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GOP women contribute importantly to the political landscape — with their looks

The 2012 election is only about a month away! Are you as excited as I am? Are you watching the political spin get increasingly out of control, wondering which side is going to implode first? If anyone, in fact, will make it to November 6th alive?

Lucky for you, Fox News has decided to trumpet what they see as important information for voters this fall—that the women of the Republican Party are prettier than the women of the Democratic Party. What, that isn’t something you take into consideration when voting for a candidate? Their looks don’t play a role in how reliable or informed on policy you think they are? Given how much flak female politicians get for their looks—and the insults of not being ladylike enough—lobbed at them with appalling regularity, you’d think that along with a candidate’s voting record, you’d get a 1-to-10 score of their ostensible beauty next to their name on the ballot.

UCLA researchers decided to undertake the task of seeing if there was a relationship between looks and political party affiliation. The results showed that those women who seemed to fit into a traditional gender mold—their looks, that is, were stereotypically feminine—tended to be Republican. On the other side, those women who were Democratic obviously had less stereotypically feminine features—and the more liberal their voting record, the more they supposedly strayed from the gender stereotypes.

Apparently the correlation was so strong that those study participants who knew little about politics and did not recognize the political figures they were shown, were able to rightly assign the political party of the woman with alarming accuracy.

My reaction to this is basically: big whoop.

Something that is important to note is that the UCLA researchers did not seek out to determine who was “prettier.” This was not a study that was done to determine attractiveness, since attractiveness is a highly subjective and personal judgment. They were assessing how stereotypical looks were correlated with political affiliation.

The folks that did drop judgment on prettiness were those at Fox News. A news organization that has a notoriously conservative bent claiming that women with political leanings aligned with theirs are prettier simply because they look more stereotypically feminine seems a bit like… well, a spin; one that relies on a culturally agreed upon notion of beauty and reinforces those stereotypes about what is considered pretty.

The way Fox reports these finding—Republican women “rated, on average, twice as stereotypically feminine” is phrased to make the reader think that this puts GOP women ahead. But ahead in what respect? Potential beauty pageant winnings?

So, how exactly is this important to a candidate’s policies or positions on important economic and social issues? It’s not. Fox News wants to make it not only relevant, but wants viewers to equate prettiness with authority and know-how. They also, of course, think that everyone has the same definition of what is beautiful, and that everyone thinks beauty merely means what one’s face looks like—not, for example, one’s incredible reputation and record-breaking political career.

You know what I find most attractive? The women kicking butt and taking names while telling people who comment on their looks to get a life and blowing me out of the water with their diplomatic skills and nuanced understanding of policy. Those factors seem far more reasonable when determining who has the most grit, gumption, and credentials for the political life.

Larkin Callaghan is an epidemiology and health communication fellow at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, where she also received her doctorate in Health Behavior and Education. She blogs regularly at her own site, I’m Not Tired Yet, about women’s and adolescent health issues.

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