Top Ten Reasons Why Being A Woman In Politics Takes Balls

Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton; photo by Bill O’Leary @WashingtonPost

Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton; photo by Bill O’Leary @WashingtonPost

This is not a particularly new story, the “women have a harder time in (fill in the blank) industry” than men. No, issues of sexism and misogyny in the workplace are, frankly, weary memes that have been with us since time immemorial, but they do have a unique translation for women in politics. Particularly since “women in politics,” at least this country, is a relatively new phenomenon (don’t get me started on ancient matriarchal cultures), which allows for old behavioral habits to rule the roost, so to speak, at least until someone shuts that whole thing down.

This is a particularly salient issue at the moment because the Women In the World Summit is going on right now, and the issues women deal with, in every industry, in every part of the world, are at the top of the agenda of featured speakers such as Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Tina Brown and other female notables. Clinton’s speech, as a matter of fact, focused on the topic of Women’s Rights Are a National Security Issue. From The Atlantic:

On Friday former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton delivered a speech both personal and fiery to argue once again that women are central to American security. Call it the “Hillary Doctrine Unplugged”: Freed from the diplomatic propriety of State Department officialdom and White House-shepherded protocols, Clinton spoke plainly to a crowd that loved her message nearly as much as it loves the idea of a second Clinton presidential candidacy. The thesis: extremism and the suppression of women go hand in hand. Ignore the latter and you are ignorant about the former.

“As strong a case as we’ve made, too many otherwise thoughtful people continue to see the fortunes of women and girls as somehow separate from society at large. They nod, they smile and then they relegate these issues once again to the sidelines. I have seen it over and over again, I have been kidded about it I have been ribbed, I have been challenged in boardrooms and official offices across the world,” Clinton said at the Fourth Women in the World Summit before proceeding to poke fun at that conventional wisdom. “The next time you hear someone say that the fate of women and girls is not a core national security issue, it’s not one of those hard issues that really smart people deal with, remind them: The extremists understand the stakes of this struggle. They know that when women are liberated, so are entire societies. We must understand this too. And not only understand it, but act on it.”

The Hillary Doctrine. I like that. And yet while Clinton was making her points with the gravitas the message deserved, what were writers in the media (some of them women) talking about? Her hair. Oh, and her “hot pink jacket.”

This from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd:

Hillary jokes that people regard her hair as totemic, and just so, her new haircut sends a signal of shimmering intention: she has ditched the skinned-back bun that gave her the air of a K.G.B. villainess in a Bond movie and has a sleek new layered cut that looks modern and glamorous.

In a hot pink jacket and black slacks, she leaned in for a 2016 manifesto, telling the blissed-out crowd of women that America cannot truly lead in the world until women here at home are full partners with equal pay and benefits, careers in math and science, and “no limit” on how big girls can dream.

Yes. So important to feature at least two full paragraphs on Clinton’s “shimmering” haircut and that “hot” pink jacket she’s sporting. WTF, Maureen Dowd??

But that’s the culture we live in. It’s so engrained I’d bet Dowd isn’t even aware of how she’s playing to the crowd, without a thought to the shallow contribution she’s making in doing so.

So let’s cut to the chase, get right down to it, deal with the reality: women in politics have to put up with bullshit men wouldn’t even dream of enduring. Which means being a women in politics takes balls, it takes spine, it takes a red badge of courage (no, not that kind) that only a woman could muster. Here are the top ten reasons why:

1. You Have To Worry Too Much About Your Hair… Men Can Just Go Bald

The aforementioned Dowd treatise, as well as the countless others on Hillary’s looks, makes this fact patently clear. How many articles do you think were published on Hillary’s hair? Or Michelle Obama’s bangs (being a First Lady counts…)? Sarah Palin’s pompadour? I don’t see us talking about Mitch McConnell’s gray locks, Rick Santorum’s Devo helmet, Todd Akin’s come-over, or the scruff-fest that is Grover Norquist. No, these guys get a pass. They can go stark raving bald and not one article will be written about the sheen of their pate. But the women? Ho boy. You better spend the big bucks to get those locks loaded and ready for bear, ’cause whatever you do, whatever style you stand by, you’re gonna hear about it in the morning…news.

Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State; photo by Timothy Greenfield-Standard; @SmithsonianMag

Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State; photo by Timothy Greenfield-Standard; @SmithsonianMag

2. You’re Not Allowed To Age And, Well… That’s Always Hard To Pull Off

For women, this is pretty much true in every walk of life. Show up pretty, young, in good shape, and with a defined jaw line and they’re gonna go gaga. Get past the glory years, start inching toward the matron phase and, oh dear God, pundits will pounce! How many snarky comments were made about Madeleine Albright’s less than movie star looks? (Remember that chestnut from Michael Savage back in 2009: “A fat moron who looked like she would have been comfortable just cooking in a kitchen. Somehow she wound up as Secretary of State”). Nice. And of course, there’s the more recent Fox follies, when Steve Doocy decided to blather on about Hillary with “somebody has launched a website for her, showing off this glamorous new face. Face lift, perhaps?” No, Steve, maybe she just got a little rest. Maybe a studio portrait is better lit than “gotcha” media shots. But when was the last time anyone remarked on John McCain’s colorless visage, or that sagging jowl line of Lindsey Graham? They don’t. It doesn’t happen. That kind of sneering Greek chorus is reserved mostly for the fairer sex. Which is unfair.

3. Weight Gain Is Fodder For Comment… Men, Except For Chris Christie, Get A Pass

Yes, we’ve all heard the jokes about Chris Christie. And they’re remarkable only because we’re so NOT used to hearing weight commentary about men. Men can get big-ass guts and blow up like red-nosed leches swilling bourbon and gorging on gluttony,  but, damn, a women’s ass gets noticeably larger and they’re all there with tape measures. There’s actually a site running a survey on who has the bigger ass, Hillary or Michelle Obama (I’m not sharing the link in a nod to decency). There was much mewling over Michelle Obama’s weight, particularly after she started her healthy eating initiative (we all remember Rush Limbaugh’s ugly comments). Newser ran a piece that affirmed the whole shebang with this:

“Female politicians hungry for power should be hitting the gym while their male counterparts should be thinking about supersizing, a new study suggests. Researchers found that people considered fatter men more reliable, honest, and better able to cope with the pressures of public life. The opposite was true for heavier women.”

Yeah. That’s fair.

4. You’re Required To Be A Fashion Maven… Men Wear Ties

We all know Michelle Obama’s a fashion maven; we’ve got countless media sources telling us so. And she scores pretty well. Hillary… not so much. She’s taken some hits along the way for her yellow pant suits and, well, her pant suits in general. We hear about Palin’s pencil skirt, Michele Bachmann’s “classic, feminine style,” even the dowdiness of some of the stuffier sorts. The men? There was some discussion of the Easter egg colored ties during the State of the Union address. Whoopty-doo.

5. If You’re Tough You’re Called The Iron Lady… Or Worse

Margaret Thatcher just died. She was a tough one. They called her the Iron Lady. Of course, given the vulture-like glee-fest that’s happening post her demise, I have no doubt she is, was, has been called much worse. Our “gals” here at home? Mark Levin called Hillary a “jerk,” we just read that delightful spew of Michael Savage’s about Madeleine Albright, of course, Sarah Palin has been called everything from a Bimbo Barbie to a Bubble-Headed Bitch. We all remember the slut-shaming of Sandra Fluke, who is close to being a woman in politics, and I think a few very choice words have been bandied about during discussions of our first black First Lady. The men? Asshole. Douche. Moron. But the big stuff, the degrading stuff, the really eviscerating stuff? That’s reserved, once again, for the gals.

Sarah Palin; a Tea Party friend said “we like her cuz she’s hot!” @LATimes

Sarah Palin; a Tea Party friend said “we like her cuz she’s hot!” @LATimes

6. If You’re Hot You Get A Pass Even If You’re An…Well, Even If You’re Not A Rocket Scientist. There Are No Hot Men

Let’s just get real honest here. Sarah Palin is where she is today because she is a beautiful woman. The caption under the picture above? That’s a quote. The woman’s hot so nobody in her party cared too much about the fact that she said so many inane things an entire late night comedy show spiked in the ratings when a certain female comic spoofed her on a regular basis. Michele Bachmann, as bat-shit crazy as she is, is considered pretty hot by a large contingent of men (is that why she got re-elected despite believing the HPV vaccine made a girl “retarded”?). This phenomenon is not really a good thing. Women with brains look at the “hot chicks” getting passes and it’s clear we’re still judging our female leaders with filters held over from high school. As for the men… there are no hot men in politics so it’s a moot point. OK, that one centerfold shot of Scott Brown back in the day might have vaunted him into the category, but really, who else? Paul Ryan? Bobby Jindal? Are you kidding me??

7. Other Women View You Like The Popular Girl… And That Can Be Bad

Remember how the popular girl in high school was envied, emulated and sought after? And then, at some point, it became clear that hurts and jealousies drove other, lesser, girls to hate that very same popular girl they’d yearned for (you did see Mean Girls, right?). This may seem like a stretch, but just think about it: we live in a society that loves to aggrandize people, put them on a pedestal, then at some subliminal point of obsolescence, we pull their asses down as fast as we put them up there. Think catty post-death treatises about Jackie Kennedy. Think the snark fests that followed Princess Diana. Think the slams on Caroline Kennedy. Think about all the aforementioned women on both sides of the aisle. They love ’em until they don’t. Then they write snarky articles about them. Which proves it’s better to stay under the wire, off the radar. Have you seen one tear down, a character assassination of Patty Murray? I didn’t think so.

8. Having Your Looks Discussed In The Media Is The Kiss Of Death… No One Cares About Men’s Looks

There’s an article in Slate (When the Media Compliments a Female Politician’s Looks, She Loses the Election) in which the title says it all. It expounds upon a study done by an organization called Name It. Change It. on the topic of “gender-based challenges that women face from the media when they run for office”:

In the survey on media coverage of women candidates’ appearance, conducted by Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners and Robert Carpenter of Chesapeake Beach Consulting, the research used actual quotes about women candidates from media coverage of the 2012 elections and demonstrates that when the media focuses on a woman candidate’s appearance, she pays a price in the polls. This finding held true whether the coverage of a woman candidate’s appearance was framed positively, negatively or in neutral terms. The second survey, a simulation of the impact of sexism in campaigns, conducted by Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners and Leslie Sanchez of the Impacto Group, simulated a campaign situation similar to those experienced by real candidates and found that where a woman candidate has already been attacked, sexist coverage further diminishes her vote and the perception that she is qualified.

I personally think that says it all. And it supports my theory in #7, to boot.

9. If You Were An Actress In A Previous Life Now Running For Office You’ll Be Criticized For Baring Your Breasts

See “Ashley Judd.”

10. Having A Child While On-Duty Would Be Problematic… Men? Naw

Back in 1998, Jane Swift ran for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts while she was 17-weeks pregnant, stirring up controversy and debate about whether or not a pregnant candidate, a pregnant politician, was acting “in the best interests of the child.” Lots of heat on that one, as you can imagine. But how many other female politicians have we seen pregnant in office? How many with young children? Well, Sarah Palin, for one. But then again, she left office while that baby was still in diapers… but still, that counts. Who else? I’m thinking. Still thinking. I even Googled it. It’s not common. Because any woman in a position of power knows that to change her Power brand to the Mommy brand is the sure kiss of death. For men? Naw. They’ve got wives to do that part.

There ya have it… the Top Ten reasons why being a women in politics takes balls. Because if a woman does want to jump in the ring as a public servant, to do some good, change the culture, contribute what she can to helping her fellow citizens; set the damn world on fire, she is obligated by virtue of her gender to walk the gauntlet of these particular beleaguerments. And that, my friends, takes some serious cojones.

So kudos to the many women, whose numbers are growing every day, who do have the courage and resilience to take it on. We salute you… whether in a hot pink, a classic pencil, with or without bangs.



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