Women’s media panel gets political in Guilford

Thursday, October 23, 2008 5:53 AM EDT
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — With the news this week that the Republican Party has spent $150,000 on vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s campaign wardrobe, the opinions flew fast and furious at a panel Wednesday on female politicians and the media.

The panel, which featured several female politicians and journalists, was the second in a series from the Women and Family Life Center on women and politics.

The speakers covered topics from the importance of female politicians’ clothing to sexism in the media. The audience of about 30 women and a few men included state Reps. Patricia Widlitz, D-Guilford, and Deborah Heinrich, D-Madison.

The panelists agreed that physical appearance may play more of a role in politics than many people would like.

“I think people who are in politics and who are in front of the public have to be aware of what you’re wearing,” former Secretary of the State Pauline Kezer said. “Is it right? Probably not, but it does happen.”

WTNH anchor Jocelyn Maminta said she thinks that, while female politicians and reporters often see a focus on their looks, men face scrutiny as well.

“I don’t think it’s just for the female candidates,” she said. “If you talk about Joe Biden, there’s some speculation that he’s had Botox, and Barack Obama, does he wear the American flag (pin) or not.”

Maminta noted that viewers often call in with comments on her appearance, adding, “As much as I’d like it to be about substance, it is still perception in so many ways.”

Much of the discussion focused on the way reporters and commentators have covered Palin as well as Sen. Hillary Clinton. Duby McDowell, a former reporter for WFSB and the owner of a public relations consulting company, said she thinks that a focus on image led to Palin’s nomination.

“I think part of her whole package was a fresh-faced governor, Alaska, all that, and let’s face it, a very attractive woman,” McDowell said.

The panelists noted that, with Connecticut’s history of women in positions of political power, sexism may have less impact on local media. But they took exception to some statements made by national pundits during the primary and general election.

“I think we tend to be pretty evenhanded here in Connecticut because having women in politics here is kind of old hat,” WTIC-AM host Diane Smith said. “I was really disturbed by the way Hillary’s campaign was treated … I thought that voters took her more seriously than reporters took her.”

The evening included questions and back-and-forth debate with many members of the audience.

Leslie Krumholz, program director for the Women and Family Life Center, said that the next discussion in the series is scheduled for Nov. 13.

“It’s really about getting people together to talk about issues that are timely,” Krumholz said.

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