Watching the press corps cover Michelle Bachmann, Alice Stewart says she didn’t think there was any difference between how men and women reporters wrote about the candidate—on substantive issues. “Not if we were covering the news of the day, issues and Michelle’s values, it didn’t matter,” she says. “But when there were stories being done about her as a person or a mother, you could sense the connection in a different way if it was a female reporter than with a man.” Bachmann was comfortable and opened up a little more.
For Bachmann, and Hillary Clinton before her, the quest to become the first female president leads to a level of personal scrutiny that bordered on sexist. Stewart says that she was infuriated by the questions that both male and female reporters asked after the presidential debates. “I’d get calls from reporters wanting to know the maker of her suit, what style or brand. I asked whether they were doing the same with the other candidates and they said no,” Stewart says. “She delivered knock-out performances and they’re talking about the makeup and the clothes she’s wearing. It’s insulting.” With Bachmann out of the race, those kinds of questions are off the table for this presidential cycle.
On the night of the New Hampshire debate, there was one hopeful sign that the future may not resemble the past. In one row in the midst of the press room, a cluster of young women were busily blogging away. Dotty Lynch, formerly political director for CBS, and now a professor of political communication at American University, had brought up a group of her students. “This is a field that women are intrigued by and seem to want to be involved with,” she says, although she cautions, “The people at the top doing the hiring are still mostly white men.“
At many journalism programs—such as American University and New York University, where I teach—applications from women now far outstrip those from men. Maybe four years from now, or eight years from now, and, God forbid, well before another forty years from now—life will look very different out on the campaign trail. Even now, it’s less lonely for women out there on the hustings. As Lynch puts it, “It’s no longer weird to be a girl on the bus anymore.”