Monday, June 09, 2008

Communicating Bias

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.


Way back in 1949, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein explored the issue of racism and prejudice in their brilliant musical, South Pacific, which included the song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.”

You might have thought we’d have learned something in the intervening 59 years. Not so, according to a very persuasive New York Times op-ed, "Boys on the Bias," by former Governor of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003.

Whitman writes about the “images and expectations” of women candidates as communicated by the press throughout the Hillary Clinton campaign. Gender bias is still very much with us, she says, and it’s creating challenges for every female candidate. It is a problem that we must address and correct “if we want all people represented in public service,” Whitman points out. Her brief article is quoted below:

“Fifteen years after I was elected New Jersey’s first female governor, women running for office continue to face huge obstacles. Indeed, watching Hillary Clinton these last few months, it’s clear that voters and the news media still struggle with images and expectations of women as candidates."“When Mrs. Clinton made points forcefully, people called her shrill, not bold and determined. When Mitt Romney teared up, he was described as compassionate, while she was labeled weak.""For its part, the news media paid too much attention to Mrs. Clinton’s haircuts and jackets, ignoring the male candidates and their endless parade of blue suits and red ties. The press presented Barack Obama with his two years in the Senate as an agent of change, not a novice. In contrast, ABC’s Charles Gibson asked Mrs. Clinton if she would ‘be in this position’ if it weren’t for her husband."“To this day, a businessman with no elected experience is considered qualified for high public office; a woman with the same background is called unprepared."“Mrs. Clinton’s sex was not solely responsible for her loss, but the implicit and explicit challenges that women face are such that we as a country must take notice if we want all people represented in public service.”If we can be taught to hate and fear, it should follow that we can be taught to love and respect our fellow human beings. It seems to me that those of us in the communications professions — including public relations practitioners, mainstream media and members of the social media — should always try to keep that higher calling in mind.

Technorati Tags: racism, prejudice, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, South Pacific, Boys on the Bias, Christine Todd Whitman, Hillary Clinton, gender bias, media, business, communications, public relations

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