Implicit newscaster sexism against Hillary Clinton. A good observation by Mrs. Bad Astronomer
The wife of Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy made an interesting observation on Super Tuesday. She noticed that newscasters and commentators were referring to Hillary Clinton on a first-name basis, but to all other candidates either by last name or full name. I agree with Mrs. BA in her assessment that this is a clear case of sexism. It may have unconscious origins in many cases, but it is reflective of, at minimum, implicit sexism. I post Mrs. BA’s analysis below.
Mrs. BA writes:
Has anyone else noticed that newscasters and commentators seem to feel it is perfectly appropriate to refer to Hillary Clinton as “Hillary” while referring to every other presidential candidate by their last name, or first and last name? This has been bugging me for a couple of weeks, but the clincher was last night. I was watching MSNBC’s coverage of Super Tuesday and in the hour that I watched I heard Senator Clinton referred to as Hillary at least 30 times by a dozen different commentators ranging from conservative to liberal. Barack Obama was called “Barack” once and every other candidate was referred to by their last name or their full name. I find this troubling. Does anyone else see the problem here? To refer to a person by first name only strips away a layer of formality and respect. That’s why school children aren’t allowed to address (most) teachers by first name and (most) parents don’t allow their children to address them by first name. Addressing or referring to someone formally indicates to the listener that this is a person in authority, deserving of respectful treatment. I wonder why it is that the talking heads on television and radio don’t feel that Senator Clinton deserves the same level of respect that the other candidates do.
While pondering this mystery, I thought to myself “Why, they’re doing it so people won’t confuse her with her husband, Bill Clinton.” But I realized that doesn’t work because all they need do to resolve the problem is add in her first name –- say it with me now, broadcasters –- “Hillary Clinton”. When the current President Bush ran for office, there didn’t seem to be a problem distinguishing him from his father, George Sr. He was sometimes called Dubya, but that was a nickname, not the same as calling him simply George Junior or George W. I did sometimes hear him referred to as George Bush, Jr. or George W. Bush, but they were using his entire name, which is OK -– that’s still respectful.
The only reason I can come up with for the inappropriately familiar use of “Hillary” alone is that she’s a woman. I don’t want to think that’s the cause, but I can’t think of any other reason. Hillary Clinton is a woman with a real shot at being the Democratic candidate for President, and this is probably, at least subconsciously, disturbing to some people. Maybe it’s because we’ve never had a female candidate get this far, so it is simply an unfamiliar, and therefore unsettling, situation. Maybe it started as a conscious attempt by some broadcasters to refer to her in a diminutive way, thus trivializing her role in the election. I don’t know how it started and I’m not advocating a conspiracy –- the BA probably wouldn’t post this if I did! I did a couple of Google searches and I couldn’t find anyone else who’s blogged or commented about this. I may be more sensitive to it because I’m a woman, but I’m betting I’m not the only person, man or woman, who’s noticed it. This whole thing leads me to wonder: if Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is elected, will the talking heads refer to her as President Hillary?
Another possibility is that some of the newscasters and commentators may simply have unknowingly internalized the culturally widespread practice of referring to women often by first name in situations in which men would get last- or full name treatment. It could in many cases have nothing to do with any displeasure in having a female candidate. It could simply be a reflection of the internalization of sexist cultural practices. However, this isn’t to say that there may not be some truth in Mrs. BA speculations. Good post, Mrs. BA.
Beth W. of the Here and There Blog made some good points in response to the view that referring to Hillary Clinton simply by her first name constitutes sexism. Firstly, Beth pointed out that referring to her as Hillary is fair on the grounds that she shares her last name with ex-President and husband Bill Clinton, who has already in a way taken ownership of the name by virtue of being the first famous member of the marriage. Beth’s second point, which was not acknowledged by Mrs. Bad Astronomer, was that Hillary’s own campaign frequently refers to her simply as Hillary. If the media cannot take their cues on referential ediquette from Mrs. Clinton’s own campaign… This being said, though, I still suspect that had the female candidate been someone else they would still probably have been referred to by first name more than their male counterparts. It’s a part of the culture. I also suspect, however, that the next time a female runs for President the media will make special effort to refer to her by her last name, given the charges of sexism made this time around.