The Bitch vs. the Ditz: The Perception of Female Politicians in American Print Mass Media

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Lacy Culpepper, Dixie State University


In the past century, women have made monumental progress in their presence and authority in American politics; unfortunately, print mass media outlets overall have not positively reflected those changes. In his work, On Rhetoric, Aristotle argues that a person’s character is the most effective method of persuasion, and as female politicians fall subject to the words of the media, their perceived character, and impact as a leader, depends heavily on the opinions of the writers and analysts of the various American print sources. Print media outlets tend to categorize notable female politicians into two categories: the bitch, who must abandon her well-rounded, understanding realm of femininity and adopt notions of an aggressive, haughty persona; or the ditz, who must heavily rely on the dated, stereotypical femininity that encourages beauty over brains and forsakes a hold of influence and legitimacy. This seemingly timeless application proves that, regardless of which category a female politician is assigned, such press pushes her politics aside and can have a serious negative impact on both her career and reputation. For this paper, I analyze the print treatment of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential election to explain the rigid Bitch/Ditz classification of female politicians that sources including Time and People have assigned.