Everything Language and Grammar

Subtle Sexism

Posted by languageandgrammar on January 9, 2008

Obvious displays of bias are often less dangerous than subtle displays, just as it’s better to know that your co-worker is actively campaigning for your job than it is to find out that there’s a microphone under your post-it notes.

The choice of the television media to consistently refer to Senator Hillary Clinton as Mrs. Clinton is a subtle form of sexism. I have never heard Barack Obama referred to as Mr. Obama or John Edwards referred to as Mr. Edwards on television–the word Senator invariably precedes their references; however, even when the discussion involves all three of them, there are many instances when Senator Clinton is referred to as Mrs. Clinton. (Note: I have seen Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards in print many times.)

It’s obviously important to some people in the media to make sure that we notice that Hillary Clinton is a woman first and a senator second.

It’s also important that we think about our language choices.

As an aside, I find it fascinating to hear the onslaught of attention (mainly criticism) about Senator Clinton’s “crying” episode. First, she didn’t even cry–she showed a little emotion. I cry more when the alarm goes off on Monday mornings! Second, all of the comments about the weakness of someone who cries–or about how leaders shouldn’t cry–seems a little weak after the praise heaped on President Bush when he shed a tear at a military funeral last January.  

For a male leader, it’s a sign of strength to cry; for Mrs. Clinton, it’s a sign of weakness.


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