For Female Candidates, Appearance Compliments Do More Harm Than Good
By Meg Malone
Compliments can make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, but in some contexts, a compliment can actually have a negative effect. One example? When the press is talking about the appearance of women in politics.
The Women’s Media Center conducted a study that found that any kind of comment about a female political candidate’s appearance – whether that comment was positive, negative, or a neutral observation – actually made survey participants (aka likely voters!) react negatively toward the candidate.
The study had voters read the media coverage where a female political candidate’s appearance was discussed in these various ways. What they found was that afterward, these participants felt those female political candidates were less confident, less qualified and less likable. Celinda Lake, who headed up the study, summed up the significance of this in a press release from Women’s Media Center: “In close races, sexist coverage on top of the attacks that every candidate faces can make the difference between winning and losing.” All in all, cruddy news for women in politics.
I think it’s pretty obvious that saying something critical or disparaging about a woman’s looks is definitely not okay, but I think that it can sometimes be a little harder to see how any sorts of appearance comments – especially positive or neutral ones – can really be “bad.” Like yeah, Candidate X was wearing a “red dress.” That’s a fact. Is it really wrong to say?
The thing is though is recognizing the context and if that bit of appearance info really is necessary. If you just gave an all-star class presentation and all your classmates said was, “Wow, you really wore great shoes up there,” it’s like… hello, did you even care I spent three weeks on this?!
Yes, it is a fact that you wore shoes and maybe they are cool, but it didn’t have anything to do with your goal or why you were intending to get attention. If your teacher only hears feedback from your classmates about how great your shoes are and less about the project, that could cloud if your teacher felt you delivered a quality presentation.
It’s similiar with politics, just on a bigger scale. Though the media comment might not have been intended to mean anything or maybe it seemed like it was a compliment, the fact is that it any appearance comment is distracting to the actual goal (getting elected) which is unfortunate when appearance has nothing to do with political ability. Compliments should help a person out, not bring a person down by being a distraction.
I’m not saying that women are always going to be the better candidate in an election, but it seems crazy that the media puts women at a disadvantage with these kinds of discussions and that’s not fair. The Women’s Media Center actually is part of a campaign called “Name It. Change It.” that sets out to address the sexist way that female candidates are discussed in the media. As voters (whether current or future ones!), it’s a good reminder that we should care more about qualifications and plans, rather than outfits for candidates of any gender.