Clicking on banner ad keeps JWR alive
Jewish World Review Nov. 29, 1999/ 20 Kislev, 5760

Cathy Young

Cathy Young
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
David Corn
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Arianna Huffington
Jeff Jacoby
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Debbie Schlussel
Robert Samuelson
Sam Schulman
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Cathy Young
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports
Weekly Standard


Real liberation --
Except for Elizabeth Dole's brief run for the Republican presidential nomination, a politician's sex no longer attracts much attention. The giddiness of "the Year of the Woman" has given way to a situation in which female candidates are as normal as male ones, though not yet as numerous. For their womanhood to make headlines, women pols have to do something truly unusual -- for instance, capture the five top statewide offices, as they did in Arizona a year ago.

Such normalcy is the best news women could have. Nevertheless, there are those who continue to seek out the bad news. A few weeks ago, the Women's Leadership Fund released a study titled "Framing Gender on the Campaign Trail," which examined media coverage of male and female candidates for office and concluded that women are the victims of a double standard, with the press paying more attention to their clothes and personal traits than to their qualifications and their views.

While the report has received a fair amount of respectful attention, a look at its content leaves one wondering how a mountain can be made out of such a molehill. For one, the study was limited to six executive-office races and one Senate campaign in 1998. Moreover, the differences in the coverage of men and women were so slight that they could be simply an accident.

For instance: nearly 17% of paragraphs in newspaper stories dealing with women candidates had to do with the candidate's personal life, appearance, or personality, compared to 12% for men. Since women's clothes almost inevitably attract more discussion simply because women have far more options in this area (how much can you write about the difference between black, navy and earth-toned suits?), this falls a little short of a revelation.

Meanwhile, 31% of the text devoted to male candidates dealt with their position on the issues compared to 27% for female candidates, and 62% of men but "only" 56% of women were quoted backing up their statements with evidence.

The Women's Leadership Fund warns that these differences in coverage may handicap women in political races. But this false alarm should be laid to rest by a bare fact: when women run for office, their chances of winning are as good as men's.

Sexism has not entirely vanished as an obstacle at the highest levels of power. In a poll released last month, one in four male registered voters, and nearly one in five women, did not like the idea of a woman president.

(Partly, this reflects the fact that more older people are registered to vote.)

Many believe it will take a Margaret Thatcher-style, probably conservative "Iron Lady" to overcome these lingering doubts about female leadership. Yet the irony is this is precisely the type of female politician feminists would be least likely to support.

Today, women in public life are probably more likely to be hobbled by feminist stereotypes than by sexist ones. Conservative Republican Congresswomen have been criticized by some commentators for focusing on such "masculine" things as taxes and regulations, rather than making "women's issues" a priority. Even Republican moderates have been rejected by women's groups as insufficiently feminist. Connecticut Congresswoman Nancy Johnson, one of the staunchest abortion-rights supporters in the GOP, had worked with the Connecticut chapter of the National Organization for Women on many issues over the years. Yet in 1996, NOW backed her Democratic challenger, saying that Johnson had "shifted her focus away from representing the women in the district and ... aligned herself with Newt Gingrich." Is a female politician supposed to represent only women? If so, how does anyone expect men to vote for her?

Real liberation means that no one should tell women in politics what issues they should champion or what groups they should represent. Nor should anyone expect women to bring us better governance. Will the country benefit from having more women running for office and getting elected? Yes, but only because we will be drawing on a larger pool of talented individuals -- not because some of those individuals are women.

JWR contributor Cathy Young is co-founder and vice-president of the Women’s Freedom Network and author of Ceasefire! Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality Send your comments to her by clicking here.

Cathy Young Archives


©1999, Cathy Young