Bachmann Sexism Watch: “Crazy-Eyed Queen of Rage” Edition

Michelle Bachmann on the cover of Newsweek with crazy eyes described as the Queen of Rage
There’s Michelle “Queen of Rage” Bachmann and her “crazy-eyes” gracing the cover of the latest Newsweek.

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.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • zerlina

    I love this post!

  • tyra

    Would not also be considered sexist if she was presented in a “cover-girl modelly” way? What does a non-sexist magazine cover look like?

    • SFLCircle

      I don’t see where in this article anyone is suggesting a “modelly” type of cover. How about just a normal-eyed picture of her. When where it isn’t apparent that they’ve caught her off guard. You know, like the kind that they show on tv next to poll numbers or something? It’s really not that difficult.

  • Mark Kernes

    I’m less than enthusiastic, even though the post makes sense — from a typical Democratic/liberal point of view. What’s missing is that conservatives and fundamentalists wouldn’t hesitate for a second to use a similar portrait of, say, Obama, and as some may recall, over the past four years or so, we’ve seen him photoshopped into African tribal garb, onto an ape’s body and any number of pejorative poses and backgrounds.

    There is little doubt that Bachmann is [redacted], and if this cover photo happens to give physical “back-up” to that truth, whether because Newsweek is sexist, liberal (doubtful) or otherwise, that’s a good thing, IMO.

    And it really doesn’t help anyone’s case against Newsweek’s use of this photo to quote Michelle Malkin. A reading of just a few of her columns on show her to be as right-wing batshit [redacted] as they come, so OF COURSE she’s going to be defending Bachmann.

    Is the image troubling? Yes. Will it help keep Bachmann from rising higher in the political hierarchy than she currently is? Possibly/Hopefully. Is that a good thing? Damn straight!

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    Maybe I’m missing something, but why is this an unflattering photo? She may not be done up like some glamour queen, but politicians aren’t usually presented like pinups anyway. As for “crazy eyes” I’m not sure–they’re a bit wide like she’s either excited about something or trying not to blink during the shot. She doesn’t have a flat affect. Can anyone clarify what that’s supposed to be?

  • Amanda

    @ Tyra, an example of a non-sexist magazine cover featuring a female politician:

    • tyra

      Thanks. I think my post sounds curt and sarcastic, but my intention was not to undermine the argument. This Ms. cover is exactly what I was wondering about. Thinking back to that Palin cover back in 2008 with the close up of her face just reminded me of an easy breezy beautiful something something, while this Ms. cover demonstrates a physical representation of power and authority… shoulders back, hands in pocket, etc.

  • sex-toy-james

    Is that an appropriate picture for someone who just attempted to drive a bus full of kids off a cliff and is still firm in her belief that she was right to do so? Trying to crash the US economy seems a great deal worse, so the wild eyed portrayal seems accurate.
    As for Palin, she rode her “Most attractive conservative” status onto the national stage. So is it sexist to highlight a major basis of her fame? There’s a reason that Palin shows up when you search Google for “Alaskan MILF”, but Nancy Pelosi doesn’t come up when you search for “Californian MILF”.

  • Mollie

    “…“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…”

    Of all the things Maya stated in this post, this is the part that really hit a nerve with me. As a strong progressive, I have fallen into the trap of tossing these women (and other conservatives male and female) out the Things-That-Are-Batshit-Crazy window to land in a pile of things I don’t know what to do about nor do I want to deal with. It’s a lazy approach and, I believe, one of the reasons we are facing such a huge upsurge in right-wing extremism in politics. We haven’t dealt with the issues head on, we’ve dismissed them, along with the people that say them, as crazy or unbelievable.

    Separating the rhetoric from the human is one part of politics that has fallen by the way side. Referring to a woman like Michelle Bachmann as just a crazy right-wing loony immediately makes her 1) not human 2) easy to dismiss and 3) not something to bother worrying about because no one would vote for such “crazy” ideas. Obviously, lots of people voted for those ideas, because she’s been elected twice despite her ideology.

    Beginning to separate the human from the rhetoric allows us to start challenging the right-wing agenda with facts, without attacking the person. The power lies in the truth and as long as we treat politicians as the sum total of their ideologies and how we feel about them, we lose our chance to address the real issues.

  • Lynet

    Mark Kernes seems to be saying that since conservatives would happily use racist pictures of Obama, we shouldn’t worry too much about sexist pictures of conservative women. Which is missing the point!

    I understand the temptation to look at mainstream publications taking male Republicans seriously, and then look at them treating female Republicans like this and think “At last, they’re pointing out that Republicans are crazy, just like I’ve known all along!” But that’s not really what they’re saying, is it?

    I know American politics have more than the usual urgency about them these days, but throwing women under the bus in order to get ahead is not the way to go about winning. The “women are so crazy” meme hurts all women.

  • lisa evans

    And pray tell, where ARE the “non-crazy” pictures of Bachmann? Her eyes don’t track quite together and she constantly looks startled. Yes, this picture is a bad one but I’ve yet to see one where she doesn’t look a bit off.

    And frankly? I don’t feel sorry for her. This is a woman who believes that it’s her Christian duty to make America a Dominionist theocracy that would ban contraception, execute adulterers, uppity teenagers and gay men, and live according to a twisted version of Biblical law. She’s smart, she has unsavory connections, and she lies just about every time she opens her mouth. That picture may be sexist but it illuminates the inner Bachmann a hell of a lot better than the article itself, which is weak tea compared to the profile in this week’s New Yorker.

  • Jovanka

    I don’t think this is an example of sexism. It’s an example of an article using a photo that demonstrates something their writers want to demonstrate, but it’s not as if this image were Photoshopped, nor did the “message” being put forth have anything to do with her gender. Do women unfairly and too often get labelled as “crazy” in other circumstances? Absolutely. But I don’t think it’s an example of “sexism” when the woman in question does happen to be [redacted]. She is hate-filled, anti-human and anti-woman and you have trouble with someone pointing that out?…Having said that, as much as I don’t care for Sarah Palin and find her a complete [redacted], I do think the magazine cover showing her in her running shorts was sexist. The difference between the two covers is that you can easily find many corresponding examples of men’s faces that show them with a less than flattering facial expression (for evidence of this look at just about every photo of Obama on Fox News); but you’d be hard pressed to find a magazine cover of a male political candidate in his running shorts.