WHEN HARRIETT WOODS, PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL WOMEN'S POLITICAL CAUcus, visited Louisville in April 1994 to stump for two women congressional candidates -- a Republican and a Democrat -- a reporter asked her The Question: What if both women were to win the May primary and end up facing each other in the November election? "Then we can't lose," said Woods. But what if two men were to win their primaries and end up facing each other in the November election? Reporters wouldn't give it a second thought. Journalists continue to make gender a primary attribute when they're covering women politicians. Women candidates often are still perceived to be outside the norm.
Gender is still mentioned in news stories about women politicians, though it's usually no longer enough of a news angle to hang a headline on. The novelty of women politicians has receded as more women hold office at the local, state, and national level. Women have challenged other women in races for congressional seats without gender being played up as the primary news value. But women running for Congress or governor often must field the same outworn gender-related questions that reporters asked a century ago.
As the Louisville Courier-Journal reporter's question implied, women are still considered different. In order to ensure equitable news coverage, women still must project stereotypically masculine qualities, such as toughness and decisiveness, and try to set themselves apart from stereotypes of women. They can still expect reporters to ask questions about their mastery of "womanly" arts such as cooking, sewing, and parenting, as they are being questioned about their ability to make hard decisions. 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. This happens in straight news stories as well as in the lifestyle sections. The questions are asked by both men and women journalists because both are likely to have