Back on the Hillary Media Watch

Today I posted a blog on Huffington Post about the return of gender insults perpetrated upon Hillary Clinton — this time particularly by CNN’s Gloria Borger. As a communication professor and researcher, I’m always intrigued by how words are used to shape our perceptions.  As a woman, I’m also particularly attuned to how those words are used to keep us from senior positions in business and equal pay.

Words are weak vehicles of meaning at times.  We use them quickly and sometimes find that they haven’t conveyed our intentions.  But they are also weapons when employed by those who are inclined to manipulation.  In The Secret Handshake and my other books, I look at how easy it is to “poison a well” at work.  When it comes to women, that poisoning is readily accomplished in some arenas merely by calling up negative associations that have taken root — usually by not being quickly and adequately challenged.

In They Don’t Get It, Do They? I wrote about how women are labeled at work.  My view: “It’s going to happen, so you might as well have some input.”  By that, I mean it’s important when a word is used, intentionally or unintentionally, in a manner that disparages you or your work that it doesn’t stick.   Words can be altered along with impressions. If someone says, “You’re stubborn,” you are at a choice point in conversation. What are other ways to describe the characteristics one person might refer to as stubborn? Here are a few:  persistent, determined, and committed.  “Yes.  I was persistent” is a response that turns something negative into a positive.

The Huffpo blog is about how some “journalists” use words they know are disparaging of women to describe Hillary Clinton.  Not only do such words repeated over time come to be ‘attached’ to her, they’re distortions of who she is as a person and presidential candidate. Whether in our own lives or observing the labeling of women running for political office, it’s important to be aware of how words and phrases damaging to women’s credibility are employed.  If a woman isn’t going to win in 2016, at least it should be because she wasn’t the right person for the job — not because she was constantly labeled in gratuitous ways and we just didn’t bother to inform the press that we noticed.

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4 Responses to Back on the Hillary Media Watch

  1. Paul Solyn says:

    I wonder how much of the media, and public, suspicion of Secretary Clinton goes back to her time as candidate’s spouse and then president’s spouse. We always know less about a spouse than about the candidate, which is how it should be. But that leaves room for everyone to project beliefs onto the spouse, especially if the spouse also has significant public visibility.

    We see this, for example, with Mrs. Obama. It has been easy for some to see her as an “angry black woman” or “uppity,” for no good reason. It was easy to see Mrs. Clinton as “scheming” “manipulative,” or even “diabolical,” especially in connection with the health-care fiasco then.

    During the first Clinton administration, I was a moderator of a public message board dealing with religion. Some of the angriest, most inflammatory posts were tagged by their authors with the keyword HILLARY even though they had nothing to do with Mrs. Clinton. The authors apparently assumed that other angry, intolerant people would be drawn to the post by that keyword.

    Presidents’ spouses who had lower profiles, such as Laura Bush, largely escaped this kind of projection. On the other hand, the press seemed happy to portray Nancy Reagan as wacky even though she had no public involvement in politics.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks, Paul. I think you’re right that much of this goes way back and is influenced by the expectations many still have of what a First Lady should do with her time — how she should act. Those who cross the line open themselves up to criticism. If there ever is a “First Gentleman,” he will likely have much more latitude. It’s also difficult to imagine that he’ll generate hatred for speaking his mind and doing what he thinks his country needs.

  3. Sandra Haynes says:

    Your blog and longer article in HuffPo. thrill me greatly. Sounds like a movement in the making! Where can I sign up? Finally, I have found someone who is as equally distressed by the innuendos and coded words used by the media to describe Secretary Clinton. The vast majority of female journalists on cable TV seem to engage in group speak and there does not seem to be any attempt at original thought. Add Mika Brzezinski, Andrea Mitchell to your list, among others. And don’t even get me started on the men – Scarborough is the king of denigration and condescension against HRC. Chris Cuomo and Jake Tapper can be added to that list among others – and this is the so-called liberal media.

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