Editors can ensure fairness by eliminating sexist copy
While the 2012 election is finished, it’s time for journalists to reflect on how to improve copy. Journalists need to reevaluate themselves on a number of issues, specifically sexism, which has been a big issue this campaign cycle. Name It. Change It., a gender equality advocacy group, recently gave “awards” to the most sexist campaign coverage.
Sexism isn’t just an issue of an “ism.” Sexism is defined as when a person has been treated unfairly because of his or her biological sex. Fairness in the media is a major issue in political campaigns. Journalists need to be respectful not only to a politician’s political views, but also to his or her sex and gender. Therefore, sexism is an issue editors should be aware of and work to eliminate.
Dishearteningly, these awards weren’t given to fringe news organizations. Mainstream outlets, such as the Chicago Sun-Times, the Boston Herald and the Huffington Post, “won” the various categories.
Here are a few highlights of these instances of sexism: The Chicago Sun-Times badgering attorney general Lisa Madigan about whether she could balance raising her two children while governing the state of Illinois, Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr repeatedly referring to Massachusetts senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren as “granny” and the Huffington Post highlighting oral sex-related captions on an unflattering, open-mouthed photo of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
These transgressions are blatantly sexist. However, it’s important to note that sexism can be subtle. It can be something as simple as noting a female politician’s hairstyle or her clothing and not doing the same with her male opponent.
This isn’t to say that female and male politicians shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions. Nor should they deserve any special treatment. Journalists need common sense and fairness in dealing with sexism and coverage.
Here’s a simple test to find out if coverage of a candidate is sexist: Reverse the genders of those involved. “How would you balance being a husband and father with being governor?” “The senator wore a shapeless Tom Ford suit in an ugly shade of metallic gray.” (Adapted from Name It. Change It.)
Doesn’t it sound ridiculous when this coverage is applied to men? The answer is “yes,” because it is.
Editors can easily remove such nonsense from copy. They can work with reporters on their interviewing questions. Editors can also work with designers and photographers to ensure that people of all genders are treated fairly in their organization’s coverage.
There is no reason to allow sexist copy to slide through the editing process.