A New Portrait

A couple weeks ago, Andover’s Girls’ Leadership Program screened a documentary titled “MissRepresentation,” which explored the societal image of women that the media creates and delved into the issue of the lack of female leadership in the United States. As it turns out, these two issues are joined at the hip. The problem with the lack of women in national leadership positions cannot be easily resolved. As of December 2011, the United States was tied for 78th in the world in terms of the number of women in national legislatures. The reasons behind this lack of female leadership are multifaceted but, at their roots, can be traced to the portrayal of women in the media. Photoshopped models and scantily clad women are plastered across magazine covers that line the aisles of grocery store checkout lines. Women parade across the television screen in racy commercials. Everywhere one looks, women are being objectified. Take, for example, the treatment female celebrities receive. Tabloids blast headlines like “What are they wearing?” “Bad hair day for so and so?” and “Is that a baby bump?” with an alarming frequency. Shift your attention towards the internet and you’ll get more of the same. The home page of will undoubtedly include something on Kim Kardashian’s workout or Rihanna’s new hair color. Given all of this, it’s hard to say that women are portrayed as anything but mannequins whose sole purpose is to look visually appealing. Now, out of instinct, a woman who steps into the public sphere faces a gauntlet of superficial scrutiny. Men simply aren’t put through the same process. Thanks to this societal double standard, female politicians like Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin face a serious disadvantage when compared to their male counterparts. Palin and Clinton, among others, are criticized by the media for their outfit choices rather than the content of their speeches or the impact of their decisions. Male politicians, on the other hand, are judged almost entirely on their abilities as policy-makers. These gender stereotypes have a serious impact at the polls. Even if people don’t say that they would vote for men over women, or vice versa, the gender of the candidate still plays a part in the decision making process of citizens on voting day. For example, the student survey conducted by The Phillipian about Andover’s 2012 Student Council elections showed that only a little less than 50 percent students thought that both genders had an equal chance at winning. This type of undeniable gender bias is unacceptable. Men and women need to learn to respect each other if our country has any hope of seeing lasting change in the way women are portrayed in the public sphere. Only after this is achieved will we be truly able to move forward as both a nation and a society. Ada Li is a Junior from Reading, MA.