Lisa Kudrow Names It to Change It

By Political Parity on December 13, 2013

Lisa Kudrow’s performance as Congresswoman and presidential hopeful Josie Marcus on ABC’s ‘Scandal’ ignited conversation and inspired celebration among Parity’s Leadership Team members at our recent convening in Washington, D.C. Kudrow delivers an impassioned speech in this season’s episode seven, condemning the gendered media biases that plague women candidates. While not always blatantly sexist, and despite some progress toward more balanced portrayals of female candidates, discrimination continues to trivialize women’s candidacies and discount their credentials. But Josie Marcus called them out.

Name It. Change It., a project of Political Parity, the Women’s Media Center, and She Should Run, seeks to eliminate the media’s often misogynistic treatment of female candidates by identifying sexist coverage and organizing national efforts in response to it. So does Marcus. Before sitting down for an exclusive interview with journalist James Novak, she spots sexism in her opponent’s attack ad in which a serious male voice narrates: “On the other side of this door sit the leaders of Syria, China, and Iran. On the other side of this door is America’s future — success and failure, life and death. Does America really want an inexperienced hand opening this door?” A female hand trembles above the doorknob.

She goes public with the slanted scrutiny, diluting the toxic portrayal. “I know what prejudice looks like. It’s not about experience, James, it’s about gender. Reston’s saying I don’t have the balls to be president and he means that literally. It’s offensive. It’s offensive to me and to all the women and to all the women whose votes he’s asking for.”

She comments on the gendered setting and the blatant omission of her years of service in the U.S. Army, adding, “For you it’s an angle. I get that and I’m sure you think it’s innocuous, but guess what? It’s not.” Such gendered journalism, she suggests, can negatively influence public perceptions of women by obscuring their qualifications and reinforcing derogatory stereotypes of women as irresolute and weak.

President and CEO of the Women’s Campaign Fund and She Should Run, and Parity Leadership Team member Siobhan Bennett explained it this way at Parity’s Unconventional Women event last year in North Carolina: “Small stuff like commenting on hair and makeup hurts women a lot. It drops women like a stone by as much as 14 points. But women regain every loss of vote when we call out sexism.” She cited a study conducted by Lake Research Partners, which found that even mild sexist language negatively impacted voters’ likelihood of voting for a female candidate, and perceptions of female candidate’s “trustworthiness, empathy, values, and effectiveness.”

As this study and Name It. Change It. demonstrates, addressing sexist media attacks head-on can help women erase negative impressions about women candidates. Kudrow catches our drift and calls it out.

Following is the full transcript of Congresswoman Marcus’ speech. NOTE: This is a fictional speech by a fictional character.

Novak (Interviewer): I should say thank you for inviting me into your lovely home.

Marcus (Congresswoman): My pleasure.

Novak: Let’s get right to it. The Reston campaign says that you lack the experience to be President of the United States. What’s your response to that?


Novak: Congresswoman Marcus.

Marcus: Mmmhmm. There's something my grandmother used to do whenever I'd start dating someone. I would tell her his name and she would say, “Oh, what part of town does he live in?” That was her way of asking if my boyfriend was white. Oh yeah, my grandmother was an out and out racist, so I know what prejudice looks like. It's not about experience, James, it's about gender. Reston's saying I don't have the balls to be president and he means that literally. It's offensive. It's offensive to me and to all the women and to all the women whose votes he's asking for.

Novak: I’m sorry. Are you saying that Governor Reston is sexist?

Marcus: Yes, yes I am. And it’s not just Governor Reston speaking in code about gender. It’s everyone, yourself included. The only reason we’re doing this interview in my house is because you requested it. This was your idea. And yet here you are, thanking me for inviting me into my ‘lovely home.’ That’s what you say to the neighbor lady who baked you chocolate chip cookies. This pitcher of iced tea isn’t even mine. It’s what your producers set here. Why? Same reason you called me a “real live Cinderella story.” It reminds people that I’m a woman without using the word. For you it's an angle, I get that and I'm sure you think it's innocuous, but guess what? It's not.”

Novak: Congresswoman Marcus.

Marcus: Don’t interrupt me when I’m speaking.

Novak: Sorry.

Marcus: You’re promoting stereotypes, James. You’re advancing this idea that women are weaker than men. You’re playing right into the hands of Reston and into the hands of every other imbecile who thinks a woman isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief. Yes Governor, I’m talking about you. Seven years I’ve served in the United States Army which is seven more years than Governor Reston ever served, a fact you conveniently omitted from my intro. How about soldier, lieutenant?

Novak: Yeah. That was an oversight. I’m sorry.