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Patricia Leavy, PhD Headshot

Top 10 Sexist-Media Moments of 2012

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Co-authored with Scott Richardson, Ph.D., Millersville University, author of eleMENtary School

The media are far from gender-neutral. In fact, despite how public their blunders are, sexism persists. In fairness, there are examples of the media getting it right in 2012 when it comes to gender (for instance the many positive stories of the father who wore a skirt in support of his son). However, like every year before, we have also seen a plethora of media mistakes. The world of "entertainment news" is perhaps the easiest target with endless stories about "fat" celebrities (media, leave Jessica Simpson alone already!) or pregnancy speculation (what has Jennifer Anniston done to deserve this?).

Then there are the nearly weekly stories of "scary skinny" celebs (is there no other way to feature Angelina Jolie on magazine covers, say perhaps for her efforts to document the horrors of Bosnian rape camps or her work with refugees worldwide?). And we can't forget Twi-hard mania and the swirl around Kristen Stewart's sexual life. Celebs have the ability to talk back though, and sometimes they do. Kudos to Ashley Judd for exposing the media assault on women as evidenced by stories allegedly about her "puffy face". So, we have elected to share our top 10 sexist media moments of 2012 outside of the world of "entertainment" news. Here they are:

1. "America's Sweethearts" - A.K.A. The U.S. Women's Gymnastics Team: Why must the media sexualize this team by coining them 'America's Sweethearts' and Gabby Douglass as 'America's Darling'?" Let's focus on their impressive athletic accomplishments.

2. Women and Politics: Women Voters = Mindless & Indecisive; Women Candidates = Real Candidates? Real Women?: At every turn of the presidential campaign, the media asked, "How does this change the minds of women?" The media made a story that told us they believed that most women were so indecisive--a longstanding American stereotype--that practically anything could change their minds. Sure there were gaffs (e.g., "binders full of women") that may have impacted some women voters, but women largely understood the political issues and firmly stood their ground. In previous years, the media helped the public wonder if women who ran for office were real candidates (e.g., Hillary Clinton the "cold-hearted" and Sarah Palin the "Caribou Barbie"). This election cycle the media wondered if candidates (like Linda McMahon) were "women enough" to serve as candidates. Guess women really can't win.

3. Tagg Romney Wanted to "Take a Swing" at the President: Imagine if Barack Obama had a son who said on the radio that he wanted to jump out of his seat and do the following to a presidential candidate: "take a swing...but you know you can't do that because...there's a lot of Secret Service between you and him, but also because this is the nature of the process." Can you imagine the outcry if Barack's son said this? Why is aggression by white men widely accepted?

4. Sensationalizing and Demonizing Teachers' Acts of Sexual Misconduct: Two cases--Brittni Colleps (Texas) & Jeffrey Logandro, Daniel Michielli and Nicholas Martinelli (New Jersey): Teachers having sex with students always make big headlines. But when female teachers, like Brittni Colleps, engaged in sex with students, it was reported on in a way that was sensationalized, even flirtatious. ABC News wrote of the student who "brought three friends--all football players--to Colleps' home for dinner." They continued, "But prosecutors say the students got more than just a home cooked meal..." ABC News in their coverage of the three NJ male teachers' sexual misconduct was more straightforward, "Three teachers are accused of having sex with students...Prosecutors say it took place at Triton high school in Camden county..." Sexual misconduct among women teachers continues to be somehow sexy, and though the boys involved were victims, they were on some messed up level "lucky". Sexual misconduct among men, however, is simply unacceptable. They are perpetrators and the girls involved are plainly victims or sluts. (For a disturbing experience, you can troll the many websites dedicated to ranking the hottest and ugliest female teachers who raped their students. We couldn't find any that did this for male teachers). By the way, in both of these cases the teachers had sex with older students who were of "legal consenting age."

5. Rush Limbaugh Called Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown Law Student, a "Slut" and a "Prostitute": Enough said.

6. Trayvon Martin: Yet another story of how black masculinity continues to scare the public enough that the media decides to lightly cover it. Sure, you know the case and you know that race was involved. But, again, did the media take this opportunity to explore the problems Americans have with black masculinity? Nope. (Anyone wondering what George Zimmerman is up to these days?)

7. The Gender Neutral Easy Bake Oven: Recently the media gleefully covered a teenager's petition that urged Hasbro to produce a "non-gender-specific" colored Easy Bake Oven. Hasbro has happily capitalized on this and plans to issue black and silver versions. We don't blame the teenager here. But honestly, the media is still stuck in the "pink is for girls" and "blue is for boys" era? Pssst...they are colors.

8. Jennifer Livingston, "Too Fat" to be a Television Anchor: Sometimes the public is just as biased as the media. Case in point, the local television anchor was sent a letter by a viewer suggesting she was overweight and thus not a suitable role model. Livingston responded brilliantly and honestly on-air but while the media reported on it, why did they not take the opportunity to make public statements about overt gender bias in their field?

9. The "Beautiful" Hero, Victoria Soto: Victoria Soto, first grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary, died while protecting her students. By all accounts, we have learned that Soto was heroic and selfless--she confronted the gunman in order to save her students--but the mainstream media somehow needed to capitalize on how beautiful and feminine she was as if it is more tragic than usual because of her beauty.

10. Elementary Schools Like Sandy Hook Are "Too Feminized": The National Review Online published an article after the Sandy Hook mass killing that "observed" that elementary schools are feminized settings, thus, an easy target. They go as far as insinuating that men, particularly those who played high school football, should be hired, as a precautionary measure to battle gunmen and other unforeseen acts of terrorism. Let's be clear: the women who worked at Sandy Hook acted bravely. They took care of their students, just like they did every day. By the way, the principal, school psychologist, and other women faculty and staff members, did confront the gunman, but bullets don't discriminate.