GOING FORWARD, WALKING BACKWARD
"The press was as kind as it knew how to be. It meant well and did all for us it knew how to do. We couldn't ask it to do more than it knew how." [Laughter] -- Susan B. Anthony, 1893
SUSAN B. ANTHONY DIDN'T THINK MUCH OF THE PRESS. BUT SHE WAS SAVVY ENOUGH to lace her speech with gentle irony instead of insulting reporters directly. Journalists had heaped ridicule on the women's suffrage movement for years, but Anthony knew that news coverage was a key to getting the women's message to the public -- and that biased coverage was better than no coverage at all. More than a century later, women politicians are still discovering what Anthony had learned -- that journalists often ask women politicians questions they don't ask men. That reporters describe women politicians in ways and with words that emphasize women's traditional roles and focus on their appearance and behavior. That they perpetuate stereotypes of women politicians as weak, indecisive, and emotional. That they hold women politicians accountable for the actions of their children and husbands, though they rarely hold men to the same standards.
News coverage of women politicians is not always blatantly sexist, but subtle discrimination persists. In some ways this bias is harder to pin down and eradicate. Perhaps it was to be expected that reporters in 1916 would ask Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, how she liked having an office across from an eligible bachelor. But it's harder to understand why journalists continue to ask inane questions that trivialize and stereotype women politicians.
In 1993, for example, reporters asked Representative Marjorie Margolies- Mezvinsky (D-Pennsylvania) over and over what it was like to be a woman in