Politics, sexism and media 

Jennifer Pozner breezed into Butler University's Jordan Hall with her long dark hair free and flowing. She was wearing burgundy pants and a black blazer with matching jewelry. She giggled nervously as she tried to fix her Mac Notebook after the student who introduced her inadvertently knocked it out of place.

The above paragraph is an example of the exact kind of "journalism" that makes feminist media critic and activist, Jennifer Pozner, cringe. All too often, opinions on clothing, cleavage and hairstyles make up the body of news stories when the subject is an intelligent woman. Words like giggle and cackle are never used to describe men. Little girls giggle and witches cackle. These adjectives are used purposefully and whether we realize it or not, it is extremely sexist and problematic.

Pozner is an accomplished journalist who visited Butler University students and faculty April 21st to discuss women in politics and in the news; although, one wouldn't know that from the first paragraph. She has appeared on "Hannity & Colmes", "The O'Reilly Factor" and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." She has written for publications such as Newsday, Ms. and The Chicago Tribune.

Pozner founded Women in Media and News to create awareness about media injustices and sexism. She opened the eyes of Butler students and faculty Tuesday evening to the way women are often portrayed in the news.

Pozner began her presentation with a question, "Does anybody here know Pres. Barack Obama's inseam measurement?"

She continued, "Does anybody remember any heated debates about whether or not people might want to have sex with George W. Bush? No? Good. Because of course these things have nothing to do with how our elected officials would lead our country. Yet, this is often the kind of detail that passes for reporting or analysis when the subject of a political story is female."

Pozner demonstrated proof of this election coverage double standard with a clip of Donny Deutsh, CNBC. Deutsh discussed on-air what ingredients go into the "Palin product." He chose adjectives such as sexy, funny, feisty and real. He never discussed her political stances or experience that may qualify her for the job of Vice President. The spot aired only a few days after Sen. McCain selected Gov. Palin as his running mate when little was known about her.

Deutsh called Palin the "new feminist ideal" and finished his rant by claiming, "I want her lying in bed next to me."

Deutsh is just one sexist, right? No big deal? Wrong, Pozner told the audience that one does not have to be a supporter of either candidate "to know that this kind of coverage has a direct impact on the way we think about our politicians. It doesn't just shortchange them. It shortchanges all of us."

In Pozner's research she found that political pundits are not the only people to blame for blatant sexism on our news channels and papers. A past Washington Post article was composed of over 1700 words on one Congresswoman's new haircut, housekeeping methods and her favorite brand of shoes with only one paragraph about her political views and achievements.

There was also a week of news coverage following a speech Sen. Hillary Clinton gave during her campaign for president. The coverage wasn't about the content of her speech. It was about the scandalous quarter inch of cleavage that was "on display" according to another standout Washington Post article.

This article came out only weeks after Sen. Clinton was called "shrewd" and made fun of for her pant suits. The senator was also repeatedly called names like "bitch" and "she-devil." Rush Limbaugh claimed that Clinton looked "too old and too wrinkled to become president." The inappropriate name-calling may have been meant to take the focus off of a woman's ability to lead.

Pozner points out that there are no equal stories about male politicians. She argued that the problem with these stories, which she refers to as deeply misogynistic, is that they are running on the same networks and in the same newspapers that we trust for serious news coverage, not entertainment news.

Pozner proved that the problem is not simply a male one; it is a societal one. Women commentators and writers took part in the skewed election coverage as well. One memorable woman Pozner recorded referred to Gov. Palin as a "m.i.l.f." on CNBC. Another said Sen. Clinton "looked about 92 years old" without makeup. Men were trying to tear powerful and intelligent women down, but women were helping as some may have become used to the sexist double standards.

We often hear about a liberal media, but Pozner sees a misogynistic media. She discovered through her research that sources used in network news stories are 85% male 95% white and 75% Republican when their party affiliation is known. Women of color are all but invisible as news sources.

Pozner has also found that the media has a tendency of framing stories for specific viewers. "Women's issues" are often thought of by media gatherers as childcare, abortion and rape. Pozner calls framing these types of stories for women as being thrown into a "pink ghetto." Issues such as international economics are framed as stories for men even though 90% of sweatshop workers are female and 70% of the world's poor are women and children.

Pozner continued a conversation with the audience throughout her presentation. For many, it was a learning experience. She asked for participation and she proved wrong many stereotypes that the audience had learned from media representations and had taken for unquestioned truths about our society.

When the word welfare was brought up, students had visions of women with more than five children who intended to live off of the system forever, due to laziness. The audience was surprised to learn that most women on welfare have only a few children, stay on for less than two years and are often trying to escape situations of domestic violence.

Students also learned that most teenage pregnancies occur between junior-high-age girls and men over 20 years of age. It is a shocking problem that is rarely discussed as the media depictions of "babies having babies" often portray promiscuous teenage girls with their teenage boyfriends.

Pozner could have informed the audience for hours about the problematic ways women are covered in our media from news coverage to "reality" television. Social change, she says, is the only way to improve the situation. She urged the audience to seek out independent news sources or to report on their own stories using the internet as a tool to allow their voices to be heard.

The corporate media, Pozner assured, does not want social change. They are making a fortune by selling us things we don't need to feed our insecurities and our perceived shortcomings. Why is this a problem? The news media has stopped looking at you as a citizen who they have the duty to inform and started looking at you as a consumer. Pozner's point: inform yourself and be careful what you consume.

Pozner's Women in Media and the News can be visited online at wimnonline.org.

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