After President Trump mocked a female talk show host on Twitter for “bleeding badly from a face-lift,” Washington lawyer Debra Katz thought of her clients — the ones who feel sidelined because of their age and gender.
“In one tweet, he hit on the vulnerability that many women feel as they age,” said Katz, who handles workplace discrimination lawsuits. “It has nothing to do with their ability to do their work. It has everything to do with how they look.”
Each day, Katz said, she hears from women who encounter harassment on the job or sense that they’ve missed a raise or promotion based on something other than their performance. The president’s words on one of the world's most visible platforms flipped her stomach, she said.
“What is terrible about this kind of messaging from the president is that other people repeat it — ‘If the president can say it, I can say it,’ ” Katz said. “I’m afraid it makes things worse.”
On Thursday morning, Trump unleashed a series of tweets bashing the hosts of MSNBC’s "Morning Joe," Joe Scarborough, 54, and Mika Brzezinski, 50. The co-hosts have been critical of Trump, and the president is known to slam media outlets that produce coverage he dislikes. He called Scarborough “psycho” but was even more scathing of Brzezinski — attacking her intellect, mental state and looks.
Juliet Williams, chair of UCLA's Social Science Interdepartmental Program, was vacationing with her family in Paris when she saw the tweets. She told her 12-year-old daughter they'd never put up with bullying like that at her school.
“Girls are taught their social worth depends on whether they’re considered pretty,” Williams said. “And that is a way of disempowering all of our daughters.”
That attitude can seep into the professional world, she said, hurting not just feelings but job chances and economic stability.
Elisa Lees Muñoz, executive director of the International Women’s Media Foundation, an organization that supports female journalists, saw Trump's jab at Brzezinski as an attempt to hurt her career.
“President Trump’s personal attack against Mika Brzezinski was intended to undermine her professionally and influence her reporting,” she said in a statement.
Women in the public eye — such as television anchors — tend to face heightened scrutiny of their appearance as they grow older, said Lynne Adrine, a broadcast journalism professor at Syracuse University.
“Men get it, too — it’s just not nearly as intense,” said Adrine, a former producer at ABC News in Washington. “This is always been a business that has been harsher for women, in terms of assessments of their physical appearance.”
Earlier this month, Karen Fuller, a former news anchor for KCTV-5 in Kansas City, Mo., sued the station’s owner, alleging age and gender discrimination after she said her contract was terminated without warning. (Meredith Corp., which owns the station, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
“Women age out in their mid- to late 40s,” her lawsuit states. “The company does not enforce the same age-related job requirement for male prime time anchors.”
In May, meanwhile, former Fox News host Diana Falzone said she lost airtime after publicly revealing an illness that rendered her unable to have children.
“Once Diana disclosed her condition, Fox executives decided she no longer conformed to their image of on-air women as ‘physically perfect,’ ” her attorney told reporters in statement. “Behind closed doors they passed judgment on her, discriminated against her for being a woman with a chronic reproductive illness and punished her for having a protected disability.” (Fox did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
And in 2015, Colleen Dominguez, a Fox Sports 1 personality, accused the channel of age discrimination, claiming her employer was withholding assignments because of the way she looked.
“Dominguez has also been told that FOX management instructed a FOX producer to cut video of Dominguez’s face and body for a management meeting,” according to her lawsuit, “and that this request has never been made for any other employee.”
The problems of age and appearance transcend television.
A recent study from researchers at the University of California at Irvine found résumés of older women consistently spark less employer interest than those of older men and younger job seekers of both genders.
The study, based on responses to about 40,000 fictional résumés, found that workers age 49 to 51 received 18 percent fewer callbacks than prospective hires in their late 20s. The response gap grew for older women: Female applicants age 49 to 51 got 29 percent fewer callbacks than the 29-to-31-year-olds.