Commentary  Put politics before gender


When The Toronto Star printed an article introducing Israel’s current Foreign Affairs Minister and Acting Prime Minister last month, the first sentence didn’t include the politician’s name, credentials, or party association. It told the readers only one thing: that she’s a woman.

The article unfolds into a clear and fair portrait of Tzipi Livni, never again referring to her strictly by gender. But the aftertaste of the first sentence doesn’t fade, and the fact that the leader is a woman tinges even the article’s most neutral statements.

The media is a powerful being, and it’s often the public’s sole access to extremely important information; it’s how we know politicians, governments, international affairs, the ailing economy, and Brangelina. We’re so used to its presence in our lives that we often forget that the media’s influence colours everything we know. The Daily isn’t exempt from this, but with our Statement of Principles, we openly state our biases in terms of the stories we print and the way we frame them.

It’s especially crucial that now, just two weeks before this ubiquitous American election, we critically examine the information that we’re seeing, reading, and hearing in the media. Throughout the seemingly endless campaign, McCain has been portrayed as a sickly geezer, Obama a Muslim, while Biden has completely fallen off the radar. And the women in the running were depicted even more two-dimensionally. Clinton was depicted either as cold and calculating, or as weak and wimpy. Further, the year-long Obama-Clinton ordeal saw the former portrayed as a cool and collected statesman, and the latter as a cold, quasi-crazy buzzkill. It seems as if it would be too much for major media outlets to portray women as being both competent and feminine.

Meanwhile, Palin is rarely identified as anything other than a moose-killing “hockey mom.” While Palin is responsible for spawning the term, the media is responsible for exploiting it. The media has a great deal of control over what we know about these people – not just by in the stereotypes and generalizations they use, but in the way small details can get blown up to define a candidate’s entire persona.

If the media can only see Palin first as a woman, and second as a politician – who could one day conceivably be one of the most powerful people in the world – how can the public see her stance on real issues?

Palin’s gender is used to deflect critiques about her credibility. The media’s focus on such mindless details prevents the public from criticizing her in a balanced, rational way. Her gender is unrelated to her potential performance as Vice President.

Her treatment is not an isolated case. The media needs to stop focusing on points that have no bearing on a candidate’s qualifications or abilities as a political leader. We need to see a more comprehensive and varied depiction of women that doesn’t reduce them to false dichotomies.

It is well understood that the media’s depiction of issues often involves some distortion. The onus remains on readers, viewers, and listeners to avoid being hypnotized by the images on TV screens and bolded headlines. We don’t mean to imply that media outlets should pretend to be completely objective, but they have a duty to provide more balanced and comprehensive reporting – especially with respect to female politicians.