A year or two ago I got fed up with the sexism of The Huffington Post (intentionally not linked). Try this and you’ll see what I mean: On any given day, go to their homepage and just scan your eyes down the page for stories about women. More often than not, they’re not actual news pieces, but gossip or polls dealing with some sensational tidbit meant to increase the website’s click count.
Today (for ‘research’ purposes I went there, though it makes me want to wash my hands) we have stories about Gaddafi aids, Bernie Madoff, and Lawrence O’Donnell, all accompanied by a picture of the man in question in a suit. For stories that feature women, we have ‘Jessica Simpson Tweets Photo of Herself from NYC Bathroom,’ ‘Kelly Clarkson Reveals Why People Think She’s a Lesbian,’ and ‘Jenna Lyons’ New (Female!) Love Interest Revealed.’ You get the idea. Today Name It Change It, a project of the Women’s Media Center that calls out sexism in the media, especially toward women in politics, called out HuffPo’s sexism toward Hillary Clinton.
Yesterday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Peruvian Prime Minister Salomon Lerner. Instead of focusing on diplomatic issues between Peru and the United States, the Huffington Post created a poll to gauge how readers are “feeling (about) the Hillary scrunchie.”
I know I shouldn’t be surprised any more. But this one irked me a little more than usual because just minutes before the scrunchie post caught my eye, I was reading about Clinton’s views on the limits of power and its implications for advancing the U.S.’s interests abroad. That’s some heavy stuff! And hair accessories don’t come into the piece at all. It takes time and brain power to analyze Clinton’s beliefs, especially in the broader historical context of the U.S.’s reliance of military might. It’s much easier to focus on an aspect of her appearance and urge readers to vote on it. But that serves to minimize what comes out of her mouth as secondary to what she looks like. This is a message women and girls receive loud and clear everywhere they turn, but I wouldn’t expect to be sent by a popular ‘news’ outlet founded by a woman (Arianna Huffington – voted 12th Most Influential Woman in the Media by Forbes).
The media, as we all do, make choices about what’s important and who’s worth listening to. Huffington Post’s choice to focus on Hillary Clinton’s scrunchie, or Kelly Clarkson’s sexuality, rather than their newsworthy contributions to society, reinforces the notion that women are not to be taken seriously. That women are there for a good laugh, or a sexy picture, not relevant to the business of ‘real’ news, which is exclusively the realm of men. This carries over into our daily lives. Are we subconsciously giving people permission not to listen to what women say when they open their mouths?
Another choice the media makes involves the photo that accompanies their stories. More often than not, especially during the 2008 campaign, the photo that accompanied articles about Clinton where less than flattering, to put it mildly. The pattern continues through her tenure as Secretary of State, as Melissa McEwan of Shakesville highlights here. Clinton was at a press conference talking about the Somalian famine. She was urging the Shebab militants to stop preventing aid from reaching children during Ramadan. And what Getting Images photo was chosen to accompany her statement? The photo is after the jump with McEwan’s spot-on analysis below.
It’s not incidental that wire services continually publish pictures of Clinton caught making funny faces mid-sentence in some childish attempt to mock and discredit her, especially when attached to stories like this one. She is one of the most famous and influential women in the world, who chooses to use her extraordinary platform to speak on behalf of other women, who are, with children, disproportionately affected by famines.
To treat her like some silly bim is not merely to say, “What she says does not matter,” but also to tacitly endorse the message that women do not matter.