“Sexy Arms” = Sexist Coverage

Many details are beginning to emerge regarding the recent scandal with General Petraeus’ resignation and the affair with Paula Broadwell that led to it. Unfortunately, these details have focused more on sexist descriptions of Broadwell’s physical characteristics than possible breaches of national security. Discussion about her toned arms, tight outfits, or “shameless self-promoting prom queen” attitude are not only utterly irrelevant, but disgustingly sexist. There have been no remarks on the General’s outfit choices or seductive ways because these comments are simply never made about men.

Given this outrageous coverage, columnist Frank Bruni of the New York Times deserves huge praise. In today’s paper, he’s called out fellow journalists—including those from the Daily Beast, the Washington Post, and Business Insider—for “reverting to clichés that should be retired and indulging in a sexism we like to think we’ve moved past.” Why, Bruni asks, are we reading about Broadwell’s body fat percentage or outfit choices when there are serious questions that need to be asked about the investigation and the situation that prompted it?

Great question! Our research at Name It. Change It. shows that sexist comments about women not only distract our focus from the real issues at hand, as in the case of the Petraeus resignation, but are seriously harmful to women. We see it all the time, especially with women who are running for office. Despite awesome gains for women in the 2012 election cycle, sexism in the media remained pervasive and persistent problem. In fact, it was so bad that we took it upon ourselves to call out the worst offenders in our Most Sexist Media Coverage Awards. We shouldn’t have to stand for this sort of sexism aimed at anyone, especially our women leaders.


Published by Kate McCarthy on 11/14/2012

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