A quiet dispute between two prominent women’s rights organizations unfolded last week over a website founded by one of the most powerful women in media.
On Thursday, Name It. Change It. announced its “Awards for Most Sexist Media Coverage of Women Candidates,” an impassioned if not slightly tongue-in-cheek roundup of alleged sexist media coverage during the recent campaign season. Name It. Change It. is a project of the watchdog group Women’s Media Center and the nonprofit organization She Should Run.
Among the commentators who were called out by the group, most were not surprising, including jeers for Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld and Kimberly Guilfoyle. The co-hosts won a “Most Sexist Insult” award for, among other things, referring to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) as “Frizzilla” and a “wooly windbag.”
However, the announcement did contain one unexpected twist: an award to the left-leaning Huffington Post for “creating sexist standards for women in politics.” Unlike the other awards in the announcement, this one was not given to specific journalists but rather to the Huffington Post as a whole.
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But within a day, Name It. Change It. revised that criticism, stating in a Friday press release that “some commentators expressed concern that one of our awards was given to The Huffington Post, not to specific individuals or sections of The Huffington Post.” The group then went on to call out specific HuffPost staffers, including Ethan Klapper, social media editor of HuffPost Politics, and Ellie Krupnick and Jessica Misener, two editors for HuffPost Style.
The harshest complaint was aimed at HuffPost Politics, which invited readers to tweet captions for an AP picture of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dancing in South Africa. The submitted captions included several oral-sex jokes, which were curated in a slideshow titled #ClintonCaptionContest.
Criticism of HuffPost also pointed to “a steady stream of fashion critiques of Michele Bachmann’s outfits up until she dropped out of the presidential race.” One commentator, Lauren Rothman, later suggested that Bachmann “should have brought down her neckline. Might have helped.”
In an email message to IBTimes, HuffPost spokesperson Rhoades Alderson noted that Rothman is a blogger and not a HuffPost staffer. Alderson went on to say that Name It. Change It.’s criticism of Huffpost has been “dismissed by prominent members of the feminist community.” She then forwarded a letter to the Women’s Media Center from Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Foundation, who countered that HuffPost has done an excellent job “covering the ongoing assault on women’s health and rights over the past several years.”
As an example, Richards pointed out that two HuffPost writers have received Planned Parenthood’s own Maggie Awards for online reporting. “Based on The Huffington Post's strong and sustained record of reporting on serious issues that affect women's health and rights, we respectfully disagree with your decision about this award,” Richards added.
IBTimes reached out to Women’s Media Center for a comment about Richards’s letter, but a spokesperson referred us back to Friday’s revised press release. The release, in turn, did acknowledge that HuffPost is a “large organization” and that “that there is not media sexism directed at women candidates and politicians” across all of its channels.
However, the group contends that sexism within HuffPost’s coverage hurts women candidates, pointing to a study by Lakeside Research Partners showing that such coverage can cost a woman candidate 10 points in favorability.
“Research shows that sexism -- even mild sexism -- is severely damaging to these women’s campaigns,” said, Siobhan Bennett, president of She Should Run, in a statement. “This is why we see so many of their opponents resort to sexist attacks."
According to statistics cited on the website of She Should Run, women hold only 17 percent of the seats in Congress, and only 6 out of 50 gubernatorial positions. Compared to the rest of the world, the United States ranks 78th in the number of women who represent a national legislature.