As the 2020 election is beginning to ramp up, as predicted, so is the sexism. History is repeating itself in this latest installment of #Sexism2020. In recent weeks, women running for President and Congress are dealing with double standards at best and misogyny at worst. We’ve compiled a list of recent sexist media coverage of female politicians—Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Kamala Harris, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But the coverage doesn’t only disadvantage women running for office. It also plays out in favorable coverage for men running for office.
- Senator Elizabeth Warren faced a sexist media backlash when she recounted the experience that many working mothers can relate to—that of being denied a job when visibly pregnant. Warren’s opponents and the media failed to contextualize that at the time of the event in question, pregnancy discrimination was extremely common (and continues to be), but not yet statutorily illegal. All over social media, working mothers clapped back and recounted their own experiences being denied jobs or promotions in the months before, during, and after their pregnancies.
- Senator Kamala Harris found herself being asked to respond to sexual assault allegations against a senior law partner at the firm where her husband works. It was a slick media move to draw attention to the case as Senator Harris has publicly opposed mandatory arbitration agreements, and the case highlights the use of such an agreement at the large law firm where Harris’ husband works. What’s puzzling is why the media mostly neglected to point out that there is a bill on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk banning such agreements, and he is not bringing it to a vote.
- Last week, The Washington Times tried to throw shade on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for going to a hair salon for color, a haircut, and styling—as professional women all over the country are prone to do. The notoriously conservative newspaper tried to draw a contrast between AOC’s more left-leaning policy proposals and what they perceived to be a decadent expense of more than $200 for styling services. Social and traditional media came out in support of the first-term congresswoman citing hair services as one of many such “pink taxes” that women pay for services in excess of what men typically pay for similar services.
- Finally, when beloved 78-year-old Bernie Sanders suffered a heart attack—one which required surgical intervention—the media barely covered it. Yet, when candidate Hillary Clinton had a bout of pneumonia during the 2016 race, the media treated it as a disqualifying event and covered it endlessly for weeks in the lead up to the election. As Clinton campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri put it, “I believe that was a reaction to our collective unease with women and ambition. I think it’s because she was always stepping a little outside of the role that women have traditionally been in.”
Working women, including those running for elected office, have been unfairly scrutinized for their appearance, have been subject to endless speculation about their sexuality, and subject to double standards when it comes to ambition for decades. When the media feeds these narratives, we must call them out for this harmful behavior which is impacting equality in leadership in all areas of society.
Take Action! Let’s get the hashtag #Sexism2020 trending. Use it every time you see sexist media coverage in any of the 2020 races.