Media Use Coded Words For Elizabeth Warren: “Strident” “Off-putting” “Shrieking”
Last night Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren delivered a primetime speech at the Democratic National Convention. Cue media pundits of all types to do what pundits do: break down the speech and determine its effectiveness. Seems like a pretty easy job, certainly one in which the speaker’s gender shouldn’t be the sole determining factor of effectiveness. But alas, it seems that reporters of all stripes can’t stick to equal opportunity criticism and instead took issue with Warren’s gender rather than the content of her speech.
Indeed, many pundits relied instead on heavily-charged terminology to take issue with Warren—dissecting her likeability and, in particular, her tone. But these are all, of course, gendered descriptions of Warren’s speech, all code laden with innuendos of silencing a female candidate for daring to speak publicly about politics.
It should come as no surprise to regular readers of Name It. Change It. that the Boston Herald took its opportunity to belittle Warren and her words describing her as “strident” and ultimately concluding that “She wasn’t likeable.” But if the Boston Herald took some unsurprising jabs at Warren’s gender, they weren’t alone.
Television commentators like ABC’s Chris Dowd was quick to remark on Warren speech in terms as equally gendered as the Boston Herald. His description of Warren typifies sexist language used against women candidates. In Dowd’s estimation Warren “off-putting” because of “her tone and the way she is.” He doesn’t, of course, offer any specifics on the way Warren “is” or her “tone” but the implication, of course, is that she’s not feminine and doesn’t confine herself to lady-appropriate subject matter as Warren’s speech took on wonky subjects like finance reform and economic inequality (typically the realm of male candidates—see, for example how the media has praised VP candidate Paul Ryan for his seriousness and maturity on budget issues). Dowd’s sexist rhetoric is even clearer when one contrasts his remarks about Warren to those he made about former President Bill Clinton who followed Warren in last evening’s line up. Whereas Warren is “off-putting” just because, Clinton is in touch with “history” and provides “context.” Clinton wisely explains; Warren irritates.
But if the gendered language of the Boston Herald and Chris Dowd were enough to aggravate or to imply the problematic position of female candidates, then the Washington Times who plainly states what others implied: Warren can be heard “shrieking from Charlotte.” But if that weren’t enough, the same article continues disparaging Warren’s looks, referring to her high-cheek bones particularly in relation to her erroneously-claimed Native American heritage—a subject that we’ve written about before.
These three examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Sexist language and descriptions of Warren following her primetime moment abounded in the media coverage today—such as a Washington Times opinion editor who questioned her makeup choices, criticized her tone, and intoned on her likability. Sadly, the media was virtually silent on the content of Warren’s speech.Published by Stassa Edwards on 09/06/2012