Sisterhood Blog

Positive Remarks on Female Politicans’ Appearance Hurts Them

By Sarah Seltzer

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images
Attorney General Kamala Harris

Think it’s no big deal that President Obama called Attorney General Kamala Harris the best looking Attorney General? I didn’t. Sure, I thought that it was an irritating reflection of sexism but not a big cause for banner waving. I particularly felt this way because of the outcry’s implicit condemnation of, well, me. Perhaps I too often make comments about the appearance of others, particularly those I see as interesting or attractive. I also believe that the affirmation of a public and powerful African-American woman’s beauty remains a novel and positive development in our screwed up racist culture.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t important to gently call out the President and seek an apology.

Now we have empirical reasons to explain why these words, mild as they were, were wrong. A study released by the Women’s Media Center’s Name It/ Change It campaign today indicates that any attention — any at all — to a female political candidate’s appearance damages her standing. (Full disclosure: I’ve received media training from the WMC.)

In a survey about a “simulation campaign” run by Lake Research Partners, polling evidence indicated that:

● Neutral, positive, and negative descriptions of the woman candidate’s appearance all had detrimental impacts on her candidacy. Importantly even appearance coverage that purports to be neutral or complimentary damages the woman.
● While this appearance coverage is very damaging to women candidates, the male opponent paid no price for this type of coverage.
● the voters who are most responsive to the coverage of women’s appearance are Independents, key to any candidate’s victory.

The research reminded me that most people aren’t keeping a dossier on the best and the brightest female politicians like Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope might do — they’re just reacting to what they see. And if they see fashion and style talk, they react negatively. As Irin Carmon writes at Salon, “women, above all, are subject to a can’t-win calculus in which the desires of men, rather than their objective qualifications, determine how they’re treated — for better or worse.” The data from the study certainly shores up my belief in the willful ignorance of male pundits, like Politico’s Dylan Byers, who claimed they didn’t understand why women were offended by Obama’s remark. The men who kept saying “we don’t get it” acted positively affronted that their right to publicly comment on women’s appearance with impunity was under attack.

In fact, though, media machers themselves are a big part of the problem — even style writers who obsess over heels in the senate and hair in the state capitol. They contribute to an atmosphere that hurts women seeking power.

Like most women, at various points in my life I’ve felt impacted by these kinds of comments. I’ve winced when I felt like my presence was getting erased because I was not presenting as “pretty” and someone else was — and I have also worried that my intelligence was being overlooked for the exact opposite reason, because I was too pretty to be taken seriously. Either way, it’s completely unpleasant.

Wherever we work or play, we’re not operating in a vacuum, but a world where women are judged more than men are for superficial reasons. We should keep this in mind when we discuss public figures.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.