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Opinion

Sexism limits women in the political arena

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November 1, 2012

Sexism is defined as prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex. My professor showed my class a video designed to reflect the role sexism plays in the political arena.

As a political science major I was excited to see what information I could absorb from this video.

However, after only a few minutes, my excitement quickly turned to anger and frustration.
It was beyond offensive to see the derogatory manner in which male figures attacked female politicians in the U.S. government.

The most disturbing part about these verbal assaults is that these men didn’t see anything inappropriate about what they were saying, thus suggesting that these sexist assertions are widely accepted in today’s society.

It is clear by looking at the demographics of members in the U.S. government that our country is dominated by Caucasian males. However, throughout the past decade or so, there have been many notable women who have emerged as political leaders. In the last election cycle, there were two female candidates who really shook things up.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton was in a tight race with Barack Obama to capture the Democratic nomination for president. In addition, John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate in an attempt to appeal to the female population.

Throughout the primary season, Clinton tried to strike the perfect balance between being a strong, independent woman while still coming across as “ladylike.”

However, despite her best efforts, she received severe backlash.

On his radio talk show, Rush Limbaugh said, “Will Americans want to watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis? And that woman, by the way, is not going to want to look like she’s getting older because it’ll impact poll numbers, it’ll impact perceptions.”

This quote is a perfect example of how women are treated far differently than men in the political realm.

Instead of criticizing Clinton for her positions on specific public policies, as he would have done to a Democratic male candidate who was running, Limbaugh objectified her by focusing solely on her physical appearance.

His words suggested that the only possible way for her to receive enough support to win the bid would be to make herself more physically appealing to the American public.
Palin took on a different approach. She tried to be more “traditional” by presenting herself as a homemaker.

Even though she was trying to fulfill the gender role that society created for women, she was still the target of numerous criticisms.

When speaking about Palin, television personality Donny Deutsch said, “We want to have her over for dinner. I trust her. I want her watching my kids. I want her laying next to me in bed. That’s the way people vote.”

This quote touches on a number of stereotypes that are typically ascribed to women: we are supposed to cook dinner, be caregivers and serve the sexual needs of men.

In addition to these blatant references, Deutsch asserts that these stereotypes are the reason why people choose to vote for or against a female candidate.

While societally constructed gender roles and stereotypes contribute to this problem, the driving force behind this issue is the struggle for power.

Males are afraid to concede these positions of power to women, even if they are more qualified, because white men have controlled this country since the beginning of time. Sexism in politics reflects the common belief that women are incapable of successfully filling leadership roles in our government.

As a woman who aspires to run for public office in the future, it is nothing short of insulting that instead of being assessed by my qualifications, I will be judged on the basis of how “hot” I look.

As long as the American people continue to turn a blind eye to this blatant discrimination, women will always be viewed as second-class citizens who only have the ability to be onlookers.

Morgan Stippel is a political science major and a professional writing minor. When she graduates from UW-River Falls, she wants to become a state prosecutor and specialize in domestic violence cases.