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Casey joins effort to combat media sexism

SOUTH BURLINGTON — Late last month 50 Vermonters, including prominent current and former politicians and many business leaders, wrote a public letter asking the state’s media outlets to become more even-handed in its coverage of women in politics.
The Jan. 25 letter in particular requested that media use the same language to describe candidates regardless of sexual identity, pointing out a double standard clearly existed in media treatment of men and women in the political arena. Read the letter here.
One of the 50 was Dennise Casey, who served as Gov. James Douglas’s communications director and deputy chief of staff for several years and also twice worked as his campaign manager. The 1999 Mount Abraham Union High School graduate, profiled in this issue, now runs her own consulting firm and lives in South Burlington.
She spoke to WCAX-TV when the letter first came out, and last week also shared her thoughts with the Independent concerning an issue about which she feels strongly.
“We hear the stories about harassment and, God forbid, assault, and we know that’s wrong. But we rarely hear about the subtle things, because it’s harder to explain,” she said.
Casey offered convincing examples, however, to help people understand the kind of discrimination that she said can have “devastating” impacts on people’s confidence and careers.
“It’s people making comments like, ‘You talk too much.’ People used to accuse me of being a, quote, ‘motormouth.’ Or telling me I was too aggressive or bossy,” she said.
“This stuff is meant to hold you down. It’s meant to put you in a place. And the other things that people do that are subtle are not making eye contact with you in a meeting even though you’re speaking. The way that people fold their arms and turn away from you. Who sits where at a boardroom table. These are the kind of things that send messages to people about your value.”
Casey said she was happy to be approached to join the effort to shed more light on the issue.
“The letter was an opportunity to give voice about some of this. And the examples (in the letter) were meant to show you in black and white what this looks like. And so I was really proud of the women who stepped up to write this letter, and I was honored to be asked to be part of it. Because for all the progress we’ve made, and believe me people love to talk about the progress, rather than the lack of it, I will say very plainly it’s not good enough.”
Overall, Casey, who is the chair of the Vermont Women’s Fund Council, thought the media response and coverage has largely been thoughtful, and was pleased she and two others were asked to appear on WCAX to discuss the letter.
“I was really encouraged,” she said. “Having the dialogue is key.”
Casey said that in addition to encouraging the media to work better, another way to combat sexism is for women to support one another.
“My message to women is too seek out mentors, champions, professional partners,” she said. “And if you can’t think of one, call me.”

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