A new article in the National Review, ostensibly about the foreign policy stances of Hawaii House member Tulsi Gabbard, begins: “She’s young, she’s hip, and she’s beautiful. She’s also a combat veteran and a Democrat.” This is just under the headline, which reads: “Meet the Beautiful, Tough Young Democrat Who’s Turning Heads by Challenging Obama’s Foreign Policy.”
The authors then go on to discuss Gabbard’s “exotic background” — she is from American Samoa — before getting to her legislative record and policy views, highlighting several times she has criticized President Obama’s military strategy in the Middle East. In the piece, American Enterprise Institute foreign policy VP Danielle Pletka points out that the focus on Gabbard may be unwarranted: “I think it’s hugely unfair to single her out as somebody who’s been a particularly vocal critic of the administration because she’s a woman, because she’s from Hawaii.”
Gabbard refused to be interviewed for the article.
A 2013 study found that an excessive focus on a woman politician’s physical appearance — whether positive or negative — hurts her electability. But the study also found that when either the candidate herself or an outsider calls out sexist descriptions, it can nullify the negative impact of the original coverage.
After an entire campaign season of incessant descriptions of both Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton’s hair, clothes, weight and makeup in 2008, which was found to discourage young women from running for office, the groups Women’s Media Center and She Should Run launched the Name It, Change It campaign to push back against sexist media coverage. The group released a manifesto on how to cover candidates of all genders with neutral descriptions that keep the focus on their ideas rather than their appearance.
The National Review has come under fire in the past for its coverage of women, such as the decision to devote multiple articles and columns to then-Senator Hillary Clinton’s cleavage and “sex appeal.”