The representation of women in leadership roles has significantly increased in recent years, along with recognition for the importance of female influence. For example, the recent congressional elections of 2018 saw unprecedented amounts of newly elected women in political roles, with a record breaking number of 112 women serving. While increased female leadership is a great step forward for our nation and the world, there remains disparities in the ways in which media portrays women in positions of power compared to men.
For instance, take the statements made by Rashida Tlaib, representative of Michigan’s 13th congressional district. When she was quoted saying “…we’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna impeach the mother***er!” in reference to President Donald Trump, she was met with public backlash and harsh criticism.
In a whirlwind of headlines, America hears about her comments as the “vulgar rant” or “vile rhetoric,” as categorized by Fox News. Michigan Congresswoman Tlaib was subsequently painted as unprofessional and inappropriate by media outlets.
While Tlaib’s use of the swear word may have been unnecessary, it is evident that she was treated more harshly than certain men in politics who have also used the same or worse crude language.
For example, take Matthew Dowd, former campaign manager for Dick Cheney, who was once quoted saying “Go f*** yourself” to Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. While Dowd himself never apologized for his own profane comment, he called for Tlaib to apologize for her use of profanity.
To find more examples of the distinctions in the level of accountability given to men vs. women in leadership positions, we only need to listen to the words of our own president. Trump’s infamous expressions such as, “Grab them by the p***,” “Why do we want all these people from ‘s***hole countries’ coming here?” or “Get that son of a b**** off the field right now” have not only been dismissed and downplayed by right wing media, but have even garnered him more support.
The differential expectation of women and men within positions of power is clearly demonstrated by these instances. Media holds women to a different standard and gives men more freedom of expression.
Women in leadership positions are subjected to an extra set of criticisms from the media ranging from how they look, what they wear, their personalities and even their family lives. When the media passes judgment on women in politics, these are the characteristics they focus on rather than the policies they make.
There is a deeply rooted bias in our media and our society at large as respect and recognition is often given to men over women, especially in the political arena. Women in power are either labeled as incompetent if they act less assertive, or “bossy” or a “b****” if they actually are assertive and demand respect.
Consider Trump’s response to Tlaib’s comments: “I think she dishonored herself and I think she dishonored her family.” The sheer hypocrisy in his statement is astonishing considering that he has been involved in numerous scandals and has been the subject of many instances of distasteful language and behavior.
The differential representation and level of respect that women face in the media’s portrayal of them reminds us that the perfect union we are all longing for is still a ways away. That is, until we see equal opportunity, representation and respect in politics for all Americans — including women.