Hillary Clinton’s bizarre magazine cover highlights gender disparity in politics

It has been a dynamic and interesting year for women in politics, which is perhaps best exemplified by their portrayal in the media.

On Friday, The New York Times Magazine’s latest issue highlighted perhaps the most powerful and polarizing of these female politicians: Hillary Clinton.

The magazine’s cover depicted a floating, fleshy planet with Clinton’s face superimposed, an image that is equal parts terrifying and hilarious.

But was that the intent?

According to the magazine’s official blog, in order to illustrate Clinton’s influence over her political universe, “the immediate idea that came to mind was Clinton’s face embedded on a planet … similar to the Man in the Moon image from the 1902 silent film ‘Voyage dans la Lune.’”

However, the joke seems to have been too obscure for most, as many have not seen Méliès’ film, and those who have not read the accompanying article for context will simply write the cover off as ridiculous.

As such, the humor of the piece was lost on several critics, such as CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Paul Begala.

“It’s goofy. It’s embarrassing for the magazine,” Begala said. “17 out of the last 20 years Hillary Clinton has been voted in the Gallup poll as the most admired women in the world, and this is how they depict her?”

Historically, depictions of Clinton in the media have run the gamut from blatantly ludicrous to downright sexist. On Monday, TIME Magazine released its cover story on Clinton’s possible 2016 bid for president, accompanied by an image of a high heel stomping on Clinton’s perceived opponents.

Following the Benghazi hearings last year, the New York Post also saw fit to feature Clinton on their cover, with the headline “No Wonder Bill’s Afraid.” Because a woman can, of course, only be defined by her husband’s feelings.

Readers might be asking, “So what’s the big deal?” A cover is just a cover, and there’s bound to be bad ones, just as there will be good ones.

Covers matter. Women in politics have often been slandered and misrepresented, as have women in other professions under the public gaze.

According to research conducted by Johanna Dunaway of Louisiana State University, races with a female candidate lead to media coverage that is more focused on the personal traits and characteristics of the candidates.

Additionally, in the wake of Clinton’s bizarre cover, Media Matters for America released a comparison of Clinton’s cover with all other politicians’ covers published by the magazine. While context is important, it is interesting to notice the disparity between the men and women: There are those who are defined by their political “networks” and those who are allowed to stand alone.

But with a history of shameful coverage that features Clinton, Sarah Palin, Wendy Davis and Michele Bachmann, it’s crucial that consumers not be taken in by this unfair coverage.

This latest cover by The New York Times Magazine is another reason to dissect what the media hopes to accomplish in making the decisions it does.

It’s always important to take note when women in politics are discriminated against and represented poorly, just as it’s important to celebrate when the media gets it right.

Reach the columnist at llonghi@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @lolonghi