“We Have Her Back” Cautions Media Against Sexist VP Coverage

"We Have Her Back" Cautions Media Against Sexist VP Coverage
A sign from the January 2019 Women’s March in Oakland, Calif. (Quinn Dombrowski / Fickr)

In preparation for the inevitable media frenzy surrounding Joe Biden’s vice presidential pick, a group of powerful women activists and leaders has a warning for media covering this “historic moment”: Avoid sexist stereotypes.

The letter is a part of an initiative titled “We Have Her Back,” the brainchild of top feminist thinkers: Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center; Ilyse Hogue of NARAL; Valerie Jarrett, Alexis McGill Johnson and Melanie Newman of Planned Parenthood; Debra Ness of the National Partnership for Women and Families; Cecile Richards of Supermajority; Jess Morales of Rocketto; Hilary Rosen, Stephanie Shriock and Christina Reynolds of Emily’s List; and Tina Tchen of TimesUp.

Referencing the movement for Black lives, the letter implores top news executives to utilize “the same kind of internal consideration about systemic inequality as you undertook earlier this year. Anything less than full engagement in this thoughtful oversight would be a huge step backwards for the progress you have pledged to make to expand diversity of thought and opportunity in your newsrooms and in your coverage.”

Without thoughtfulness, the letter warns, these sexist tropes and stereotypes will undoubtedly “seep into coverage, and thereby seep into the public consciousness as voters are seeking to understand those seeking office.”

We believe it is your job to, not just pay attention to these stereotypes, but to actively work to be anti-racist and antisexist in your coverage (ie: equal) as this political season progresses and this [p]residential ticket is introduced.

As much as you have the public’s trust, you also have great power. We urge you to use it wisely.

Read the entire letter here.

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The “We Have Her Back” warning couldn’t be more well-timed—since this November, a record number of congressional races will pit two women candidates against each other; and among those candidates, a record number of women of color are running, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

Yet, just last week, the media revealed a remarkable instance of sexism on full display, when stories across the media previewed attacks on Sen. Kamala Harris using phrases like “too ambitious” and “can rub some people the wrong way.”

Backlash was instant.

So when Biden announces his VP pick—likely this week—will the media heed this warning and “have her back”? Only time will tell. But, as the letter puts it:

“We will be watching you. We expect change. We expect a new way of thinking about your role in how she is treated and the equality she deserves relative to the three men running for President and Vice President. Your great institutions, the ideals you serve, and our country, deserve no less.”


Roxanne Szal (or Roxy) is the managing digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. She is also a mentor editor for The OpEd Project. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.