Posts Tagged ‘election day’

Media sexism remains a burden for women candidates

October 29, 2010

By Swanee Hunt, the Eleanor Roosevelt Professor in Public Policy and founding director of the Women in Public Policy Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Kerry Healey, the former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts.

American women hold 12 percent of governor’s seats and make up 17 percent of Congress. If these numbers sound low, that’s because they are: The United States ranks a stunning 85th in the world in women’s parliamentary representation. No matter which side of the aisle prevails in the upcoming mid-term elections, both sides can agree the U.S. needs to draw on 100 percent of its citizens’ talents to meet our huge challenges.

Many factors contribute to the gender gap in political leadership, but a recent study sponsored by the new Name It. Change It. campaign highlights the role of sexism in the media’s treatment of female candidates both to deterring women from running for office and also decreasing their chances of success when they do throw their hats in the ring. Thanks to Lake Research Partners’ groundbreaking findings, for the first time we have hard evidence that the media are holding back political parity. According to Lake, even subtle slurs in newspapers, blogs and on television and radio negatively impact voters’ opinions of a candidate’s trustworthiness and values, making voters less likely to cast a vote for female candidates who have been the subject of media assaults that target their gender or sexuality.

In the past few months, the experiences of Nikki Haley, Betty Sutton, and Elena Kagan have demonstrated how women

of all parties and branches of government get slammed by the same denigrating treatment. Despite differences in backgrounds, careers, and ideologies, as they’ve traveled the road of women in public life, their journeys — a congressional seat, a gubernatorial nomination and the highest bench in the land — have been regrettably similar. True, they all saw some success this year: Kagan was confirmed, Haley won her primary and Sutton is running a competitive re-election campaign. However, their media coverage distracted the public from judging them primarily on their professional qualifications. The consequences are far-reaching: Women who watch other women subjected to degrading treatment are deterred from seeking office. If we’re going to dip deeper into our nation’s talent pool for future leaders, we need to ensure a gender-neutral media.

If Nikki Haley wins, she’ll be the first woman governor of South Carolina. But while Haley pursued and won the Republican nomination — in the state with the fewest women in elected office — two men came forward to claim they had had affairs with her. The media went into overdrive. Blogs about the alleged affairs were peppered with words like slut and whore, and conservative blogger Eric Ericson wrote in Haley’s “defense”: “This violates the very basic laws of nature: Hot women do not have affairs with ugly guys unless those guys are rich.” Following Haley’s nomination, some in the media weren’t asking how she’d govern; they were asking if she was “hotter” than Sarah Palin.

Betty Sutton can probably relate. A second-term Democratic congresswoman from Ohio, she was the youngest woman ever elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. Having held public office since she was 25, Sutton has myriad accomplishments behind her, including her primary authorship of 2009’s “Cash for Clunkers” program. But when The Republican Review urged voters to “take Betty Sutton out of the House and put her back in the kitchen,” the blog went viral.

As Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan waded through her confirmation process, she experienced a piercing media spotlight often focusing on her gender instead of her accomplishments. We have had the privilege of seeing firsthand how Kagan consistently brought an atmosphere of civil public debate and personal respect to her interactions with faculty, students, and alums at Harvard Law School. The American public, however, may not know Kagan was the first female dean of Harvard Law School or that she clerked for Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall, but they know she hasn’t married. While the nominee was giving seventeen hours of straightforward testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, we were treated to whispers about her sexual orientation and comments on her appearance.

Every election day, we two travel to the polls to cancel each other’s votes. But we, and millions like us, must stand together and “name it” until media outlets “change it.”

Published in the The Post and Courier Friday, October 29, 2010.

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Center for Women Executive Director’s College of Charleston Commencement Address

January 7, 2009

By Jennet Robinson Alterman
December 20, 2008

Dr. Jennet Robinson Alterman delivers CofC Commencement Address

Dr. Jennet Robinson Alterman delivers CofC Commencement Address

Madame Chairman, President Benson, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff…my thanks to you.  To my esteemed fellow Doctors of Humane Letters…Mary Ramsay and Lucille Whipper…we have certainly come a long way and folks don’t even think of calling any of us baby.  I am humbled to be in your esteemed company.  

To you the class of twenty oh eight…Congratulations…you have made it!!!  Now before I start I need to know a few things…Will all of the women who are receiving degrees today please raise your hand…You and Mary and Lucille and I would not be receiving degrees today were it not for a woman named Carrie Pollitzer.

Today we are celebrating 90 years of coeducation at the College of Charleston…but for an educational institution founded in the 1700’s it is interesting to look at what prompted the longstanding male student body and faculty to change their minds and admit women… You all need to know the story of Carrie Pollitzer…Carrie was one of the three Pollitzer sisters of Charleston…Carrie, Mabel and Anita. All 3 of them went to Columbia University in New York because there was no higher education institution for them to attend in Charleston in the early 1900s. In April of 1917 the United States entered World War One. Thousands and thousands of men began to be shipped overseas. Carrie Pollitzer was running the first kindergarten program in Charleston in a carriage house behind her family home on Pitt. St. She had been concerned for a long time that the College of Charleston did not admit female students. So in light of the impact the war would have on student enrollment she though it an appropriate time to press her case with the College Administration. She took it upon herself to call on Dr. Randolph, the President of the College at that time. She implored him to allow women to be admitted. Dr. Randolph, who adamantly opposed coeducation refused to consider her plea. But Carrie pressed on asking for a concrete reason for continuing to not allow women. He finally said to her that the College couldn’t afford to admit women as they didn’t have the money to add a separate ladies room. Carrie took that as her call to arms. When asked how much building a rest room would cost he told her it would cost $3000…which was a fortune in 1917. He obviously thought that a sum that size would intimidate  Carrie into dropping the subject of coeducation. Au contra ire…instead Carrie said…let me see what I can do. She spent that summer (before AC!) and fall going door to door asking for donations from friends and neighbors and by the end of the year she had raised $3000.

And in fall of 1918 ten women were enrolled at the College of Charleston…and now today all of us follow in their footsteps.  

Read the rest here.

Time now for women’s equal rights

November 20, 2008

flagshoesmallWhat a day to vote. It was rainy and a little chilly, but the line for my polling place stretched for blocks. We were a mixed group that reflected the diversity of peninsular Charleston.

Astonishingly, everyone was in a good mood, apparently sensing the history being made. I couldn’t help but think of the history that brought me to that line. A history of struggle that began with the writing of the Constitution.

In the 1840s, the first organized movement for women’s suffrage began, and it didn’t end until 1920 when the 19th Amendment passed both Congress and 36 states giving women the right to vote.

Just a few blocks from my polling place is the home of Anita Pollitzer, whose efforts with the National Women’s Party sealed the deal when she successfully lobbied a reluctant Tennessee legislator whose vote ultimately proved to be the one that broke down this barrier for women.

It was a hard-fought battle and I think of those women who bucked the conventional wisdom on my behalf.

While women have the vote in America, there are millions of women on this planet who don’t: The women of Afghanistan who have been so degraded by their culture and for whom the right to vote is the greatest of privileges but a fleeting privilege that will disappear overnight if the Taliban takes power again. The women of Saudi Arabia who not only can’t vote but aren’t allowed to drive or leave the country without a man’s permission.

The women of Swaziland who live in a country where 26 percent of the population has HIV/AIDS.

I vote on their behalf with the hope that the new administration will support efforts to bring respect and human rights to women worldwide.

I also vote for the women in my own country who don’t have access to affordable child care, whose pay is a third less than their male colleagues and for whom health care is a luxury and care giving is not a valued commodity.

In a year when Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin broke through the glass ceiling of politics, when our vote ended up being the deciding factor, it is only right to recognize that we have a long way still to go.

Our current rights are limited to laws and amendments to laws that can be overturned in a legislative session or by executive order.

Our rights are tentative at best and can turn on the dime of public opinion or a state legislature dominated by one ideology.

It is time to bring women to the table with equal rights under the Constitution. It’s time, and that is what I thought about when I voted on Nov. 4. For more information go to http://www.equalrightsamendment.org/

Jennet Robinson Alterman is executive director of the Center for Women in Charleston, S.C.


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