This article from Politico has been going around a bit lately. I just took the time read it in full.
Similar (and much more sophisticated) to my complaints about profiles of artists in magazines, it delves into the complex reasons while profiles of female politicians done by women’s magazines contribute to the problem of misogyny and prejudice against women in politics.
It provides a lot of great, concrete examples and touches on both the large and small consequences of the treatment of these women in these publications. It also articulates some great insights into the mechanisms of media that harm the status of women in politics, leaderships, and in image-making in general.
One of my favorite insights from the article:
Things are “just sort of supposed to happen” to powerful women—good things, determined by fortuity instead of fortitude. For women in politics, whose responsibilities extend to a public constituency, passivity is a hard pose to hold. Politicians are supposed to make things happen – not only for themselves, but for others. But women in politics are profiled like Disney princesses: vaguely appointed, lavishly decked out in gowns, smiling, packaged and sold.
I appreciate the way this succinctly describes the conundrum women who are public figures experience. And although, the article does not delve into this issue explicitly, it also nods to the compounding effect American consumerism contributes to the situation. A large part of the “Princess Effect” finds its origins in our consumerist economy’s need to reinforce the consumerist habits of its citizenry.
The problem for Power—for all women in politics—is there is no persona that works. Accomplished professional with a Pulitzer Prize is too intimidating, caring mom too weak. Combining both is a mommy wars minefield.
The solution, of course, is to simply accept Power as a complex individual with the right to a private life and evaluate her based on her ideas and professional actions. But that would be breaking a long media tradition.
At one point, this interesting tidbit makes a fantastic analysis of the image that seems to be faring the best:
it is the confidante who is still made to appear the ideal female type: the yes-woman, capable yet culpable, assertive in her lack of assertions.
The article unfortunately doesn’t really provide any concrete solutions to this situation, and adopts a bit of a sighing “we shall see what happens” attitude towards the upcoming presidential election. In other respects, the article pretty clearly intimates that a significant portion of the fault— especially for replicating this cycle— is on the publications themselves.
However, I am personally interested in what can be done on the part of the readership to break this cycle and/or alter this image-making process. Do we have to necessarily eat what is fed to us? Can we not learn to read through the “Vogue treatment” to the real substance and thereby demand that substance (surreptitiously as well as explicitly)? When we see someone being profiled into one of the “two main tracks for the female politico: intimidating and powerful or submissive and charming” can we not peer through that level of hyperbole and commit to only understanding the more realistic truth behind the exaggeration?
We do not have to believe in the personas these publications create if we do not want to. Perhaps where the readership leads the publications will follow. It seems as if we live in a time when feminists are once again becoming more vocal in their outrage and less willing to let misogyny casually pass without a fuss, especially in the blogosphere, social media, and other online platforms of emerging significance. If ever the was a time for feminist viewers and readers to call media producers out on their sexism, and their proliferation and encouragement of sexism, perhaps this may be it?