As conservative bloggers have rightly noted, this is a sexist cheap shot. Dana Loesch says, “When your premise is an unflattering photo…to sell your bias, you just might be a chauvinist.” Michelle Malkin asks, “You’ve resorted to recycling bottom-of-the-barrel moonbat photo cliches about conservative female public figures and their enraged ‘crazy eyes?’ Really?”
Some conservatives have also argued that this is evidence of the liberal bias of the magazine–and the mainstream media more generally. But, as Jessica Gross points out, Newsweek, which ran a sexist cover of Sarah Palin in her running clothes in 2008, has portrayed almost all of the recent male Republican candidates in a serious light. Sexism: the one thread that unites the dueling biases of the liberal and conservative media!
Malkin links to a great post by Karrin Anderson exploring the “troubling trend in which political women are critiqued as crackpots and lambasted as lunatics.”
The reason that the image of a crazed female politician is so powerful, and powerfully dangerous, is because it stems from a much older story about women. Whether burning them as witches or dismissing them as bitches, Western culture has always disciplined women who transgress established societal and political boundaries.
Nearly 100 years after women won the right to vote in the U.S., female politicians are still trying to prove that they’re sane enough to be trusted in high office. Those with presidential aspirations are particularly vulnerable to being depicted as crazy—and not just run-of-the mill crazy. Both Bachmann and Sarah Palin have been denounced as “batshit crazy” and the corresponding images bear the distinctive markings of female political psychosis: bulging eyes, gaping mouths, exaggerated expressions, and uncontrolled fury or glee.
Anderson notes that the “crazy woman” frame has been used against politicians on both sides of the aisle–from Palin and Bachmann to Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Michelle Obama. Malkin quibbles a bit with the claim that this trend crosses political party lines equally, arguing that the images of “crazy” conservative women have been mainstreamed to a greater extent. Which I actually think is true–but has less to do with liberal media bias and more to do with the extremism of the current conservative movement.
The trend of throwing around ableist language to dismiss political extremists as “crazy” and the trend of labeling woman politicians as “crazy” just for daring to have an opinion dovetails to heighten the effect for conservative women. Look, I understand the urge to label a party that’s willing to destroy the U.S. economy over a game of political brinkmanship as beyond the pale. And, there’s no question that Bachmann’s views are as hateful, incoherent, and hypocritical as they come. “Batshit crazy” has become the go-to short-hand during a time when the right-wing is slipping farther from the mainstream than ever before. But it’s ableist, counterproductive, and just lazy, and, as feminists and progressives, we need to do better–and better than we’ve previously done on this very blog.
If you’re trying to illustrate the extremism of a politician’s views and find yourself relying on sexist, ableist tropes that have been used to discredit women since they first started fighting their way into the public sphere, just stop. The odds are good that Bachmann herself will make your point for you.