candidates both female and male:

Don't mention her young children unless you would also mention his, or describe her clothes unless you would describe his, or say she's shrill or attractive unless the same adjectives would be applied to a man. Don't say she's had facial surgery unless you say he dyes his hair or has hair plugs....and so on. Don't say she's just out of graduate school, but he's a young Turk or that she's someone's protégée but he's a rising star....However, this does NOT mean being even-handedly positive or negative when only one person or side has done something positive or negative. Equality allows accuracy.

If you see examples of sexism in the media, NICI wants to know and will track all reports submitted to their website. They're also inviting journalists and bloggers to take a media pledge to "adhere to fair journalistic standards that promote truthfulness, accuracy, and objectivity....pro-actively work to treat all subjects with respect, regardless of gender, and to create an overall media culture in which sexism and misogyny have no place."

"Name It. Change It" had its official launch today in New York City at the Paley Center for Media earlier today. You can play an important role by keeping your eyes and ears open for any examples of media sexism and alerting NICI when it happens.

If every woman reading this follows through, our collaborative efforts will enable this ground-breaking national campaign to demand accountability from offending media outlets. Together we can build a coordinated rapid response network and help to dramatically decrease incidences of media misogyny directed at women running for elected office.


September 6, 2010 at 9:01 am
(1) plussize4you says:

I think the struggle for women in politics will be a long hard battle for many years to come. In saying that I do beleive women are becoming more acceptable in previously male dominated positions of power.
Good luck with trying to tackle the media they are a breed of their own.

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