05 October 2010

Take Back the Mic: Condemn Sexist Media Treatment of Politicians

Over at the Women's Media Center, they're running an important campaign to end sexism in the media -- a campaign you should be part of. Their goal is to hold media outlets accountable when they treat women candidates unfairly, and at the moment, they're dealing with a doozy.

Karen E. Polito is the Republican candidate for State Treasurer in Massachusetts. On September 20, radio producer Bill Cooksey of WRKO-AM radio, Boston, took to the air to give Polito his endorsement -- but not for any reason having to do with her stance on issues of merit, or her qualification for the job. No, Bill Cooksey went live on air to endorse Karen Polito because, in his words, "She's got a banging little body."

From the transcript of Cooksey's show:
I think she's hot. She's tiny, she's short. She's got a banging little body on her. Facial wise, I give her about a seven. Body wise, I give her about an eight-and-a-half. Tight little butt. I endorse Karyn Polito.
As our friends at the Women's Media Center point out, there's simply no room for this kind of unfair and demeaning commentary in the media -- both because it violates the very notion of professional journalism, and because it does actual damage to women candidates' chances at the ballot box. Recent research undertaken by WMC, the WCF Foundation and Political Parity has found that these kind of sexist remarks "significantly undercut [a female candidate's] political standing," causing them to lose twice as much support, on average, than criticisms that are not sexist in nature (for example, policy-based attacks).

It would be one thing if Bill Cooksey were alone in making these kind of remarks (which his radio station is now vociferously defending). But, in fact, comments like these about women candidates are a dime a dozen these days, both from the media and from other politicians.

Just take Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's recent introduction of NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand as the "hottest member" of the Senate. Or Jay Leno's joke this week about Delaware Senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell performing oral sex. These kind of remarks, whatever their provenance, do real violence to women candidates -- and to women at large. They are no different than the catcalling and street harassment that millions of women around the world experience each day, and that grantee groups like Hollaback are fighting to end. They reduce all women to little more than the sum of our body parts, and reinforce a culture where belittling and violating women is easy fodder for a quick laugh. In a climate like this, how can we be surprised that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime?

The folks at WRKO may think of this as little more than a joke, but we're not laughing -- and neither are the folks at WMC. Their "Name It, Change It" campaign is calling upon those of us who find Bill Cooksey's comments offensive to demand an apology from the station. You can take action by phoning or emailing WRKO-AM and voicing your displeasure.

WRKO phone: 617-779-3400

Email: tomandtodd@wrko.com

Julie Kahn, Vice President & Market Manager: (617) 779-5306 or jkahn@entercom.com

Jason Wolfe, Vice President of Programming & Operations: (617) 779-3541 or jwolfe@entercom.com

Bill Cooksey on Twitter: @W_Cooksey

Take a moment to now to speak up on behalf of women candidates -- and women everywhere. And check out one way the Ms. Foundation is working to change the portrayal of women (in this case, young women) in the media.

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