Herein is the problem with any sort of media effects/ impact research. The media is such a vast and ubiquitous industry that it’s impossible to conclude from some sort of experimental design, using one form of media, that it is (1) unaffecting or (2) benign.
Have you been operating under the assumption that women in politics are held to an unfair physical standard while male politicians get to paunch over their golfing Dockers like a bunch of semi-retired Dads? Did you assume that a woman’s failure to be pretty and skinny and feminine enough might kill her political career before it even begins? Well, according to new research, you’re wrong— voters, in fact, don’t care how lady politicians look, like, at all! To respond to this via terse passive aggressive text message intended to convey sarcastic acquiescence: K.
The feminist catnip title “Voters don’t care how women in politics look” precedes a piece in the Washington Post that explores the way negative descriptions of female politicians’ appearance in media coverage impacts voters’ opinions of the candidates. Among the rising din of WTF around looks-based coverage of ladies in the annals of power, George Washington University professor Danny Hayes and writer Jennifer Lawless conducted their own research to determine just how much bitchy coverage of, say, Hillary Clinton sours voters to her. Their findings?
We find that women don’t pay a higher price than men for coverage of their appearance. Unflattering coverage does hurt, but it lowers voters’ assessments of both men and women equally. Like other emerging political science research, we show that voters don’t hold women and men to different standards on the campaign trail.
In other words, the media can talk smack until they’re blue in the face, but when it comes to politicians, the public heart wants what the public heart wants regardless of whether or not the politician in question has two X chromosomes and wardrobe full of Ann Taylor.
In determining that looks-based sexism is deader than the Republican party, the WaPo team invented two Senate candidates — one male, one female — and penned newspaper-y articles about each one. The pieces were exactly the same — except researchers varied the candidate’s sex as well as the way the candidate’s looks were described. Hayes and Lawless found that study participants assessed both candidates more or less equally. Being described as a hot mess in print made readers think less of the candidates, sure, but they thought less of the candidates equally.
Sounds great, right? Sexism is dead! Let’s all pack it up and head home; job here finished. Feminism accomplished. I guess I’m going to have to go back to working in finance and looking at gifs of Lloyd Blankfein in my spare time. Worth it.
All of this would be wonderful if the WaPo team’s findings were true and applicable to the current media landscape — but, they’re not. [Rest.]