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Sexism Watch: Newspapers. Because Women Belong to the Style Section

By April 14, 2009 No Comments

While skimming through the Washington Post on the web, my eyes were drawn to a photo on the main page: that of a smiling woman. The caption next to her name piqued my curiosity: “Mona Sutphen, perhaps the least well known of Obama’s advisers, takes a new approach to policy.” Now, what is so interesting about this, you may ask? Yes, I am a big admirer of President Obama and I follow American politics closely from France. And I was a big big fan of the TV show The West Wing – something that makes me naturally curious about the real people working in the West Wing. But what caught my attention today was something else entirely. Namely, the category under which the article was filed: STYLE.

Puzzled, I clicked on the article and went about reading the 3 page feature story on Ms. Sutphen, who I may add, is an extremely bright woman who has had a brilliant career so far. In my eyes, she is an authentic role model for women of all ages – as opposed to the cheap, plastic quality of the Paris Hiltons of this world. The article states,

Sutphen passed the foreign service exam right out of college, but ended up in Chicago working for the advertising agency Leo Burnett. After a few years, she decided that “if I’m going to be staying up until 3 a.m. it should be for world peace and not shampoo sales.”

She went on to work for the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, where she “managed the human rights portfolio for Burma, then on to an assignment helping implement the Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the war in Bosnia. After a hiatus to study at the London School of Economics, she went to work for then-U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson, whom she met during her work on Burma.”

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And now, she finds herself working in the West Wing, as Deputy Chief of Staff, coordinating policy. A BIG deal. So, why is this matter of fact article, this profile, filed under “Style”? Had the Deputy Chief of Staff been a man, would the article have appeared in Style or Politics? I’m guessing the latter. This reminds me of an article that appeared last year in the International Herald Tribune, about Fadela Amara, France’s secretary of state for urban policy. The male journalist wrote,

Amara, a practicing Muslim who rarely bothers with makeup, never went to college and never married, retains the strong accent of an Arab immigrant and sometimes uses slang.

(Emphasis mine)

Can anybody tell me why on earth this article about Mona Sutphen is filed under “Style”? And why is it, that when a woman has a brilliant career in a field like politics, the public has to be constantly reminded about her gender and the stereotypes attached to it?

Links:

Washington Post – “Another World”

IHT – “A Daughter of France’s ‘Lost Territories’ Fights for Them”