Though New York may appear a progressive utopia to those far from its shining lights, the politics of the city is littered with examples of dirty-dealing, nepotism, election-fixing, and outright corruption. Worse, for a city that allegedly values equality its legislature doesn’t bear close scrutiny: just 13 out of 51 City Council seats are currently held by women.
Hopes that this imbalance will be addressed in the coming election cycle are in short supply. In the six open council seats up for grabs, there are 28 men in contention against just 20 women. Two seats – for District 18 and District 13 – each have only a single woman contesting them.
Politics has long been the domain of overconfident but underwhelming men – the current President proving the rule all too well – yet efforts to end their monopoly on power continue to run aground.
It doesn’t help that members of the media fall over themselves to cover the exploits of raucous male candidates, even when there are highly-qualified and well-deserving women on the ballot. This was true of the presidential election, yes, but happens all too often at the local level, too.
For example, a recent article in The Village Voice scrutinizing the City Council race in District 18 focused on the brewing conflict between Ruben Diaz Sr and Elvin Garcia – neglecting the candidacy of the one woman in the race, Amanda Farias, completely.
Women face enough hurdles on the road to political office without having to deal with media bias. On the campaign trail they must also challenge outright sexism and a credibility deficit caused by voters conditioned to see men rather than women as political leaders.
Airbrushing women from the political debate not only impedes the cause of gender equity in public office, it also warps voter perceptions. As long as the media portray women as passive observers of the political process rather than agents themselves, voters will doubt their ability to effect change in power. Even progressives hungry for reform will respond more favourably to a male candidate depicted as a dynamic force for good than to a woman with the same liberal credentials who has not been afforded the same coverage.
This fall, New York City has the chance to elect an array of highly-qualified, super-competent, community-based women leaders to its council. But it will be difficult for these women to make history if they are continually erased from the present.
The local media needs to get its act together, and get it together fast.