- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

Carefully orchestrated images of female politicians tend to be attractive, polished, sincere — every hair in place, the collar smooth, the smile practiced.

But it might be for naught, if new research is accurate. Female lawmakers are victims of “face-ism,” said University of Michigan psychologist Sara Konrath. She said the media emphasize their bodies, not their faces, leaving the voting public to judge the whole feminine package.

The he-men politicians get the close-up treatment — their faces typically dominate the screen or page.

It’s downright “gender discrimination,” Miss Konrath said.

“Portraying someone with more or less of their face showing relative to their body has far-reaching effects on how they’re viewed by others,” she said.

Miss Konrath, who presented her findings before the American Psychology Association Saturday, said that “deeply rooted cultural myths” dictate that a strong image of the face connotes mind and intelligence, while the body stands for heart and emotion.

Depictions of the face alone, she contended, emphasize such politically desirable qualities as competence, assertiveness and decisiveness. The body carries the touchy-feely baggage — and therein lies the rub. Folks favor the smart and determined over the sensitive and whimsical in any campaign, she reasoned.

“Face-ism” happens in lofty places. As examples, Miss Konrath cited dual Time magazine covers showcasing former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.

Lo and behold, Mr. Clinton is beaming into the camera, his face filling the page, with just enough room for the headline, “How he does it.”

Mrs. Clinton, on the other hand, is shown from the knees up in a black pantsuit with the headline “Senator Clinton?”

Although it could be considered a handsome portrait, it does not seem to have the same impact.

As part of the study, Miss Konrath and a research team examined official photos of all 50 U.S. governors, 100 senators and 435 representatives and scored them according to how much of the politician’s faces were shown.

Overall, the researchers found, the male politicians had higher “face-ism” scores than the female politicians. On average, the men’s heads occupied 78 percent of their images, while the women’s occupied 75 percent.

Miss Konrath also is plenty curious about the actual photos. The big question, she said, is “why so many women present ‘face-ist’ photos of themselves.”

Some of the ladies did better than others, however.

Those with the highest “face-ism” scores were Rep. Heather A. Wilson, New Mexico Republican, with a 95; Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Michigan Democrat (92); Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat (90); and Rep. Diane Watson, California Democrat (89).

Mrs. Clinton, incidentally, weighed in with an 82.

Whether the statistics prove to be “real evaluations of the politicians’ competence” is the next phase of the research, Miss Konrath said.

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