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Women in politics are more than pieces of meat

By in Opinions
Hillary Clinton has faced many challenges in her career as a politician.
Hillary Clinton has faced many challenges in her career as a politician.

A recent slogan used on a button at a Republican convention described Hillary Clinton as a “KFC Special: 2 fat thighs, 2 small breasts…left wing.” These buttons were being sold in the VIP reception area of the conference, but were removed one hour later for obvious reasons.

As former secretary of state, it is anticipated that Clinton will seek the Democratic presidential nomination in the upcoming 2016 election.

But regardless of Clinton’s future plans or where she sits politically, the size of her thighs has absolutely nothing to do with it. If she had bigger breasts or dressed a different way, she would still act the way she does and make the same decisions. Her politics have nothing to do with her appearance. But meanwhile, no one is comparing John Kerry to fries and gravy.

The larger problem here is the contrasting ways in which men and women are viewed in politics and, by extension, any position of power.

In terms of appearance, a female has to be extremely conscious of how she presents herself. Women’s fashion often says a lot more than men’s — most people can recognize a Louis Vuitton handbag, but much fewer can spot the difference  between a $5,000 or $250 suit. And it goes farther than dress; women’s bodies are frequently commented on as if their shape somehow affects their political performance.

This sexism is very evident in politics in the United States. I can think of several criticisms that have been made at Barack Obama or George Bush, all regarding their policies or decisions.

While there has never been a female president in the U.S., several women have run or held positions in office. But when I think of them, the first thing that comes to mind are criticisms regarding their appearance.

Charlotte Whitton, the first female mayor of Ottawa, a major centre and the capital of Canada, was quoted in the 1950s as saying,  “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good.”

Ain’t that the truth. It often seems that women in authoritative positions have more to prove. Just like anyone else, women must show their abilities as individuals in the public eye. But they also have to prove that they are capable of holding the same major positions as men.

The bias is that women are just not as good as men when it comes to politics. I think this is a fairly reasonable statement, objectively speaking. Historically, male politicians have far more achievements than female ones do. But this is because males occupy far more political positions than females, and it has been that way for thousands of years.

One explanation for women’s political absence is that women simply do not run for political positions as frequently as men. To start, it is traditionally a massive familial sacrifice for a woman to be in politics when she’s a mother, as the job requires an enormous time commitment. Having children is often not a priority in this case because so much effort and time is focused on her political career.

It’s not impossible to achieve both a family and a major position, but it is vastly more difficult for a woman to do so than a man.

In addition, due to the smaller number of females in political positions, there are few quality role models for young females who wants to break into the political sphere. And any woman who is in that sphere is often not treated or looked at in a way that would cause another female to aspire to a similar position.

2011 statistics on the Canadian Parliament reported that women constituted 22 per cent in the House of Commons, 26 per cent of membership in the Cabinet and 35 per cent in the Senate. That’s not even half. And female Prime Ministers? We’ve had one — Kim Campbell, who served for just barely over four months back in 1993. That’s 146 years that Canada has been a country, and for only four months have we had a female in the Prime Minister position’s seat.

It’s not just women in politics either;  negative sentiments women receive in politics can often be extended to any woman in the public eye.

When it comes to men and women holding  positions of power, a sexist double standard exists. We talk about men and women in very different ways. Yes, both sexes receive criticism for what they do both in and out of office, but men receive judgment for their abilities, positions and enactment.

Women receive criticism for their abilities and judgements as well, but usually only after their appearance has been commented on. They are bombarded with criticisms for the way they look, even if that has nothing to do with their occupation or position.

Is it fair to say women in politics are scrutinized, attacked and ripped apart? I think so.

Naomi Zurevinski

Photo: kakissel / Flickr

  • Because then you’re wrong

    Do you actually think that button represents the thoughts of the majority of people?

  • hmm
  • That Guy

    I really honestly don’t view much difference in the way male and female politicians are perceived. A republican-base-“button” is hardly representative of the majority. I currently work in a government role and the mix between female and male positions of power is pretty much split down the middle, with no apparent judgement or preconceived notions slanted to the detriment of either sex…

    Additionally, I recently caught a glimpse of a research report that was featured on Lang & O’Leary that showed current differences between male and female occupied positions of power within corporations could almost be exclusively attributed to differences in time spent in preceding positions over the course of a given employee’s career. Obviously, I didn’t take the time to cross-analyze this report but it seems fairly intuitive that if a woman spends more time on maternity leave (one of the major reasons for less time spent), she is less likely to surpass her male counterpart who — all other things being equal — has spent more time at work. And IMO, it is up to a given family to decide how they will spend their time caring for an infant, and this family should be aware of the trade-offs in making this decision…

    As for a woman’s physical appearance I believe it is possible to compartmentalize between physical appearance and merit for a position. I think “demeanor” would be far more telling than physical appearance. Although something like being fat may be somewhat stigmatized, I don’t believe it to be in anyway the deciding factor in electing/promoting processes… i.e. I think someone with a confident demeanor — regardless of body type/sex — and the right credentials, can occupy almost any position.

    Maybe I view the general public as more fair and open-minded than they currently are… but I certainly don’t think we are regressing in this regard.

    • lulu

      there is also studies showing how the media talks about women in politics to how men are talked about, and mans fault will be “john was found with a prostitute he is deeply sorry” where a women would get ” Olivia used her feminine skills for a wild night out on the town found with multiple prostitutes, no comments from her” they tend to make women out to be far more dishonest and or vulgar then a man in the position, and 9/10 a woman’s speech is not talked about its what she wore and who she was holding hands with a week ago. Not to mention 1 year maternity if you have been at work for 10 year over a male that has only worked 6 still means you have worked more then them as well as men receive maternity leave now as well and many men take it meaning they are out for a year as well.

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