FEMFACTS
28 Feb 2019

Member of the European Parliament is a hottie according to Croatian tabloids

If you’re a woman, not even a political career spanning decades can spare you from being treated like a beauty pageant contestant.

Guest Mavens
Nataša Vajagić NewsMavens, Europe
Member of the European Parliament is a hottie according to Croatian tabloids - NewsMavens
Biljana Borzan, Facebook

Biljana Borzan is a Croatian member of the European Parliament and a medical doctor by profession. She is actively involved with environmental issues, food safety, consumer protection and women’s rights. Among other things, as a Rapporteur of the European Parliament on women’s rights, she has authored the Resolution on Women’s Rights in the Western Balkans recently adopted in the European Parliament.

In her home town of Osijek, she has served five terms as city councillor and one as a deputy mayor, followed by two terms as an MP in the state parliament. Borzan, who is a member of the Croatian center-left party SDP, was voted into the European Parliament in 2013, where she belongs to the Group of the Progressive alliance of socialists and democrats in the EP.

That’s one way of briefly introducing Biljana Borzan to readers. Then there are others, as we’ve recently seen on the Croatian news portal “100 posto“.

WHAT ARE THE CLAIMS?

The article published on February 12 introduces Borzan in the headline as:

One of the hottest local politicians -- the doctor has been happily married for years, loves to sew and cook, and she will even roll up her sleeves and paint if she has to!

The article starts with a brief description of some of her achievements, including the withdrawal of lower-quality baby food from Croatia as a result of her advocacy, and a project focused on housing, funded by the EU:

With a wide smile, Borzan presented the project in the company of Želimir Manenica.

The author then proceeds to describe Borzan‘s favorite pastimes (cooking, sewing, painting, spending time with her family) and her husband and kids, concluding on the note already mentioned in the headline:

Biljana is often cherished as one of the hottest local politicians, and is also beloved for her modesty. From sewing machine or painting a radiator to cooking sarma -- she spends her free time doing relaxing activities that make her happy.

WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

Female politicians still do not hold nearly as many positions as their male colleagues do. This kind of reporting isn’t just a fluff piece about a public figure. It puts women back into the home, by emphasizing how they can still be “real women” and perform “real women’s duties”, regardless of their work. For example, the headline does present Borzan as strong and not afraid to do any job that needs to be done -- but only mentions activities related to housework.

The article was published in the showbiz and celebrity gossip section of a news portal named “Scene”. In the last month, no article about a male politician has been published there -- those can be found in the “News” section. And they hardly ever “rank” them by hotness, or focus on their “wide smiles”.

Sexist media reports damage female politicians and political candidates. Two researches carried out by Name it. Change it. show that media reports that comment on the physical appearance of women and use sexist rhetoric, negatively affect the way voters see women. Consequently, when they are presented in a sexist way in the media, female political candidates are less likely to be liked by the voters and they seem less empathic, effective, qualified and credible. The number of potential voters starts to fall, and it is interesting to note that sexist captions have such an impact on voters even when they appear in neutral or positive news.

It’s enough to look at this article’s comment section, where people are arguing over whether Borzan really is “one of the hottest” or not, and see this effect in action.

If she’s one of the hottest everything can go to hell”, writes one of the commentators. “There is no accounting for tastes, but if she’s one of the hottest, what do others look like then? And she better stick to cooking and sewing if she likes it so much!", adds another.  

After the FB page “Our Daily Sexism” published the screenshot of the article, the news portal changed the title which now emphasizes Borzan’s diligence, rather than her looks:

One of the most hard-working local politicians -- The doctor has been happily married for years, loves to sew and cook, and she will roll up her sleeves even when she has to paint!

However, the part about her being cherished as one of the hottest has remained the same in the article. The portal did find it inappropriate to call the politician “hot” in the headline, but didn’t care enough to change the rest of the article, which sexually objectifies her in the same way.

Screenshot of the article labeled “sexism” on the Facebook page “Seksizam naš svagdašnji” (Our Daily Sexism).

This kind of headlines is a common occurrence in Croatian media. Articles about female politicians often mention their fashion style, describe their clothes in excruciating detail, comment on their looks and “smiles” and sexually objectify them. These “reports” on what women MPs wear to parliament sessions can be found on an almost daily basis in the media, ranging from news portals to lifestyle magazines.

One, published on Index.hr notes how one minister’s “too-tight sweater opened up at her chest”, while also remembering to mention that she wears too much make-up and has a bad fashion sense. The same website also found it important to notify their readers that an “SDP member of Parliament attracted glances in a dress with a transparent bottom” and a “HDZ member wearing striptease stilettos attracted glances in a green dress”.

It goes on. Women’s magazine Gloria.hr admires the waist of Croatian president Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, pointing out that she “stood in front of tennis players wearing her tightest and brightest dress ever”, while the daily paper Jutarnji.hr concludes that “appearance is still important” in  “Fashion from the parliamentary benches: Who says women politicians are boring? Our women MPs have style, here's how they dressed today”.

CONCLUSION

This article, along with other similar examples, clearly falls under the category of sexual objectification of women. Putting emphasis on the looks of women politicians in the headlines also presents a specific type of clickbaits, using sexist and sensationalist approach to women in politics to attract the attention of readers.

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