By J. Randolph Evans
Even WSB talk show host Erick Erickson could not resist. What was the topic? GOP Presidential candidate Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann eating a corndog at the Iowa State Fair!
What did this have to do with joblessness, taxes, spending, the federal deficit, or the war in Afghanistan? Nothing. Yet, the photograph of Congresswoman Bachmann eating a corndog made the rounds over the internet, cable news and talk radio. The commentary was full of innuendo and double entendre.
Of course, there are never any photographs of men eating any assortment of foods. Not even President Bill Clinton merited that kind of treatment. And, certainly, there are never photographs accompanied by silly little smiles and smirky little comments.
Unfortunately, this continues to be the fate of women in American politics today. There are stories about their clothes (Senator Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits), glasses (Governor Sarah Palin’s eyewear), and hair styles (Congresswoman Bachmann’s styling). There are stories about their makeup, shoes, jewelry, and pocketbooks.
But, there never seem to be any stories about men’s ties, suits, shirts, shoes, or haircuts. The closest the media came was Senator John Edwards’ haircut. Even then, it was more about the cost ($400) than the style.
As demeaning as it is, the attempted media marginalization of women in American politics does not stop with the subliminal character assassination. No, it goes well beyond that.
Routinely, the marginalization comes from “code words” intended to trigger other deeper stereotypes aimed at diminishing women. One of the media’s favorites is the word “rage.” In fact, when Newsweek decided to devote a cover to Congresswoman Bachmann, its tagline was the “Queen of Rage.”
Words like “rage,” “fury,” “anger,” or “meltdown” are not gender-neutral terms devoid of hidden meaning. After all, other than maybe a professional wrestling magazine, there has never been a cover entitled the “King of Rage.”
When Vanity Fair decided to include a story about Governor Sarah Palin, it entitled it: “Sarah Palin: The Sound and the Fury.” In describing its article, Vanity Fair said: “The author delves into the surreal new world Palin now inhabits-a place of fear, anger, and illusion.”
There are other words that are media favorites like “flake” or “flighty.” Indeed, on his Sunday morning Fox News show, Chris Wallace unabashedly asked Congresswoman Bachmann, “Are you a flake?” Is that a question that he has asked any male candidates for President (and there are indeed a few from both sides of the aisle who appropriately should
have been asked that question)?
Her answer (after noting the insulting nature of his question) highlights the challenges for women with serious credentials. She said:
“I’m 55 years old. I’ve been married 33 years. I’m not only a lawyer, I have a post-doctorate degree in federal tax law from William and Mary. I’ve worked in serious scholarship … my husband and I have raised five kids, we’ve raised 23 foster children. We’ve applied ourselves to education reform. We started a charter school for at-risk kids. I’ve also been a state senator and member of the United States Congress for five years.”
But, this is not an issue limited to just Republican Congresswoman Bachmann. It was the same kind of challenges Senator Hillary Clinton faced as a Democratic Presidential candidate. For her, it was the “rhymes with witch” putdown that made the airwaves. Of course, there is no parallel for men. As she increased her pitch (no rhyme intended), she became “shrill.” Has anyone ever heard of a male politician being called “shrill?”
Chris Matthews described it like this: “We were watching Hillary Clinton earlier tonight and she was giving a campaign barn-burner speech, which is harder to give for a woman. It can grate on some men when they listen to it. Fingernails on a blackboard.”
How did now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sum it up? “I’m not going to mislead anybody. Politics is really hard. And it is harder for women. There’s a double standard , and you can’t complain about it. You just have to accept it, and be smart enough to navigate it.”
Every woman in office has their own list of demeaning words used to trivialize or marginalize their message and them. The most startling part is the degree to which it comes from the media – left, right, Republican, and Democrat.
No one (especially women) expects any less scrutiny by the media, political opponents, or the public of female candidates or their positions. In fact, most women in public office hold themselves to a higher standard, not a lesser one.
As a result, the list of women politicians sending photographs of their private parts over the internet, tweeting provocative messages, pretending to hide away in order to take a secret trip to Argentina, visiting strip clubs or ordering escorts, is pretty small (as in zero).