At a panel discussion Feb. 18, 2010 at The Aspen Institute in Washington sponsored by Madeleine K. Albright Women's Voices, Erika Falk of Johns Hopkins University showed us the dispiriting results of her research on press coverage of women presidential candidates, beginning with 1872 with Victoria Woodhull. (Yes, that's right; women began running for president before the vote was available to women in every state.) In spite of social progress, women's advances in the economy, in education, and in non-traditional occupations, "There has been almost no change in the pattern of disproportionate coverage," Falk said.
Falk did not compare male winners with female losers. She compared what she called "equivalent candidates" vying for nomination, and these were the results:
Item 1: Men received more coverage. If you aggregate the eight races Falk looked at, male candidates received twice as much coverage. And the articles about them were longer.
Item 2: Men received more substantive coverage. Twenty-seven percent of paragraphs in articles about men described their policy positions -- only 16% for women.
Item 3: Women's status was diminished when their official or professional titles were dropped on subsequent references, as when Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm would be referred to as "Mrs. Chisholm" in subsequent references. This happened 32% of the time for women, but only 11% for men.
Item 4: Physical descriptions of candidates occurred four times for a female candidate to every one time for a male candidate.
There is obviously no upside to this for voters or for female candidates or for the nation, for that matter. The worst of it, says Falk, is that "media bias may not make women lose, but it may discourage them from running."