Breaking into the ‘boys club’

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By CAITLIN LUKACS
Observer Staff
Nov. 29, 2007

Sen. Hillary Clinton’s run for presidency in 2008 has not affected the campaigns of the male candidates, spokespeople said. Yet there have been several instances where Clinton’s presence has clearly caused the other candidates and the media to take note of her gender.

According to Alex Burgos, a spokesperson for the Mitt Romney campaign, the fact that Clinton is running hasn’t changed anything. “This campaign is about issues and policies right now in the primaries and it’ll be the same in the general election,” he said.

However, during the CNN YouTube debate in July there were two exchanges in particular that might not have occurred in the past when all the candidates were men.

First, when John Edwards’ wife commented that her husband was more focused on women’s issues than Clinton was, Clinton responded “I think it’s terrific we are up here arguing who is going to be better for women.”

In past elections, women’s issues have been included in candidates’ platforms, but have not been as prominent as they are in the current election.

Early in his campaign, Edwards used his wife to criticize Clinton, a sign that he didn’t want to directly attack her himself – possibly for fear of being seen as attacking women or women’s issues in general.

The second example that took place during the CNN YouTube debate was when Edwards turned to the Democrat from New York and said “I’m not sure about that coat,” referring to Clinton’s coral jacket.

Edwards had been asked to say something he liked and something he didn’t like about another candidate, but it is unlikely that he would have chosen to focus on clothing if a man had been standing next to him.

There was another instance in the election in which Clinton’s femininity was the focus rather than her stance on issues. When she addressed the Senate on July 18, Clinton wore a pink blazer over a black v-neck top. Her cleavage immediately became a topic of conversation, appearing in columns in the Washington Post and quickly spreading through media outlets nation-wide, while there was very little talk of the content in her speech – the soaring cost of higher education.

View Sen. Clinton’s July 18 Senate presentation, and other similar videos at her Senate YouTube site, NYsenator.

Robin Givhan of the Washington Post wrote: “There was cleavage on display Wednesday afternoon on C-SPAN2.” The lengthy article went on to discuss Givhan’s surprise at seeing such an outfit worn on the Senate floor especially because it was worn by Clinton. Givhan wrote “It’s tempting to say that the cleavage stirs the same kind of discomfort that might be churned up after spotting Rudy Giuliani with his shirt unbuttoned just a smidge too far. No one wants to see that. But really, it was more like catching a man with his fly unzipped. Just look away!”

The issue of Hillary’s cleavage shows that her fellow candidates are not the only ones treating her differently. The press is covering Clinton’s campaign differently than they have covered presidential campaigns in the past and differently than they are covering the male candidates in this
election.

American University professor Dotty Lynch, former senior political editor of CBS News, said that Clinton is getting lots of distinctive coverage because she is unique.

“Gender is a big factor in Hillary’s campaign and it becomes an interesting angle for reporters,” she said.

However, not all of these angles are legitimate or news-worthy. For example, the Washington Post ran a large story in June profiling Clinton’s all-female advising team. There were no such stories about Romney’s all-male advisors.

Additionally, after Clinton gave a speech at Wellesley College in early November, the media as well as her opponents accused her of “playing the gender card.” Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., made such accusations on the Today show and several columnists and reporters, such as Fox News’ Mort Kondracke, spoke similar indictments.

Maureen Dowd of the New York Times even wrote that Clinton was “trying to play the victim” and act as though she was being picked on by her opponents because she is a woman. Dowd implied that adopting such a role after the Lewinsky scandal had helped Clinton to be elected senator.

The problem with these accusations, and the huge media buzz surrounding them, is that they are not based on facts. In her speech to her alma mater, Clinton said: “In so many ways, this all-women’s college prepared me to compete in the all-boys’ club of presidential politics.”

The American University School of Communication Graduate Program in Journalism works to prepare students for the realities of today's news and information space and the challenges of tomorrow. Find out more by visiting us online at soc.american.edu

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