The Women of the GOP & Warped Gender Identity

There is a heavy focus by the mainstream news media on the large(r) number of women candidates running in this year’s midterm elections. Many of the women running are Republican, conservatives and/or Tea Party fools nominees. One of the main newsmakers and agitators is Sharon Angle, the Republican nominee for Senate who recently told her opponent, Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, to “man up.” At first, it made me laugh because I associate that as a hip-hop term. But besides that, it’s the latest in this “Mama Grizzly” movement to promote themselves as tough, no-nonsense badass women fit to rule.

Instead it comes off as pathetic…to me, at least. But some voters are buying it, as Angle is slightly ahead of Reid in the polls. It’s a clear ploy to attack the “manhood” of their competitors by playing on ideas of gender. It actually makes no sense because on one hand they are equating being tough with masculinity, even though their “Mama Grizzly” message is about women being tough in the same way. Sarah Palin used the same rhetoric telling Karl Rove to “buck up” after he made disparaging comments about Christine O’Donnell. Sounds like typical Palinesque (non)logic.

Now we all know that if a male candidate told a woman to “get in the kitchen,” there would be an uproar. Although the language and historical context would be incredibly different, it is based on the same premise: gender roles and stereotyping. Men are supposed to be tough and somehow speaking out against these (crazy) women and their political ideologies is soft, i.e. feminine. The underlying idea is that we want to be like men to get ahead, and that by attacking a male candidates’ “masculinity,” he will appear less competent for the job to both men and women voters.

However, it uses a warped view of feminism and femininity as a ploy to reach female voters and in a twist, to appear competent and attractive to male voters. This has been the crux of Sarah Palin’s time in the limelight (i.e. hockey moms, pitbull in lipstick) and is apparently contagious. The conservative media is eating it up like in a recent Weekly Standard column by William Kristol where he states: “Luckily, there will be a lot of conservative women around to make sure Republicans act like real men.” Good Lord alive.

I’m interested to see if and how this will affect voters and I anticipate as the election gets even closer the lowbrow attacks using gender roles will exacerbate. President Obama has been campaigning specifically to women and that new polls are showing the women voters slightly prefer the GOP to the Democrats. But ladies, this is not empowering. Making gendered slights at men sets feminism, an idea of being equal to men, back. I know Palin, Angle and their cohorts are interesting in advancing feminism. They want to win even at the expense of themselves.

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  • Matt

    “One of the main newsmakers and agitators is Sharon Angle, the Republican nominee for Senate who recently told her opponent, Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, to ‘man up.’… Now we all know that if a male candidate told a woman to “get in the kitchen,” there would be an uproar.”

    There is an interesting dynamic here. Admittedly, I don’t think the analogy holds (as strongly) when you switch party affiliations. Republicans are the party of sexism (or at least the greater sexism), so sexist comments mostly enthuse their base and alienate people who pretty much never had their vote anyway.

    Nevertheless, the tendency still holds, and there are two general factors that play heavily into how people are evaluated:

    1) “Ideal” values (which are generally “White,” “masculine,” “Christian,” etc…)
    2) Conformity to societal norms

    This pairing creates an interesting dynamic. If a woman is charged with not being “a true woman” because she seeks power, she may lose respect on dimension #2 but will likely gain credibility on dimension #1. Similarly, charging a woman for not embracing “masculine” values may knock her down on dimension #1 but would probably improve her standing on dimension #2. As such, while attacking a woman on gendered factors is probably not a zero-sum tactic, it is not an especially profitable action.

    On the other hand, attacking a man for not being “a true man” has the potential to hurt him on both dimensions. As such, it can be rather profitable to attack a man in this way, and it is quite possible that as time goes on, gender attacks will be concentrated more and more on men rather than women.

    Sort of trend leading up to the present and going forward is that (most) people are grasping that the currently standards don’t ever let women really “win,” so they adjust their evaluation of women upwards a bit in a fairly blunt manner — it’s not like they are really catching up to men across all factors, but they are getting close enough to win some battles (YMMV). However, men are not receiving a comparable upward adjustment. Granted, the traditional men don’t need a shred of help, but those who entirely flip the standards aren’t moving up as quickly — they’re being held back on both dimensions, so they have about twice the gap to climb, but they lack the visibility to get the appropriate attention. Fortunately for most men who deviate heavily from the norms, they will usually not completely invert the roles, so there will usually some factors helping them relative to women. But then, “which discriminated group has it worse” isn’t the point anyway.

    To me, the bottom line is figuring out:

    (A) How do we more effectively obliterate gender roles?
    (B) How do we more convincingly expose the sort of bullshit perpetuated by the social conservatives who resort to these tactics?

    I am partial to focusing on (A), since shifting beliefs makes it easier for other people to take care of (B) themselves. I think discovering and illustrating the diversity of men (their interests, their expressions, their strengths, etc — and all the combinations that can appear) is instrumental, because men have been conditioned so much to hide that which is not traditional — we actually have a better idea of what women are like (not that we truly do) because of the collective ambivalence towards most of the choices they make.