The Portrayal of Female Politicians Image and its Impact on Society

ThePortrayal of Female Politicians Image and its Impact on Society


Theresearch question is “What is the portrayal of female politician’simage and its impact on society?”

Thisquestion is particularly relevant at the backdrop of the socialreforms to promote gender equality. In acknowledgment to the factthat women have been traditionally excluded from the society and thatit now time reforms should be made to accommodate them, the issue offemale portrayal becomes critical because it is one of the areas thatcan subvert gender equality by impeding equal representation inpolitics.


Althoughthe global communities, especially the West, have made drasticmeasures to promote gender equality such as allowing women to run forpolitical seats, there is still a lot that needs to be done be seento be satisfactory, and this has particularly to with the way thesociety portrays female politicians negatively.


Indeed,the literature on the subject is documented and essentially supportsthe thesis that the society is lagging the social reforms to supportwomen’s equal representation in politics. A look at the relevantliterature presents three themes in which this point is discernible:the statistic of women in politics is still low, the societystereotypes women, and the media plays a negative role in advancingdiscrimination against the female politicians.

WomenUnderrepresentation in Politics

Theissue of women underrepresentation in politics is adversely mentionedas one of the indicators of negative perceptions the society holdabout the gender. This view is widely discussed in Zamfirache (2010),in Women and Politics – The GlassCeiling, which highlights differentforms of challenges that women in politics face. The author utilizesthe concept of the ‘glass ceiling’ to analogize artificialbarriers that the society has placed on the path of women to preventthem from advancing in politics. In essence, if women areunderrepresented in politics, then it is not because of the lack ofambition or strength, but because of the glass ceilings, the existentinvisible obstacles. Examples of these barriers are institutionalizedstereotypes that consider women are to be less ambitious, weak, andless wise than men are. This glass ceiling consequently plays out acrucial role in making it easy for men to succeed in politics at theexpense of women. In this regard, the author suggests that increasingthe capacity of women to succeed in politics will have to begin withfacing such barriers.

Besides,the article by Heldman and Wade (2011), SexualizingSarah Palin, offers a powerfulinsight to advance the view on the barriers that the femalepoliticians face. In this article, the authors use the example ofSarah Palin, a vice presidential candidate in 2008 US elections, toportray the effects of female sexual objectification on the perceivedcompetence of the candidate. They observe that the focus of thesociety on her personality and fashion caused the public to see heras s less competent and immoral, and even less human, translating toher poor performance at the ballot box. The authors also go on todefend their position based on the objectification theory advanced byHeflick and Goldenberg, applauding its assertion that the strongemphasis placed on women’s appearance leads the voters to perceivethem unsuitable for political positions.

Focuson Clothing at the Expense of Policies

Theliterature also shows that the society tends to focus on thepersonality and outlook of the female politicians much more than whatshould matter — the policies that they offer. To a significantextent, the society tends to focus on&nbspwomen`s&nbspfashion andappearance to justify their suitability for a legislative seat, whichis rarely the case of male politicians. Such a scenario onlyfunctions to advance the feminist perceptions and attentions relatedto the fashion industry, and sexist thinking rather brings out thepolitical promises that female politicians offer for the society.

Thispoint is particularly supported by Boris (2010) in FeministCurrent, in which the authordiscusses the views of feminist thinking pertaining ofwomen`s&nbspclothing, and its implications. Boris (2010)specifically uses the Democratic Party’s politician Hilary Clintonand the Republican’s Sarah Palin 2008 US election campaign as acase examples. In both cases, the article describes how the ideologyof “suit &amp tie” was common in media discussions, and how iteventually played a crucial role in changing the society’sperception concerning them, translating to their failure. In essence,the literature points out that media has a tendency of focusingoverly on the personality traits of the female politicians more thanthey do for the case of male politicians.

MassMedia’s Influence on Female Politician’s Appearance

Theliterature also shows that even the mass media is not supportive ofwomen’s political struggle. Media has been particularly noted toplay two roles in subverting the success of women in politics —misrepresenting and under-representing. Misrepresenting can beconceived as depicting women more negatively than they are. Differentauthors have highlighted various ways in which women aremisrepresented. For instance, Budesheim (2011), in GoingOut on a Limb in an Underdeveloped Branch of ObjectificationResearch, explains that media focusoften deviates from important to less important attributes of anideal trait such as personal issues such as family and background.The author discusses how this scenario was particularly evidenced inthe case of Sarah Palin. The media mostly focus on her personal lifeand appearance more instead of her work and performance as theRepublican candidate was notable, which played a crucial role inleading to her failure. Interestingly, this view does not come bysurprise —if only, it is in tandem with the discussion by Heldmanand Wade (2011), who also refer to the example of Sarah Palin tobring in the debates of biased character evaluations the societylevels against women vying for political seats. On the other hand,underrepresentation connotes the tendency to grant less coverage tofemale politicians compared to male politicians. Heldman and Wade(2011) have further explained that, in many cases, media did not airthe view of female politicians as much as they did regarding malepoliticians.

Indeed,the point of the media to subvert the position of women in politicsis plausible because of its inherent strong influence on the society.In one way, media controls the salience of topics — it determineswhat the audience should hear. This way, the media is empowered tofocus on certain non-essential traits of female politicians, such astheir fashion and look, causing the audience to think such issues areimportant in deciding who merits for a political seat. In anotherway, the media serves as a gatekeeper — it decides what shouldreach the audience. This capacity creates the allowance for the pressto censor certain strong aspects of female politicians whilepresenting the weak traits. Indeed, Zamfirache (2010) has noted thatthe mass media has a tendency of overlooking the policies than womenpresent, to personality.


Inconclusion, this review of literature has examined the question ofwhat is the portrayal of female politician’s image and its impactit has on society. It is established that although the globalcommunities, especially the West, have made drastic measures topromote gender equality, such as allowing women to run for politicalseats, there is still a lot that needs to be done be seen to besatisfactory, and this has particularly to with the way the societyportrays female politicians negatively. A look at the relevantliterature presents three themes in which this position isdiscernible: the statistic of women in politics is still low, thesociety continues stereotype women, and the role of media inadvancing discrimination against the female politicians. In all thethree sections, the society, including the press, has been shown tobe less supportive of women vying for the political seat, which thencertainly explains the underrepresentation of the gender in politics.Therefore, if women are underrepresented in politics, then it is notbecause of their lack of ambition or strength, but because obstaclesplaced in their path. Examples of these barriers areinstitutionalized stereotypes that women are not as ambitious,strong, and wise as men are. Another example is the assessment offemale politicians based on sexist themes, rather the politicalgoals.


Boris,E. (2010). Feminist Currents. Frontiers:A Journal of Women Studies, 31(1),166-171. 6p. Retrieved from[email protected]&ampvid=29&amphid=116

Budesheim,T. L. (2011). Going Out on a Limb in an Underdeveloped Branch ofObjectification Research. SexRoles,65(3-4),8p, 165-172. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-9999-z

Heldman,C., &amp Wade, L. (2011). Sexualizing Sarah Palin. SexRoles,65(3-4),156-164. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-9984-6

Zamfirache,I. (2010.). Women and Politics – The Glass Ceiling. Journalof Comparative Research in Anthropology &amp Sociology., 1(1),11p, 175-185. Retrieved from[email protected]&ampvid=34&amphid=116