Sunday, March 30, 2008

Live Blogging: Cleavage, Cackles, and Cookies

I HEART WAM! And it's been such a pleasure to meet bloggers--Jill and Holly from Feministe, Amanda from Pandagon, Hugo Schwyzer--and many other folks I've long admired. Always grateful to make connections new and old. I've finally dragged my computer out and am live blogging here from the final session, "Cleavage, Cackles and Cookies: Analysis of News Coverage of Hillary Clinon and the Presidental Election." So here we go:

Allison Stevens of Women's eNews is moderating and offers out the following statistics, via a recently released report from The Center for Media and Public Affairs (a non-partisan org that tracks coverage):

84% of on-air comments about Obama have been positive
43% of on-air comments about Clinton have been positive

What gives?

Barbara Lee, social activist and philanthropist, frames the convo with a look at the difficulty women governors--her expertise--have in getting elected. She notes that voters give female governors high marks. Once voters have seen women governors in action, they LIKE them. But it's the getting elected part that's hard. Voters have doubts about whether women are capable of leading at the highest levels. They must be perceived as both competent and likeable--not an easy feat. There's also "hair, hemlines, and husband" phenomenon--everything about a woman candidate has to be just right. Once in office, female govs exceed and redefine voter expectation. But here's the upside: The higher standards are producing women governors who excel in the eyes of the voters. And while voters demand more from women, they also give them great credit.

On Hillary, Barbara restates the obvious:

"The media coverage--particularly cable tv pundits and talk show hosts--has been maddening. Rarely, has the historic nature of her campaign been celebrated. Rather, it's been demeaned."

Carol Hardy-Fanta, Director of UMAss Boston's Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, reruns clips of the news coverage of Cleavagegate and Hillary's Cackle, calling attention to the throughlines. A thought: News stories about Al Gore's sigh, John Edwards' hair, and Hillary's cackle--initiated at Republican headquarters?

Since Cookiegate back in 1992, Hillary has had to straddle different and changing ideas about women. Back then, the break with the past was seismic. Until Carter's campaign, Presidents' wives didn't sit in on Cabinet meetings. Hillary was the first President's wife who came from having a major career. She was trapped between an outdated past and an uncharted future. Since then, she's faced all sorts of double standards. Most recently, she's been accused of using a "mommy strategy" to soften her image.

Additional obstacles include this: Since 9/11, citizens willingness to vote for a qualified woman candidate for Prez has actually decreased.

Betsy Reed, Executive Editor at The Nation, refers to the "tsunami of misogyny" we've seen--it's a "breathtaking amount of venom." According to the race playbook and the gender playbook, blacks are seen as traitors, while women are seen as weak. Betsy also addresses ways that Hillary's gender and Obama's race have helped them in their campaigns.

Alison asks: What does this campaign mean to future female candidates and future candidates who are people of color?

Carol Hardy-Fanta: "Hillary started off as the one to beat. She had name-recognition, money, the establishment, and a popular former President behind her. She had the 'unassailable lead.' She was the first woman who had wiped away the large structural barriers to a woman becoming a nominee. She made some mistakes, but compared to John McCain's mistakes? If Hillary can't even get the nomination, I don't think we'll see another woman run and win until my daughter is a grandparent. And what of the fact that Reverend Wright gets so scrutinized while McCain gets a free pass on Pat Roberston endorsing him?"

Betsy Reed: "It's unfortunate that Obama has not been able to call out the sexism that Hillary has experienced. He hasn't called out some of the racism that he's experienced. It's as if the very accusation is suspect somehow. We need to figure out a better way of talking about these things, and waging protest when appropriate."

Ok, off to ask a question for the panel, so am signing off for now....

(Image cred)

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