Sex, Politics and the GOP

By Tabitha Hale
07/15/2010

Apparently, Mary Ann Chastain over at Newsweek finally realized that conservative women are being trivialized and sexualized in the media. Imagine that. Nice of the magazine to say something now, since it’s done such a good job defending them up until this point.

The thing is that Chastain seems to have blinders on when it comes to how conservative women have been treated by the media and political circles for years now. This is not a new phenomenon, and it did not begin with Sarah Palin or Nikki Haley or any of the other GOP women currently in the spotlight.

Women like columnists Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, and countless others have been on the receiving end of rape and death threats for years. The kind of hate a conservative woman receives is very different from the kind a man gets.

The sexualization of women in politics, as Chastain alluded to, has been a longstanding problem, and one that has been avoided like the plague. It’s now an entrenched part of our political landscape.

In order to be seen as powerful and effective, women are forced to embody more masculine traits. The result is that women stay out of the game completely. After all, what sane person would subject themselves to that?

Then you wind up with a Hillary Clinton, who is the poster girl for what is expected of a woman in American politics. She is brash, ballsy, liberal, and hangs with the good ol’ boys club. Femininity is downplayed, because it is viewed as a sign of weakness. Remember the media circus when she had the audacity to cry?

Let’s take the Nikki Haley situation, for example. Haley, the GOP nominee for governor in South Carolina, is a strong conservative, a successful and intelligent woman who happens to be beautiful, young, and a mother of two. She ran a good race. When it came down to the wire, the attempts to destroy her were not your typical smear campaigns. They were patently false, and turned the gender dynamic of the typical political-affair accusations upside down. They wouldn’t attack her on her position. Instead, they tried to make her out to be a whore.

This issue cannot be fully addressed without acknowledging the whipping post for all lefties and femisogynists: Sarah Palin. Much proverbial ink has been spilled about Sarah Palin and the media, as well as the nerve of this woman to identify as a feminist. During the same primary week that made Nikki Haley South Carolina’s GOP candidate, Palin showed her considerable influence. Love her or hate her (there appears to be no in between) there is no denying the power of her endorsements.

However, instead of applauding her or even attacking her for abandoning of the Tea Party by backing some establishment candidates, the media ran with a trumped up story about the possibility of Palin getting a boob job.

The message? She’s so inconsequential that they wouldn’t even even dignify her with a reasonable reaction to the primary results. Instead, they were going to feed the slobbering media’s “Palin is a MILF” meme and reduce her to a pair of breasts.

In Chastain’s defense, the past couple years have been a much more obvious illustration of the objectification of women in politics. That could probably, however, be attributed to the influx of conservative women running for office.

Pro-life, small-government advocates who happen to be feminine women are freaking everyone out—and this isn’t a bad thing. They are shaping the conversation.

The obsession with appearance, however, could be more of a cultural problem than a political problem. We are a culture of “Hottest Women in TV” lists and “100 Sexiest Bodies” lists. Turn on E! if you need verification.

We are a beauty-obsessed culture, and in a time when our political figures are celebrities and our celebrities’ politicians, the obsession with appearance is hardly surprising.

There is, however, a fundamental difference between acknowledging beauty and crossing that line into objectification. For example, the RightWingNews list of hot conservative women is a very different list from, say, Playboy’s 2009 list of “Top 10 Conservative Women We’d Like To Hate F***” and should not even be listed in the same category. The astounding part is that this even has to be said out loud—it should be apparent that a list acknowledging 20 of the most beautiful conservative women in new media and a rape fantasy list published by Playboy are not the same thing.

Conservative women are, in general, more likely to embrace their femininity. This is going to draw more attention from a political culture that is familiar with a Hillary Clinton-esque female powerhouse. It is not a negative that there are women who don’t feel like they have to be men to be influential.

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