In honor of Women’s History Month and the women currently serving us in our government as well as those running for positions in 2024, Offbeat took a deep dive into women in politics. More specifically, a look into disparities in media coverage and how women on the University of Maryland’s campus feel about their own involvement in politics.
00:02:58 JAHNAVI KIRKIRE: People see women as less, they see women as more emotional. They see women as too apolitical or too political. Like women somehow are too extreme for people to handle, and so to make things more palatable, they are pushed to the back.
JULIA BISCHOFF: As March wraps up, so does Women’s History Month. It is a time to reflect on how far women have come in so many fields but there is still so much left to do.
Hello, and welcome to Offbeat by The Diamondback, a podcast about the niches and communities at the University of Maryland. In the wake of presidential candidacy announcements, Offbeat took a closer look into how women in politics are treated compared to men, especially in the media. We also chatted with some politically active women on campus to see how they feel about the topic.
NIKKI HALEY: I have devoted my life to this fight, and I am just getting started. For a strong America, for a proud America, I am running for president of the United States of America.
As I set out on this new journey, I will simply say this: May the best woman win.
DON LEMON: She says people, politicians or something are not in their prime. Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime. Sorry. A woman is considered being in her prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s.
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: The status quo, ladies and gentleman and everyone else, is not going to disrupt itself. That’s our job!
And so, I am here today, again, with my deep thanks for your coming here … I, as of today, am a candidate for the office of [the] president of the United States.
HILARY CLINTON: Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you it’s got about 18 million cracks in it.
DONALD TRUMP: Such a nasty woman.
JULIA BISCHOFF: Students on campus also had a lot to say about these women running for president. Ignite is a club that encourages young women to get involved in politics and hopefully run for office as well. The Offbeat team spoke to some of its members and Ignite’s President Bridget O’Toole.
BRIDGET O’TOOLE: So it’s something that I’ve been really passionate about for a while, and I saw the club at the first look fair and I was like immediately interested, but basically I’ve been in all four years now, I’m president.
BRIDGET O’TOOLE: My freshman year of high school, I worked on Kathleen Matthews’ campaign for Congress, and she ultimately lost. But I did that just to sort of see how I liked it and I found that I was really passionate specifically about campaigning for a woman.
I’d say I just kind of like went on with and I interned with Emerge Maryland and that was just a really cool process because it’s training big cohorts of women in Maryland to eventually run for office.
JULIA BISCHOFF VO: Bridget and other members of Ignite meet to discuss politics, current events and do professional development workshops.
BRIDGET O’TOOLE: And the club’s main goal is to get women, like college-aged women involved in politics, ultimately hoping that they’ll pursue elected office or also just kind of helping them to formulate political opinions. It’s non-partisan, but also just focusing on leadership skills, professional development as well.
JULIA BISCHOFF VO: Bridge UMD is another political club on campus, and Jahnavi Kirkire is their president.
JAHNAVI KIRKIRE: My name is Jahnavi Kirkire … I am the President of Bridge UMD, which is an organization dedicated to fostering civil discourse. So we talk about fun, controversial, really interesting political issues. And we provide a space for people to have that conversation regardless of whatever political affiliation they have.
JULIA BISCHOFF VO: Bridget and Jahnavi told Offbeat about what they think about the political landscape so far, and what they hope to see in future candidates.
JAHNAVI KIRKIRE: I think any woman or any person who identifies as a female, can say they face oppression in some way or the other.
JAHNAVI KIRKIRE: And like the fact that we’ve gotten the closest we’ve gotten to having a female be our preliminary world leader is Kamala Harris and that took 300 years, so it it really does go to show that there is some progress but I think the biggest thing is that people often feel that a woman is not legitimate without the support of a man.
If you look at the history of both parties, neither has the best like track record of actual genuine representation … representation has always been scarce on either side, whether that’s women like gender or race or anything of the following.
BRIDGET O’TOOLE: I’m definitely excited to hopefully see a diverse ticket that has not just women, but like women of color, because I think that something else has been a big problem, especially in in the Republican and the in the Democrat Party is that we see, like we talk about representation, but it’s always, It’s often like one dimensional. Like Oh yay, there’s women, but those are white women or oh, there’s women, but they’re only straight women. I think it’s important that it’s becoming more diverse.
JULIA BISCHOFF VO: Ignite board member Camila Manrique voiced similar sentiments.
CAMILA MANRIQUE: I mean, I think it’s great that there are women who are willing to take that role and to fight because I know when Hillary Clinton was a huge thing like first woman to be nominated as a major party candidate down to, like, the top two.
And I think it’s important that people remember where we came from and to not stop and to continue fighting because we’ve come so far and we would hate to see everything go reverse.
JULIA BISCHOFF: Like Camila said, it is important to know where we come from. I sat down with Anne Farris Rosen, a political journalist of many years, to get her insight on how politics have changed.
ANNE FARRIS ROSEN: OK, my name is Anne Farris Rosen. I am a practicing journalist. But I am an adjunct lecturer at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
Yeah, I’ve worked as a print journalist, a couple of books, but I started and have continued through the local newspapers, and then I rose to the national level with the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Pew Research Center. And I covered a lot of political campaigns on both the local and the national level.
JULIA BISCHOFF VO: Anne Farris Rosen covered the Clintons from the time Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas to Hillary Clinton’s bid for president in 2016. Over this period of time, she was able to witness many changes not only in the composition of our nation’s politicians but in the newsrooms that cover them.
ANNE FARRIS ROSEN: When I was a young journalist, not only was I one of the few females on campaign trails, but I was one of the few females in newsrooms and-and I might say, not a lot of people of color either. So there were very large separations there and the production of media comes from who’s producing it.
JULIA BISCHOFF VO: Anne Farris Rosen also informed me of the changes that took place in political institutions.
ANNE FARRIS ROSEN: But Pat Schroeder died yesterday and it reminded me how she was a first as well. She’s the first woman to be elected to Congress from Colorado, and this was 1972 as well. And she served there for 20-4 years and she was quite an outspoken advocate, not just for her position but for women. At one point, she was highly discriminated against in Congress by her peers and at one point she said, “I have a brain and a uterus, and I use both.”
So Barbara Lee, who’s a representative in Congress now, is running for Senate, a Black woman. And she was first elected in 1998. There were 11 Black women in Congress at that time. Today, there are 28 Black women in Congress. But there are no Black women in the Senate.
Kamala Harris was in the Senate, but of course now she’s vice president, so that was one less there. And in the Senate’s history, there have only been two Black women in there. Its 228 year history. So, there’s a lot of uncharted territory here, but women are making strides.
JULIA BISCHOFF: There are also multiple gender theories and other important dynamics at play here. Bobbie Foster is a Ph.D. candidate in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Her research focuses on media literacy, political communications, and digital cultures.
BOBBIE FOSTER: Certainly there’s been a long history of anytime women enter the political field automatically trying to discredit what they’re saying and dismiss what they’re saying. You know, with this, if even if you look at sort of criticism of the suffrage movement, very much mirrors a lot of the criticism we still see in, in women, in politics today about, you know. They’re either bitter old ladies who never started a family, right? And that’s why they want to be involved in politics or they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Again, that’s sort of the double edged sword for women, right? It seems like the more qualified they are for a job, the less people like them. I don’t know what it is, but like if you were to just look straight at Nikki Haley’s resume or even a Hillary Clinton resume, just if you look straight at the resume of the jobs that they’ve held. If it were a male candidate, you know, people would say, “Hey, that person knows what they’re doing because they’ve been working in government for 30 plus years.” You know, if it’s a woman, then she’s either past her prime or she’s, you know, part of the problem or, you know, something along those lines, rather than being somebody to be celebrated for that much dedication and work to public service.
We’re at a strange time in politics where, you know, at the same time there are women trying to break away from any kind of gendered language and distance themselves from their gender and not make it part of who they are when they’re running. Nikki Haley, though, on the other hand, seems to be making her gender kind of a focal point of her running.
So it’s kind of an interesting seeing time to exist in, where the t approach as far as selling a candidate is kind of varied. You know, how much do you lean into their womanhood?
Certainly, intersectionalism has become a huge part of the conversation across the board, even for men running. You know what, what sort of intersectionality do they bring to the table? You know, what their, what is their race and ethnic background? What is their economic background? How did they grow up? Where did they grow up? That’s a huge part of the conversation.
And I think with women, that’s an also an interesting intersectional piece, especially when you’re looking at someone like Nikki Haley, right, whose you know, intersectionality is a really interesting comparative to, like, a Hillary Clinton. You know, because there are a lot more women who are first or second generation American citizens who are running, and so that brings a whole new intersectional conversation into the race.
JULIA BISCHOFF VO: A concept that came up repeatedly in Offbeat’s interviews was a double bind. I’ll let Anne Farris Rosen explain it.
ANNE FARRIS ROSEN: That, you know, just an appeal through your sex, that a woman has to look a certain way, that men don’t have to look in politics and running as candidates. That she has this dual bind where she has to be both warm and sexy sometimes and still tough. You know, people might argue men have to do that too, but there’s just been a hyper, you know, hypersensitive generation of image in the media now, and especially the visuals.
JULIA BISCHOFF VO: Bridget also mentioned this when she spoke about why many women might be deterred from running for office.
BRIDGET O’TOOLE: I think women are more likely to be judged on like their appearance on what they wear and how they present themselves and something that we talk a lot about, like in Emerge and in Ignite is like, this double bind concept where basically it’s like women don’t want to appear too feminine, but then, like they don’t want to appear too harsh and like masculine.
Especially between like the women that are newer to politics, the ones that aren’t as new, there’s kind of like an interesting contrast that you see between them.
JULIA BISCHOFF VO: Anne Farris Rosen places much of the blame on the media for perpetuating some of these ideas.
ANNE FARRIS ROSEN: Well, there’s definitely a gender differentiation. And unfortunately, much of that has been propagated by the media and the way the media covered it.
The content is often generated by the, in this case, when I was coming up with predominantly white males, so it’s changed. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still so much more to do.
JULIA BISCHOFF VO: Bobbie Foster reflected similar sentiments.
BOBBIE FOSTER: You also can’t factor out Trump and all the things he said about women. And then, of course, the Women’s March, you know, right immediately during his inauguration has really kind of made media more sensitive, I think, to things that they normally would have said, they’re being a little more careful. This time about trying not to say the same things about women. You know, a lot of focus on how they’re dressed or you know how they speak. Do they sound shrill or, you know, angry versus do they sound approachable?
And again you kind of wish that the conversation was a little bit more about issues and not about the gender of the candidate, but that’s also kind of difficult from a news perspective. If you’re a news reporter when the candidates campaign makes their gender, you know, like with Nikki Haley, a pivotal point of who they are in their running, you know, it’s if the candidate has decided that this is a selling point for themselves.
JULIA BISCHOFF VO: Yet despite all this the women of UMD remain hopeful.
JAHNAVI KIRKIRE: I don’t think any man or any woman really holds the guts to stand up to the rest of the world. And the way the United States needs to to fix its act, to be frank. But I’m trying to think, I’m a fan of several of the newer members of Congress. There’s some people that I’m like, “You seem like a really interesting and like a fantastic person” like Maura Healey is, the new Massachusetts governor. She was actually one of my favorite candidates, and so was Aruna Miller. Aruna Miller, I know she probably won’t run for national office, but I was so excited to hear that she won lieutenant governor. It really is a matter of . . . for me, I would love to see women of color.
BRIDGET O’TOOLE: I feel like some of the newer candidates like AOC more or less like Stacey Abrams. They’re sort of trying to forge their own path and kind of break out of that double bind mold, and more generally embrace, like their femininity and also their identity more generally so.
CAMILA MANRIQUE: I just think it’s very important that we get more female candidates to run because I’m not, like too familiar on their topics — there’s some differences in opinion, obviously, but I think it is important that women are starting to finally, having like the strength and the spirit to run because there’s so many women out there who feel unrepresented, so it’s great.
ANNE FARRIS ROSEN: I think there’s the numbers and the power and the more power women get, the more power they parlay, the more power they are able to use, whether it’s, you know, for everyone or just for, you know, opening the doors for others, as Pat Schroeder did so. To me, it’s all very hopeful.
JULIA BISCHOFF VO: As Pat Schroeder once said:
ANNE FARRIS ROSEN: She also said, “When I die, I want to be cremated and reformed as a doorstop to hold the door open for other people.”
JULIA BISCHOFF VO: Thanks for listening to Offbeat! I’m your host Julia Bischoff. This episode is brought to you with the help of our assistant editor Grace Kpetemey and our reporters Megan Barnes and Fatima Yazdi. Our music this month is by Sascha Ende. Follow Offbeat on Twitter at @DBKOffbeat and follow the Diamondback on Twitter and Instagram @theDBK. You can find a transcript of this episode at dbknews.com. And if you liked this episode, tell your friends and tune in next time!
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