How to make sure fewer women run for political office

Jan 21, 2015


Jen Neumann

Jen’s experience in marketing, promotions and public relations runs deep. As former VP of Marketing for Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois she covered a 35 county region and ensured even and consistent deployment of information while raising the organization’s profile considerably in key areas. Jen joined de Novo Alternative Marketing as Partner in 2008 and has been a driving force behind our continued success. Her technical and design experience marry traditional marketing with impressive design and innovative methods for superior deliverability. Her experience in non-profit drives cost effectiveness and awareness of public perception.

I didn't stay up to watch the Republican response to the State of the Union Address, I admit it.

So when I walked into work this morning and fired up my computer, I read a few headlines about it (more about the SOTU in general) and opened my email to find tons of information on Joni Ernst's shoes. From almost every news source I follow. One story led with: "Yes, her story of the small-town Iowa girl who made it to Washington was nice and all, but did you see her shoes?"

Are you freaking kidding me? Maybe Ms. Ernst wanted her shoes to be the center of the story. She did tweet a picture of them earlier in the evening, as has been pointed out by a few defenders. Maybe. But as a journalistic enterprise, wouldn't you think that they should have led with commentary on her speech – and the points she made or failed to make in response to the President's address, and what it might mean for the session of Congress before us? And arguing that Ms. Ernst tweeted about the shoes, therefore, it was perfectly appropriate to lead with that news is akin to the age-old argument of "she asked for it."

We are a society that likes to poke fun. Remember Marco Rubio's awkward eye contact as he took a sip of water during his SOTU rebuttal? We definitely live in an era where everything is up for discussion and exploitation. But I frankly expect more from the media outlets I choose to subscribe to. I'm not a Joni Ernst supporter. I didn't care for the rhetoric that she used during the campaign. I am hopeful she will represent us well and prove to be a good lawmaker. What she chooses to wear on her feet is of absolutely no consequence to me or her ability to lead.

How can we expect to recruit quality female candidates to run for office (from either side of the aisle) when what we lead with is what they wore or what they look like? We are sending a message that we don't respect or take female candidates seriously when we focus on their footwear, hair or the size of their butt.

So what should we do about articles like that? It was a popular topic on social media this morning, as threads evolved with differing opinions. Many people were appalled that more serious media outlets covered it at all, some argued that Ms. Ernst deserved it, some made fun of her footwear, and some made the case that we should accept this as journalism and that by debating it, we've added to it. I still contend that it is sexist to start a story about an elected female official by commenting on her appearance – when that same standard is nearly non-existent for men. And sexism is sneaky. It's much easier to get away with than, say, racism.

I'm throwing the B.S. flag. If they publish sexist garbage, serious news publications that present this information as journalism should expect to be discredited in the eyes of their readers. I'm sure many organizations will point to other organizations and say they were just following the story that others presented first. But that isn't journalism. Or it isn't, at any rate, good journalism.

When those of us women who have not run for public office read the headlines, we are reminded – very clearly – that women in public life are placed under a microscope for the way they look, as opposed to the way they think.

Lead with ideas. Lead with opinions. Don’t lead with Jimmy Choos.