Monday, November 8, 2010

Women of the Elections

And the headline read "Sexism remains a problem for women seeking office."  Bummer, for sure.  But is it really news?

More like deja vu.  And the media coverage seemed a little naive.  Or maybe hypocritical, when the problem they exacerbated throughout this particular race only become newsworthy once the results were in. 

While watching the "Women of Saturday Night Live" last Monday, I was reminded of the inexplicable awesomeness of this epic opening sketch:

A Poehler-Fey-tag-team at its finest.  Palin's a M.I.L.F. and Clinton has cankles; the gender dynamics of the last election, in a nutshell. 

Fast-forward to 2010, full of Mama Grizzlies, relatable witches, Halloween one-night-stands, and photos too scandalous for any Christmas card-- what's the common thread?  When it comes to women, politics are extra dirty and super sexy.  But more people are noticing.  And some even intend to do something about it.

The Women's Media Center, founded by Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda, started the "Name It, Change It" campaign to raise awareness about sexist commentary surrounding women candidates.  The also served up the "Would you say that to your mother?" Awards for this years most appalling coverage. 

Conservative blog Virginia Virtucon was slammed for publishing Ball's infamous Christmas party photos as well as the Boston Herald, awarded for nominating women candidates for make-overs.  And the Gawker was recognized for their Enquirer-esque exclusive published with a blast-from-O'Donnell's-past.

Evidenced by these examples, and the Palin-Clinton-dichotomy, society still insists on either hyper-sexualizing women politicians or punishing them for not being sexy enough.  Megan Tady, of progressive magazine In These Times, believes the country is suffering an extreme case of gynophobia.  Tady blames this fear of women, especially in leadership roles, for the blatant sexism that keeps the focus on women politicians' physical appearances or sexual histories, rather than their political promises or actual credentials.  And I blame this sexism on the recent loss of women in the legislative branch of our government.

Less than a week ago Christine O'Donnell was defeated in Delaware and we all breathed a sigh of relief.  Perhaps sanity was restored after all?

But then national data revealed that women, in general, would be holding less seats than the previous Congress.  And this was the first time in 30 years that number has declined.  Siobhan Bennett, president of the Women's Campaign Forum Foundation, stated the obvious; "It looks as if we're going backward rather than forward," and many are suddenly wondering-- what's up with that?

Were the midterms full of O'Donnells?  Not exactly.  While Republican Carly Fiorina was a Senate loser, she was beat out by Pro-Choice Democrat Barbara Boxer, making California one of 17 states with a woman Senator. 

Meanwhile, the House is struggling to maintain 73 women, expecting to lose at least two more as states finalize their decisions.  And the number of women governors is holding fast at six; three of which are new Republicans.  Sexism is hurting the credibility of women across the political spectrum.

But what's more upsetting; the lack of women in government or the lack of representatives who will speak (and vote) on behalf of women's issues?  It was a sad year for feminism, with the nation becoming increasingly red.  The year of the donkey apparently peaked after Dems Barack-ed the vote back in 2008.  With "hope" wearing thin, the pendulum has swung back in favor of the opposition, adversely affecting women and their reproductive rights.

To be sure, women like Christine O'Donnell (and fellow Tea Party-er Sarah Palin) do not support women's sexual freedoms or choice.  So a sigh of relief for O'Donnell's loss is followed by a sigh of exasperation as women lose their political footing in a media circus that can't separate gender from platform and affiliation.  It's one thing to critique someone's experience.  It's quite another to critique her pubic hair.  

Even the most ridiculous candidate (O'Donnell) doesn't excuse the manner in which all women's political endeavors are challenged (sexy pictures).  But like I said-- this isn't news.  At least not in the sense that the tactics are new.  However, given the consequences of the last election, it's time to ring the alarm about sexist attacks on women politicians before we lose any more of the representation we've worked so hard to secure.

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