Surprise! Sexism before, during, and after the campaign trail

By Lisa McIntire on
December 9, 2010

It’s enough to waken your inner Howard Beale: the blatant sexism faced by women at every level of politics, during every step of the game. A recent interview with EMILY’s List alum and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton while in Kyrgyzstan was a perfect illustration of this – along with an applause-worthy rejoinder by Hillary:

MODERATOR: Okay. Which designers do you prefer? SECRETARY CLINTON: What designers of clothes? MODERATOR: Yes. SECRETARY CLINTON: Would you ever ask a man that? MODERATOR: Probably not. Probably not.

Well, exactly. While pundits worked themselves into a froth trying to paint 2010 as the new “Year of Woman,” it was truly a banner year for sexism on the campaign trail. As Barbara Lee and Julie Burton wrote in a letter to the editor of POLITICO, there was a disturbing trend of sexist language during this cycle taking the form of repeated demands to “man up” (or similar derivations). Though, as Lee and Burton note, women like Sarah Palin and Sharron Angle were often the ones to use the phrases, the inherent sexism of the concept harms all female candidates: “’Manning up’ implies that ‘manliness’ is better than ‘womanliness,’ that ‘man’ is better than ‘woman,’ that strength relies on masculinity. When the phrase is used in politics, it becomes tangibly damaging.”

Sadly, it seems that we’re already getting a head start on sexism for the 2012 cycle, as Pema Levy reports: a local St. Louis newspaper recently ran a story with the headline (believe me, I wish I were making this up) “Just How Hot Is Sarah Steelman Anyway?” Steelman, a Republican, is a Missouri Senate contender – and possible opponent of EMILY’s List alum Sen. Claire McCaskill – but sexism is sexism, regardless of its target. This kind of “discourse” (sorry, hard to dignify such nonsense) is detrimental to all women in politics, on both sides of the aisle. And frankly, we don’t want to take it anymore.

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