Women Politicians and the Media


All American politicians face the glare of media coverage, both in running for office and in representing their constituents if elected. But for women seeking or holding high public office, as Maria Braden demonstrates, the scrutiny by newspapers and television can be both withering and damaging — a fact that has changed little over the decades despite the emergence of more women in politics and more women in the news media.

Particularly disturbing is the fact that the increase ...

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All American politicians face the glare of media coverage, both in running for office and in representing their constituents if elected. But for women seeking or holding high public office, as Maria Braden demonstrates, the scrutiny by newspapers and television can be both withering and damaging — a fact that has changed little over the decades despite the emergence of more women in politics and more women in the news media.

Particularly disturbing is the fact that the increase in the number of women reporters appears to have had little effect on the way women candidates are portrayed in the media. Some women reporters, in fact, seem intent on proving that they can be just as tough on women candidates as their male counterparts, thus perpetuating the misrepresentations of the past.

Braden examines the political fortunes of Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to the U.S. House; those of the congressional "glamour girls" of the 1940s, Clare Boothe Luce and Helen Gahagan Douglas; the long Senate career of Margaret Chase Smith; the political struggles of diverse women of more recent decades, including Bella Abzug, Elizabeth Holtzman, Nancy Kassebaum, Barbara Jordan, Dianne Feinstein, and Ann Richards; and the disastrous vice presidential bid of Geraldine Ferraro.

Braden traces a persistent double standard in media coverage of women's political campaigns through the past eighty years. Journalists dwell on the candidates' novelty in public office and describe them in ways that stereotype and trivialize them. Especially demeaning are comments on women's appearance, personality, and family connections — comments of a sort that would rarely be made about men candidates. Are they too pretty or too plain? What do their clothes say about them? Are they "feminine" enough or "too masculine"? Are they still just ordinary housewives or are they neglecting their families by heading for Washington or the state house?

Braden's study is based on both media accounts and the revealing personal interviews she conducted with a broad range of recent women politicians, including Margaret Chase Smith, Bella Abzug, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Nancy Kassebaum, and Ann Richards. All describe agonizing struggles to get across to the public the message that they are serious and competent candidates capable of holding high office and shaping our nation's course.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Documents a double standard, evident in the news, with stories about women frequently mentioning their appearance, their families, and their domestic abilities." — Library Journal

"Complete, reflective and most of all, thought-provoking." — Publishers Weekly

"This book will make a lot of men squirm and a lot of women not, even though its conclusions aren't surprising." — American Journalism Review

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
University of Kentucky journalism professor Braden's survey of the media's portrayal of female politicians is complete, reflective and, most of all, thought-provoking. The author uses illustrations from the political lives of women dating back to Jeannette Rankin, the Montana Republican who became the first woman elected to Congress in 1916four years before national suffrage. Presidential hopeful and Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith, whose career spanned 32 years in the House and Senate; 1984 Vice-Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro; and former Texas governor Ann Richards are among the many women chronicled here. Braden addresses the media's craving for novelty and conflict in reporting, and how this journalistic tack often skews the depiction of female politicians in the news. Male and female journalists too often describe a female candidate by her appearance and by courtesy titles. There are several examples of a double standard for women in public office, one that of legislator Bella Abzug, who was often trashed in the media for her tough, aggressive demeanorqualities often viewed as admirable in her male counterparts. Current media attitudes toward female politicians are also explored"They may still be described in terms of their relationship to a husband, father, or child. And no matter how serious they are, they are still trivialized by media coverage focusing on how they look or sound, what they wear, or how they style their hair." The passing of Barbara Jordan during the reading of this book made the author's point painfully clear. Among her many accomplishments, Jordan was a member of the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach President Richard Nixon. In 1976, she also became the first African-American and the first woman to give the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. Despite these achievements, on the day after her passing, the headlines were so laden with references to the quality of her voice that the unknowing would have believed a famous singer had died. Illustrations. (May)
Though its cliche to say that women must be twice as good as men to compete, the question still remains whether even that's good enough. Braden (journalism, U. of Kentucky) studies the media's influence on public perceptions of women seeking national office or governorships over the last 80 years. She chronicles the realities and stereotypes of Jeannette Rankin (the first women elected to the US House), the "glamour girls" Clare Booth Luce and Helen Gahagan Douglas, and more recent politicos such as Bella Abzug, Barbara Jordan, Dianne Feinstein, and Geraldine Ferraro. Their stories challenge conceptions of "femininity" and underscore the continuing struggle of women to gain legitimacy in public spheres. Paper edition (unseen), $14.95. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813108698
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 2/28/1996
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 6.07 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Maria Braden, professor of journalism at the University of Kentucky, is the author of She Said What? Interviews with Women Newspaper Columnists.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1 Going Forward, Walking Backward 1
2 The First and Only 19
3 The "Glamour Girls" of Congress 38
4 A Rose by Any Other Name 50
5 The Push for Equal Rights 63
6 Battling Bella 79
7 Are We There Yet? 89
8 Almost a Bridesmaid 105
9 1992 and All That 119
10 The Kamikaze Campaign and Politics As Usual 134
11 Nearing the Millennium 144
12 From a Woman's Point of View 166
13 Ms. President? 183
Notes 198
Bibliography 219
Index 225
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