The myth of evil women in power: when the media participates in the demonization of women

Posted on 05 December 2011 by

My colleagues at WLP shared this disturbing reminder of the common issues facing women in politics, regardless of where they are:
How to Hit a Woman – The new anti-Elizabeth Warren ad, and how political attack ads differ when the target is female.
(the article appeared in Slate on November 22, 2011)

Blue and Purple Witches (cc) Alkelda

Despite decades of autocratic rule in the MENA region, many of us were amazed to find out through the media that Bouazzizi, the young street peddler who immolated himself in Tunisia in December 2010 and caused, as a result, the snowballing of revolts throughout the Arab region, was actually rebelling against a policewoman who humiliated him in public.  Juicy details of the “evil” policewoman were soon to follow and were published not only in tabloids but also in many respectable mainstream newspapers.  Soon after, the international media followed suit and described in minute details the abuses of the former first lady, Leila Ben Ali, and her own family.  Some went even further to say that her ousted husband knew very little about the wrongdoings of his wife, described to be manipulative and greedy, and was simply “devastated” when he learned what was “really” going on!  The media merrily went on in describing the excesses of other former and present first ladies and women in power in the MENA region.  They were mistresses, thieves, manipulators, incompetent, liars, power-hungry, cruel and – of course – enthusiast shoppers.  This is strangely reminiscent of the shoes of Imelda Marcos or the eccentricities of the former Mrs. Duvallier…

Whether these stories are true or not is simply immaterial.  What is certainly in common across the globe is the urge to vilify women who are public figures.  The media relishes describing their excesses and the public is reassured in its sexist views and prejudice.  Such prejudice is not just anecdotal and of bad taste.  It is a powerful barrier to women’s public and political participation.  By continuously demonizing women in power, patriarchal institutions ensure that the public perception of women as being inadequate to rule is maintained and reproduced.

The fact is that the patriarchal system produces women and men with a patriarchal mindset.  Both commit abuses, both can be undemocratic, and both discriminate against women.

In our effort to promote inclusive, horizontal, participatory and inclusive leadership, we are actually challenging these stereotypes and these recurrent practices.  In doing so, our vision is the transformation of patriarchal societies and institutions and building of inclusive models based on equality and dignity.  One aspect of doing so is in challenging stereotypes and the demonization of women and point out to the real cause of all ills: patriarchy!

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