Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Defining a female politician by reference to the men in her life

Many more female politicians serve in state houses and legislatures than was true a couple of decades ago, but it seems the media are still a bit uncertain how to "handle" them. At least that is one explanation for a story in yesterday's New York Times about Susana Martinez, Republican Governor of New Mexico. The headline is "New Mexico Governor Rushes to Undo the Agenda of her Predecessor," and the story is principally about how different Martinez, the nation's first Latina governor, is from Bill Richardson, whom she replaced following her 2010 election. She is, for example, scaling back the size of government, "crack[ing] down on illegal immigration," and cutting back on environmental protections. She also has sold the private plane in which the governor formerly traversed the state, as well as his two personal chefs.

But I already knew about many of Martinez's extreme positions, so what caught my eye was the side bar which seemed to focus on the men in her life, her husband and her father:

HUSBAND: Chuck Franco, former undersheriff of Doña Ana County in southern New Mexico

FATHER: Former deputy sheriff in Texas and boxer who won three straight Golden Gloves titles in the 1950s

Now, when's the last time you saw a male politician presented so obviously in relation to his wife and/or mother? I wonder what point journalist Marc Lacey or the New York Times editors are trying to make by featuring this information so prominently. Are they even aware of the double standard--or just giving readers information what they assume the readers want?

1 comment:

Brown Eyed Girl said...

I think that this makes a great point. We don’t often hear many stories about the females in a male politician’s life- unless the male is running for office or have been embroiled in scandal. There, a picture is painted of the All-American family or a wife who has wrongfully been scorned through broken trust. But those images stand in stark contrast to what we see in this story.

Here, the descriptions give a very masculine portrayal of the two men. Both put their lives on the line in public service and one was a professional boxer. Very brave. Very strong. Very manly. And yet I don’t believe I have ever seen such a description about female counterparts in a story about a male - the story of a strong, dominant female figure supporting her politically-active husband is rare. I’ll admit, those women who support their male politicians are strong and admirable for the work they do behind the scenes, but this story is rarely ever told.

I’d like to think that this instance had more to do with an interesting Wikipedia search. Often, when I am writing a story or read an interesting article, I find myself looking up an author or a term. Usually, I find another interesting side-story that I put away in my memory bank, storing it for the day when I bring it up in conversation. Perhaps the article’s author found the two men’s bios on Susana Martinez’s Wikipedia page and thought it might interest some of the readership. Thus, it was included in the story as an anecdote rather than a nod to the assumption that Ms. Martinez needed these “strong” men to support her political rise.

Of course, this is all speculative. I find myself trying to explain the author’s decisions through my own life-experiences. But I find that this is not always the best process to understand the decisions of another. And, deep down, I almost find myself admitting that the excuse I am providing is merely that - an excuse rather than the truth.