Obama Kamala Harris: Did He Hurt Her Career By Calling Her Attractive?

According to a survey conducted by Lake Research Partners and Robert Carpenter of Chesapeake Beach Consulting, referring to a female political candidate's physical appearance (whether positive or negative) hurts her chances of winning

President Obama caused quite an uproar when he called California's Attorney General, Kamala Harris, "the most attractive attorney general in the country." Here's what he said, according to ABC News:

“You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake.  She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country — Kamala Harris is here.”

So, feminists aren't happy. Calling attention to a politician's physical attractiveness is obviously something that would only happen to a woman candidate (so that's a fail on the whole "everybody is getting a fair shake" thing, eh prez?). 

He has since apologized to Kamala Harris for his comments. The White House Press Secretary explained that Obama "did not want to diminish Harris’ professional accomplishments and abilities." I find that believable, though I would echo the sentiments of many other feminists that he should never make a comment like that again about a political candidate. Harris has accepted the president's apology.

Only time will tell how or if the president's comment will effect Harris' race to become the General of California, but the results of the surveys found on nameitchangeit.org clearly show that women candidates are affected negatively by media attention on their physical appearance. The press release about the survey says:

“Politics and Style page editors should take note: positive, negative, or neutral media coverage of a woman candidate’s appearance has a detrimental impact on the woman candidate’s race, whether the coverage is on the politics channel or style channel."

Both Obama's misstep and the results of these surveys tell political players and those that report on them something they should already know. If you wouldn't ask a man candicate that question or portray a man in that way, don't do it to the woman candidate. Reminds of this interaction between Hillary Clinton and a reporter:

MODERATOR 1: Okay. Which designers do you prefer?

SECRETARY CLINTON: What designers of clothes?

MODERATOR 1: Yes.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Would you ever ask a man that question? (Laughter.) (Applause.)

MODERATOR 1: Probably not. Probably not. (Applause.)

This should be simple. Why are we (and the president) still struggling with this?

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Eboni Boykin

Eboni Boykin is an undergraduate at Columbia University, studying Religion and Gender Studies. She is interested in race and gender in the media.

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