Report: Maureen Dowd Repeatedly Uses Gender to Mock Democrats

Summary: A Media Matters for America review of Maureen Dowd's columns since the beginning of 2007 reveals that Dowd frequently characterized Sen. Hillary Clinton as masculine, while portraying Sen. Barack Obama and John Edwards as feminine. By contrast, Dowd rarely feminized the all-male Republican field and, during the period Media Matters reviewed, has never feminized Sen. John McCain, whom she has referred to in one column as a "tough guy."

A Media Matters for America review of Maureen Dowd's New York Times columns between January 1, 2007, and June 8, 2008, reveals that Dowd has frequently characterized this election cycle's leading Democratic candidates -- Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards (NC) -- using gendered language, specifically characterizing Clinton as masculine, and Obama and Edwards as feminine. For example, Dowd wrote on March 3, 2007: "If Hillary is in touch with her masculine side, Barry [Obama] is in touch with his feminine side." On June 4, Dowd asserted: "Barry [Obama] has been trying to shake off Hillary and pivot for quite a long time now, but she has managed to keep her teeth in his ankle and raise serious doubts about his potency. Hillary's camp radiated the message that Obama was a sucker who had played by the rules on Florida and Michigan, and then reached an appeasing compromise, and that such a weak sister could never handle Putin or I'm-A-Dinner-Jacket." Besides characterizing Clinton as masculine, Dowd often portrays the New York senator and former first lady as domineering, having called her "Mommie Dearest" and "Mistress Hillary. Dowd also often compares Obama to a child, calling him "boy wonder" and "the Chicago kid." By contrast, Dowd rarely feminized the all-male Republican field, and, during the period Media Matters reviewed, has never feminized Sen. John McCain, whom she has referred to in one column as a "tough guy[]."


Dowd has described Obama as "the diffident debutante" and "America's pretty boy." She has characterized him and his campaign as seemingly "effete," writing on March 9: "Obama's multiculturalism is a selling point with many Democrats. But his impassioned egghead advisers have made his campaign seem not only out of his control, but effete and vaguely foreign -- the same unflattering light that doomed Michael Dukakis and John Kerry." Similarly, in an April 2 column, Dowd claimed that "[h]is strenuous and inadvertently hilarious efforts to woo working-class folk in Pennsylvania have only made him seem more effete." Later in the column, she wrote: "At the Wilbur chocolate shop in Lititz Monday, he spent most of his time skittering away from chocolate goodies, as though he were a starlet obsessing on a svelte waistline."

Dowd wrote on January 30: "Obama is the more emotionally delicate candidate, and the one who has the more feminine consensus management style, and the not-blinded-by-testosterone ability to object to a phony war." Similarly, on February 24, Dowd claimed:

And when historians trace how her [Clinton's] inevitability dissolved, they will surely note this paradox: The first serious female candidate for president was rejected by voters drawn to the more feminine management style of her male rival.

The bullying and bellicosity of the Bush administration have left many Americans exhausted and yearning for a more nurturing and inclusive style.

Later in the column, Dowd wrote that Clinton "tried once more to cast Obama as a weak sister on his willingness to talk to Raúl Castro" and that "Obama tapped into his inner chick and turned the other cheek."

Further, in a June 4 column, Dowd wrote: "And, even though Democrats were no longer listening, Hillary's camp radiated the message that Obama was a sucker who had played by the rules on Florida and Michigan, and then reached an appeasing compromise, and that such a weak sister could never handle Putin or I'm-A-Dinner-Jacket."

Dowd has also frequently characterized Obama as a child. On March 3, 2007, Dowd compared Obama to a "schoolboy who's being bullied," and later called him "Obambi." Dowd has also referred to him as "the Chicago kid," "Dreamboy," "Boy Wonder," "Wonder Boy," and a "new kid in school." In a December 2, 2007, column, Dowd claimed that, in presidential races, "Americans seek a patriarchal figure. But with Barack Obama, this dynamic seems reversed. He seems more like a child prodigy." Dowd wrote:

Customarily in presidential races, Americans seek a patriarchal figure, a strong parent to protect the house from invaders and financial turbulence.

But with Barack Obama, this dynamic seems reversed.

He seems more like a child prodigy. Those enraptured with his gifts urge him on, like anxious parents, trying to pull that sustained, dazzling performance out of him that they believe he's capable of; they are willing to put up with the prodigy's occasional listlessness and crabbiness, his flights of self-regard and self-righteousness. Despite his uneven efforts and distaste for the claws of competition, they can see he is a golden child, one who moves, speaks, smiles and thinks with amazing grace.


Dowd called Clinton "The Man," following Clinton's win in the May 6 Indiana primary, writing:

She showed again with her squeaker win in Indiana that for many white working-class men, she is The Man -- more tenacious and less concerned with the judgments of the tony set, economists and editorial writers. Talking up guns, going to the Auto Racing Hall of Fame, speaking from the back of pickup trucks and doing shots of populism with a cynicism chaser, Hillary emerged from a lifetime of government limos to bask as queen of the blue-collar prom.

Dowd also asserted of Clinton's political message: "In Iowa, her national anthem may have been off-key, but her look wasn't. It was an attractive mirror of her political message: man-tailored with a dash of pink femininity." Further, Dowd has repeatedly claimed that Clinton based her votes on Iraq and Iran on her desire to prove her masculinity:

  • On October 10, 2007, Dowd wrote: "It was odd, given her success in the debates conveying the sense that she is the manliest candidate among the Democrats, that she felt she needed to man-up on Iran."

  • Again, on January 9, Dowd claimed:
Gloria Steinem wrote in The Times yesterday that one of the reasons she is supporting Hillary is that she had "no masculinity to prove." But Hillary did feel she needed to prove her masculinity. That was why she voted to enable W. to invade Iraq without even reading the National Intelligence Estimate and backed the White House's bellicosity on Iran.
  • Similarly, on February 24, Dowd asserted:
Hillary was so busy trying to prove she could be one of the boys -- getting on the Armed Services Committee, voting to let W. go to war in Iraq, strong-arming supporters and donors, and trying to out-macho Obama -- that she only belatedly realized that many Democratic and independent voters, especially women, were eager to move from hard-power locker-room tactics to a soft-power sewing circle approach.

Dowd has also frequently compared Clinton to aggressive, ruthless, or violent characters, describing her efforts to obtain the Democratic nomination as "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman," and writing that she "seized the chance to play Godzilla." On June 20, 2007, Dowd claimed that, "like Tony [Soprano], Hillary is so power-hungry that she can justify any thuggish means to get the prize." Similarly, on March 23, Dowd wrote:

It's impossible to imagine The Terminator, as a former aide calls her, giving up. Unless every circuit is out, she'll regenerate enough to claw her way out of the grave, crawl through the Rezko Memorial Lawn and up Obama's wall, hurl her torso into the house and brutally haunt his dreams.

In addition to characterizing Clinton as masculine and aggressive, Dowd has portrayed Clinton as domineering, referring to her as "Mommie Dearest." Of Clinton's "3 a.m." ad, Dowd wrote, "It's rather Mommie Dearest for the first serious female contender to try to give the kiddies nightmares." Similarly, in a November 18, 2007, column, Dowd called Clinton the "debate dominatrix" and "Mistress Hillary," and wrote that "[s]he has continued to flick the whip in debates."


Dowd has described Edwards as a "Breck Girl," a "Material Boy," and a "glamour boy[]," and has called him the "Secretary of Hairdressing." In a September 16, 2007, column, Dowd wrote that Edwards and Obama seemed to be "hiding behind their wives' skirts," after asserting that they had "tiptoed around her [Clinton], letting their wives take shots at the front-runner."

Republican candidates

By contrast, Dowd rarely feminized the all-male Republican field, and Media Matters found no instances of her doing so with McCain this election cycle since January 2007. (In her April 30, 2000, column, Dowd compared McCain to Diana Ross and called him "McDiva.")

In a September 9, 2007, column in which Dowd did appear to question the masculinity of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson (as well as President Bush), she also referred to McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as "tough guys."

Dowd has made several

references to Giuliani's appearing in public in women's clothes, and in her January 27, column, she wrote of Giuliani's faltering campaign: "I longed for the Manhattan diva to reprise Maria Callas doing one of her famous Donizetti mad scenes that he loved so much."

But Dowd has also used gendered language in contrasting Democrats with Republicans -- at times suggesting that Giuliani is tougher and more masculine than Obama and Edwards. In her September 16, 2007, column, for example, Dowd juxtaposed Giuliani with the "comely" Obama and Edwards, who -- she wrote -- seemed to be "hiding behind their wives' skirts" in their campaigns against Clinton. Dowd then added: "Enter Rudy. He may wear skirts, but he's not afraid to take down a skirt." She continued:

He put up an ad Friday on his campaign Web site slamming her as a hypocrite for running an antiwar campaign after supporting the president on the authorization for war.

Obama has been trying to make this point for quite a while, but so gingerly that every time he sneaks up on it, Hillary surges ahead.

Rudy doesn't do ginger.

Hillary has been trying to Rudy-up, corralling ground zero and playing the fear card, saying that if there were a terrorist attack before the election, only she could stop Republicans from keeping the White House. But Rudy aims to de-Rudy her. His ad is an instant cult classic, with a solemn trumpet that is reminiscent of "Taps" and a narrator who sounds like the guy who does trailers for "In a World Gone Wrong" disaster flicks.

Just when Hillary was basking in her reinvention of herself, Rudy sprang out of the Republican primary shadows and shoved her back.

He ignores her attempts to be New Hillary, a senator who loves men in uniform, who is not afraid to use military power, and who is tough enough to deal with bin Laden. He recasts her as Old Hillary, a Code Pink pinko first lady and opportunist from a White House that had a reputation for having a flower-child distaste for the military, a left-wing shrew who made a secret socialist health care plan and let gays into the military and certainly can't be trusted to fight the jihadists.

Later in the column, Dowd wrote that while Giuliani can't campaign on policy issues, "he can be the only man in the field tough enough to slap around a woman," adding, "The irony is that if you could loosen up Hillary with a few Jack and gingers, she would probably be closer to her reinvention than to his caricature. She probably secretly supports the surge, knowing that after it sputters, she may reap the whirlwind. And then the Republicans, who have lied, stalled and mismanaged in every way imaginable, will paint her as Ms. Cut and Run, turning her back on the military again."

Similarly, Dowd introduced her November 18, 2007, column, by writing: "The debate dominatrix knows how to rattle Obambi. Mistress Hillary started disciplining her fellow senator last winter, after he began exploring a presidential bid. She has continued to flick the whip in debates. She usually ignores Obama and John Edwards backstage, preferring to chat with the so-called second-tier candidates." Dowd concluded her column by stating: "Hillary has her work cut out for her. Rudy will not be so easy to spank."

Media Matters found no instances in which Dowd used gendered language to describe former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Read the full report at Media Matters.

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.