While many who follow the Republican presidential candidates are focusing on things like Newt Gingrich’s wives and dislike of pious baloney, Mitt Romney’s pink slips and love of firing people, and Rick Santorum’s three men, some people are discussing some of the gender-oriented politics of both parties that have been aswirl of late.
I’m talking about the fact that some think Rep. Michele Bachmann’s candidacy failed simply because she is a woman and that Americans still might not be ready for a woman president. And that one member of Congress said first lady Michelle Obama has, in his words, “a large posterior.”
Then there’s something that would have been considered unthinkable outside of a fantasy movie not long ago: that a woman (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) might be a better choice to not only be vice president, but to perhaps be the next president of the United States. A lot of people even think the Democrats made a big mistake in not making her the party’s nominee in 2008. Many of them say that Hillary wouldn’t take crap from anyone (more than implying that President Obama does) and would kick major league butt all over Congress and the world.
So we have at least three gender politics issues at play here, two of which are not that surprising. One is beyond astounding.
It’s not that some sexual discrimination could not have been at work in Bachmann’s dismal showing in the Iowa caucuses. It’s possible and probably even likely. Still, Bachman managed to avoid getting too mucked up in the not-looking-quite-pretty-enough (Hillary Clinton through much of her term as first lady and then when she ran for president in 2008) or looking-too-damn-good (probably Sarah Palin) traps that have bedeviled and sunk more than a few female politicians, no matter their qualifications. I guess that is some measure of progress.
But I think Bachmann went down for many of the same reasons that would have felled a male candidate who did not know much about American history and could not pronounce words such as chutzpah and poignant. And given Rick Perry’s nickname of “Governor Goodhair” and the criticism previously leveled at John Edwards for being too concerned with $400 haircuts, maybe we are getting to a point where we now discount male politicians who look too cute and don’t seem to have the smarts to match their outer beauty. Is that a good thing? I am not quite sure.
As for Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and his ideas about the first lady’s posterior, a whole lot of people took one look at the congressman and said this guy is sucking in his gut and taking a cheap partisan shot. Many who said he was taking a cheap shot were Republicans, of both sexes. And some said he also was nuts. In any case, the comment seems to go well beyond nasty politics or being nuts. Just think of all of the men out there with beer bellies, huge jeans, oversized T-shirts and sneakers, and ball caps concealing lost hair who still want their wives and girlfriends to look, if not right out of Playboy, at least Kardashian. This matter isn’t going away anytime soon, though maybe some in Sensenbrenner’s district will vote to put him away.
The gender-politics issue that is the real whopper is the idea that more than a few people want Hillary Clinton to challenge VP Joe Biden or even President Obama in this year’s election. Now this, this is progress. We’re talking about the Hillary Clinton who didn’t want to have teas and bake cookies. And the same person who finally whacked the hair that had undergone many style transformations — and who almost singlehandedly made pantsuits completely acceptable for women (though some say she took to the pants to camouflage figure flaws many were all too ready to say she possessed), and won two Senate terms. She did have to make sure she wore enough lipstick and colorful jewelry with the pantsuits while running for president, but she did, as she said herself, make an unprecedented18 million cracks in the presidential glass ceiling.
And look at her now. Her hair is long and often unprofessionally styled. She told the Pakistanis that if they didn’t want our money, they didn’t have to take it. She’s considered the most admired woman in the country. She’s never seen in a dress and seems to weigh more than she did as first lady. And you know what? Not a lot of people seem to care. A lot of people see her (sorry, Rep. Bachmann) as America’s Iron Lady. Or maybe even the Titanium Lady. The one who can get things done and take no prisoners. Perhaps better than the current vice president or president.
So while some will continue to concentrate on the foibles and gaffes of the GOP candidates, some of us will monitor the changing state of gender in U.S politics. Discrimination against female candidates? Not likely to go away any time soon. Men saying women are fat? Right.
But women AND men who think a woman has what it takes to be a tough and effective president? I definitely want to see more of this real life movie.
Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, lives in Minneapolis.