The 5 Most Sexist Moments of the Campaign


While the GOP candidates tripped over themselves making awful comments about rape, other kinds of campaign sexism also abounded this season, as members of the media, Republicans and Democrats alike used misogynist language, assumptions and ads against female candidates.

They did it in a loaded environment. Male candidates have to be viewed as competent to win; female candidates have to be viewed as competent and likable to emerge victorious from political races. That assertion doesn't seem fair at all, but it’s true, backed up by data from Democratic pollster Celinda Lake and others. Sadly, the existence that higher threshold for women also means something else: sexism hurts female candidates and being sexist barely hurts the campaigns that use these kinds of smears.

Why is this? Because as the Women’s Campaign Fund's Sam Bennett noted at a conference call about sexism and the 2012 campaign season yesterday, “sexism is part of our groundwater...” Society is misogynist, ergo media and campaigns are too, sometimes unintentionally. In fact in Lake’s model, “even voters who say they don’t like sexism still responded to the sexist attack” by being less likely to vote for the hypothetical female candidate.

That’s why the “Name It. Change It.” campaign from the WCF and Women’s Media Center has been solely devoted to documenting and combatting campaign sexism and helping female candidates fight back (full disclosure: I recently received media training from the WMC’s PWV program). Because whether candidates pivot away from the sexist attack, call it out for what it is, or get a third party to pinpoint sexism, they can mitigate the effects of the sexist remark--what they can’t do is ignore it.

And sadly, the evidence of what kind of sexist remarks get made is The folks at Name It. Change It. spent the entire election system watching the races and the press coverage of them and documenting every instance of outright or subtle sexism they saw, and ended the season with “awards” for their top five offenders.

Here they are:

1-Most Sexist Insult goes to two co-hosts of the Fox News show “The Five” for repeatedly calling  DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schutz, who appears to have natural Jewish curls, “Frizzilla.”

Even worse than this nickname is that the female host of the show once said “I gave up perms a long time ago,” a particularly nasty dig from another woman.

Wasserman-Schultz is a powerful politician in the public eye who can be critiqued on her policy positions, but the ethnically-loaded and sexist attacks she routinely receives, with a special hair obsession and including a barbed zinger from Mike Huckabee at the Republican National Convention, are totally unacceptable.

2-Most sexist debate question goes to NY Senate debate moderator Liz Benjamin who now infamously quizzed Kristen Gillibrand and her challenger Wendy Long about whether they’d read “50 Shades of Grey” a “fluffy” question that, notes the WMC’s Rachel Larris, “dominated post-debate coverage.” It shows, she said “how sexist media coverage can suck all the oxygen out of a campaign,” turning the attention to the debate question itself, instead of the two candidates and their policy stances.

3-Most sexist columnist was awarded Howie Carr of the Boston Herald who repeatedly called Elizabeth Warren “granny.” His use of the extremely derisive nickname was so persistent that eventually the newspaper itself, which often called Warren the hardly-appropriate “Liz” or “Lizzy”--even called her granny once on the front cover.

Good thing the name they now have to call Warren is Madame Senator.

4-Most sexist question went to reporters at the Chicago Sun-Times who asked AG Lisa Madigan whether she could serve as governor and raise her kids as she wanted to--and then asked her again and again.

Here’s what she said in response:

“’Wow. Does anybody ever ask that question?’ she said. ‘I’m very lucky to have the support of my family. My husband helps take care of our kids. But, I think more people should ask that of men running for office as well.’”

Truth. The petition targting the paper notes that the sexist tenor of these questions was critiqued widely, even at other mainstream media outlets like the Washington Post.

5-Most sexist standard for women in politics was awarded to the Hufffington Posts’s obsession with female candidates’ fashion choices, particularly their ongoing coverage of Michele Bachmann’s footwear and Hillary Clinton’s scrunchies. Their advice included the sober conclusion that if Michele Bachmann had let down her necklines, it might have helped her win. Sigh.

“If this same thing wouldn’t be said about a man, it shouldn’t be said about a woman,” Bennett noted. Until we’re publishing similar pieces on the pants hems of male candidates, we need to cool it.

Runners up included congressional candidate Ann Kirkpatrick who was described as a “scold” and of the wrong “temperament” and having “a meltdown” for her assertive debating style; Republican  Martha McSally who faced a kitchen-themed advertisement linking her to wall street, Tommy Thompson’s political director attacking Tammy Baldwin on Twitter for celebrating gay pride, and Joe Walsh’s brutal attacks on Tammy Duckworth for having the audacity to choose an outfit for the DNC. Fortunately, many of these candidates fought back and won.

Turing the cheek does not work, but as Duckworth showed, turning the table does:

The audience booed again, very loudly, as Walsh was finishing his statement. For her part, Duckworth accused Walsh of trying to distract from the issues — and she got in a kicker of her own.

“And yes, I do sometimes look at the clothes that I wear,” she said. “But for most of my adult life, I’ve worn one color — it’s called camouflage.”

For Duckworth it was game, set, election.

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