January 26, 2024

Unattainable ‘angel status'. Patriarchy still skews the narratives of women in power

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Alia Saphier in New Jersey, United States

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December 7, 2023, Washington DC, United States. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the representative for New York's 14th congressional district since 2019, and a member of the Democratic Party.

Picture by: US House of Representatives

Women have long been viewed as angels and devils in the public eye. When religion acted as the basis of public perception, women were either saints or temptations, Mary or Eve.

Today, public perception is controlled by the media, which influences how women in power are portrayed.

On the surface, the media seems like the perfect opportunity to dismantle the patriarchy by empowering women on the world stage; however, the media instead covertly infuses patriarchal ideals into the narratives of women in power.

Firstly, the media perpetuates sexism in politics by uncritically broadcasting disempowering commentary about women politicians – the more prominent and successful a woman becomes, the more vitriolic language is directed toward them.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) has become one of the most prominent voices on the left of the Democratic party in the United States. Her success was met with both politicians and media figures publicly disempowering her by calling her “stupid,” thereby seeking to strip AOC of her legitimacy as a politician with a voice to contribute.

For example, Jesse Watters of Fox News said recently: “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She’s dangerous, but she’s actually more dumb than dangerous.”

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Another aspect of sexism that still dominates politics today is the emphasis on the politician as a persona. All politicians craft some form of a public image, but the projection should be centered around values and ideas – in the case of women politicians, however, the media strive to portray a woman in terms of her personality, demeanor, and appearance.

How women in politics are almost reduced to their clothing might serve as an example. This may seem like a compliment, but to women who want their ideas heard and not their clothing recognized, this emphasis diminishes their power.

Many female public figures, such as the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg with her pearl necklace, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi with her “gucci glove”, or AOC with her red lipstick, are tied to their ‘iconic’ image.

One does not need to look far for an example. “It’s legitimately hard being a first-generation woman…and being working class, trying to navigate a professional environment. It continues to take me so long to try to figure out how to look put-together without having a huge designer closet,” AOC told Vanity Fair – the magazine quoted her words to promote an article with instructions on how to dress like Ocasio-Cortez.

Reducing women to clothing is just another imposition of patriarchy, because clothing symbolizes women’s domesticity – why doesn’t Vanity Fair instruct readers on how to think like AOC instead?

But it is not only women in politics, is it? Another crucial spectrum through which women obtain power in our society is as a celebrity.

These high-profile individuals are extensively represented in popular media, and news about the smallest details of their lives proliferates on social media. Due to this ubiquity, many of our opinions and tastes are influenced by the views and choices of celebrities.

Complimenting their clothing may seem well-meaning, but it actually demonstrates how women in power are reduced to their clothing or the opinions of others.

They are followed and reported on in ways that diminish their abilities or the accomplishments that made them famous in the first place.

The sexist trend that is hyper-focused on the clothing of politicians extends to coverage of celebrities.

Another avenue of media scrutiny is the dating habits of celebrities. For women, dating many men is an immediate story for media outlets and a point of criticism from the public.

A clear example of this is Taylor Swift. She has one of the most significant musical careers of all time, yet it is her relationships that are extremely publicized. Throughout her career, Swift has been criticized by the media throughout her career for forming relationships and breaking them off for her own benefit.

In contrast to male celebrities who form many relationships the media tend to praise. In fact, some of these men make this extreme dating part of their image. Leonardo DiCaprio is an obvious example. His career has been one of many acting triumphs, but a key aspect of his persona is a long dating history of women only aged 25 or younger.

This trend links back to the patriarchal belief that a woman’s purity is what gives her honor. Women who date in the public eye are viewed as betraying this ideal of purity and are subject to intense scrutiny.

As the new generation of media reporters comes up and takes charge, it is our responsibility to ensure that women are represented as fully and completely as men are and have been for centuries.

While the media may still echo patriarchal ideals, we can move past them and give women the representation they deserve. The male perspective should no longer be the “default,” and it is the job of the media to begin a more inclusive cycle.

It should take responsibility for giving women the space to live their lives fully and completely without being judged by patriarchal ideals: women should no longer be confined to the antiquated binary of angel or devil.

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Alia Saphier

Contributor

New Jersey, United States

Alia Lael Brühl Saphier was born in 2006 and currently studies in Englewood, New Jersey. She
attends Manhattan School of Music precollege for classical voice and is an editor for her school’s foreign language magazine.

In her free time, Alia plays the violin, guitar, and ukulele. Her wider interests also include songwriting, reading, traveling, acting, and creative writing.

Alia speaks English, German, and Spanish.

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Aleksandra Lasek

Human Rights Section Editor

Warsaw, Poland

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