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'Ice queen' and 'mean girl': What not to call a woman politician

Hilary Clinton
Women politicians' advocacy groups decried the media treatment of Hillary Rodham Clinton's hair clip when the secretary of state visited the U.N. Headquarters recently. (David Karp/AP)

It should come as no surprise to anyone that has ever lived that words hurt. Now, a new study shows by just how many percentage points certain words hurt.

In the mudslinging world of politics, women get sullied much more often than men, a group of advocates for female politicians says. Citing the "highly toxic" media environment that makes it difficult for female candidates to run and win, the Women's Campaign Forum, Women's Media Center and Political Parity announced a plan at the beginning of September to spend $250,000 on research. The group started a campaign titled "Name It, Change It" to monitor and study sexist comments.

On Thursday, the campaign released a study that examined how certain words significantly altered voters' views of women candidates.

If a female candidate was attacked by a male candidate who used sexist labels, such as "prostitute," the woman's approval rating dropped by five percentage points. If terms such as "ice queen" or "mean girl" were used, her approval ratings dropped seven percentage points.

The group has also been compiling a list of "Just Plain Sexist" media moments, including Vanity Fair depicting Sarah Palin in "a Viking costume, complete with braids and metal bra" and the Huffington Post asking if Hillary Rodham Clinton's hair clip at the United Nations was a "Do or Don't?"

Siobhan "Sam" Bennett, the president of Women's Campaign Forum, wrote on her blog that she became incensed when she ran for mayor of Allentown, Pa. "I was interrupted by the chair of that meeting who said, 'Sam, I want to ask a question all the men in this room have been dying to ask you: Just what are your measurements?'"

She said that female politicians have learned to ignore sexist comments, but the research shows that a more direct counterattack can help female politicians. "The rebound occurred both after a mild response -- the female candidate calling the discussion 'inappropriate' and 'meritless' and turning back to issues -- and after a more direct counterattack that decried 'sexist, divisive rhetoric' as damaging to 'our political debate and our democracy,'" Susan Page wrote in USA Today.

By Melissa Bell  | September 24, 2010; 11:38 AM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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