Media Says Feisty, Emotional Women Competed for Attention at RNC

Republican women are playing an important role in this election. From candidates to constituents, they’re making their presence know.

Coverage of the Republican National Convention indicates the media has certainly noticed. And here’s what we noticed throughout the week.

Contrasting the age of two women, the Root’s Keli Goff pitted Ann Romney against Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, suggesting Romney was in danger of being upstaged. Goff wrote:

Though Ann Romney was billed as the leading lady of tonight’s Republican National Convention, like many leading ladies she came close to having her spotlight stolen by a younger, up-and-coming starlet.

Treating Love as a celebrity battling for attention, rather than a politician speaking about the issues, diminishes her status and accomplishments. Framing Love and Romney’s consecutive appearances as a competition suggests there’s only room for one woman at this event—and it doesn’t matter if she’s talking about her husband’s experience or her own.

Goff added insult to injury when she said Love “had the GOP crowd on their feet with her feisty speech about freedom, entrepreneurship and personal responsibility. “ The word “feisty” is reserved for individuals who aren’t inherently potent or powerful. The “linguistic pat on the head” would never describe a speech by Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio.

But Love wasn’t the only participant whose performance was misrepresented. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, despite speaking calmly, was labeled “emotional” by the Huffington Post:

In her speech, an emotional Martinez attacked President Barack Obama for the U.S.’s growing national debt while calling for bi-partisan politics to solve America’s problems.

The word “emotional” evokes images of watery eyes, but video footage reveals Martinez did not shed a tear.

While she may have stirred emotions in the audience as she shared her personal stories, she addressed them calmly and confidently. An emotional speech is commendable. An emotional woman is not. Labeling Martinez “emotional” suggests her inherent weakness got in the way of the job she was there to do.

Media sexism wasn’t just for women appearing on the RNC stage. In a reference to 2008’s speakers, Margery Eagan of the Boston Herald called Sarah Palin catty.

Asking readers to compare the 2008 vice presidential nominee to the 2012 one, Egan wrote:

Some of us want politicians just like we are. Say, Sarah Palin. Out of wedlock births. In-laws running meth labs. Catty scrapes with co-workers and petty grudges against everyone.

Catty is a word reserved exclusively for women. While anyone can be malicious, spiteful or underhanded, only women can be catty.

In the list of gendered language used to describe the former governor, this term is an obvious favorite. But there are other ways to describe Palin that make her sound less like a mean girl in high school.

Some media commentators felt it appropriate to label women’s political identities in less than flattering terms. For example Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle instructed readers “How to spot completely miserable women.”

According to Morford, “senseless female candidates” (like Michele Bachman) as well as the wives and daughters of Republicans, all share a “vacant, sort of glassy, dark and distant as if staring into a cave full of nails from a thousand miles– and a million joyful lifetimes – away.” But the damage doesn’t end there.

It moves on to the skin, pale and ill-fitting like a mannequin in a human costume, like it’s not the slightest bit comfortable in there, closing around a sallow tightness of the mouth and lips, maybe a severity of haircut, the sweater buttoned a bit too tight and the collar cutting circulation to the vital organs, but most especially and obviously, to the heart.

Morford is concerned the repression of Republican women wears on their appearance and suggests embracing a different party (his) to be better looking. Assuming women’s primary concern when participating in politics should be their looks is insulting. Morford is just another example of a journalist unable to write about women without commenting on their overall attractiveness.

It seems the noticeable amount of women attending this year’s RNC did not alter the way they were discussed in the media. From established names like Condoleezza Rice to new-comers like Mia Love, some members of the media would have us believe they’re just a bunch feisty, emotional, catty ladies competing with each other for attention.  And while criticism of their ideologies is fair, sexism never will be.


Published by Kate McCarthy on 08/31/2012

« Back to More Blog Posts