On Sunday, April 12, 2015, Hillary Clinton announced her intention to run for president in 2016. This, her second run, was welcomed by many on the left but vilified by many on the right. Partisan politics rears its ugly head again. But the partisan nature of the response to her expected announcement wasn’t the most shocking thing. I expected the right to throw their hands in the air and scream about the end of the country, as we know it. I expected the left to largely embrace Clinton as a candidate again.
What I didn’t expect was the intense dissection of Clinton’s appearance. The media spent an inordinate amount of time discussing Clinton’s looks. Her hair, makeup, clothing choices, and more were the focus of a number of segments on many popular news outlets. I don’t remember people being concerned about Marco Rubio’s hair or Rand Paul’s suiting when these two candidates announced their intention. Yet, Clinton’s appearance warranted the attention of the media microscope?
A Google search for “Hillary Clinton’s appearance” spits out a slew of articles relating to the candidate’s physical features and carriage, while a similar search for “Marco Rubio’s appearance” returns informative articles about Rubio’s recent public appearances. What gives?
The media and popular culture certainly has an unhealthy focus on the physical appearance of women. The overt sexism inherent in focusing on a woman’s appearance alone to the detriment of her value as an intelligent being is bad enough. But can this obsession with Clinton’s appearance be detrimental to her campaign? Yes, says a columnist from The Washington Post.
In a recent article, Erik Weber discussed a study that gauged how voters felt about candidates when physical appearance was discussed. The study, conducted for Name It. Change It., surveyed 1,500 likely voters. The findings revealed that a discussion of appearance (whether positive, negative, or neutral in nature) results in a voter lowering their opinion of the candidate. The discussion surrounding Hillary Clinton’s clothing, hair, or makeup downgrade her candidacy in the eyes of the public, effectively making voters less likely to take her seriously.
While the news media seems intent to focus on trivialities like Clinton’s attire at an Ohio Chipotle, some people are speaking out against the targeting of her appearance. Cecily Strong, from Saturday Night Live, was featured at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner on April 25, 2015. In what was supposed to be a purely comic speech, Strong hit a serious note when she asked the journalists present to “solemnly swear not to talk about Hillary’s appearance because that is not journalism.”
Strong has a point. Blithely commenting on a presidential candidate’s appearance for any reason is inappropriate as their appearance has absolutely nothing to do with their ability to perform as president. Yet, the media continues to badger Clinton’s appearance while leaving her male peers out of the beauty discussion in a string of sexist spotlights that will hurt Clinton’s chances at being elected.
It is at this point that I wonder if the media is doing this on purpose. Perhaps the media is intentionally destroying Clinton’s chances not because she’s incapable, but because she’s a woman. That, dear readers, is a truly terrifying prospect. If the media can so strongly influence the public’s opinion of a candidate by commenting on physical characteristics and single out the only woman in the field for this critique, there is little doubt that whether consciously or unconsciously the media is no longer engaging in journalism, but rather they have become a propaganda machine intent on keeping women where they belong: out of politics. And without adequate representation of women in our government, we women can never hope to see sexism become a thing of the past.