In an interview with The New Republic, Mike Huckabee explained that running against a female candidate requires a special touch:
“I’ve twice run against women opponents, and it’s a very different kind of approach,” he tells me. Different how? “For those of us who have some chivalry left, there’s a level of respect. … You treat some things as a special treasure; you treat other things as common.” A male opponent is “common,” a woman requires “a sense of pedestal.”
“I’ll put it this way,” Huckabee says. “I treat my wife very differently than I treat my chums and my pals. I wouldn’t worry about calling them on Valentine’s Day, opening the door for them, or making sure they were OK.”
He expanded on this approach in a statement to Salon:
“I believe in equality, and I have a record of transforming that belief into action. However, equality doesn’t mean sameness. … I was raised to treat women with respect. I still will invite a lady to go first, will open a door for her, and will place her in the center of the photograph. And yes, I would seek to treat a female opponent with the same respect I give to all women, even though we may disagree on the issues.”
It’s unclear why Huckabee thinks women, who make up roughly 50 percent of the population, are a “special treasure.” Let’s be generous and assume he just means women politicians. God knows, they’re still rare enough that he could be forgiven for thinking male pols are “common” by comparison. It’s equally unclear what his wife thinks about the fact that she’s not the only woman he’s calling on Valentine’s Day.
Above all, Huckabee seems confused about the relationship between equality, sameness, and respect. In common usage, “respect” is used in two main ways represented by the two images below: 1) There’s the baseline decency that everyone should be afforded based on our shared humanity. For example, we might say that we “respect” people’s privacy or right to their opinions, and we might show it by not being an asshole and opening doors for strangers. And 2) there’s the specific sense of admiration we have for individuals who have earned it based on — to quote the dictionary definition — “their abilities, qualities, or achievements.”
“Respecting women” is one of the most sexist things you can do then. I cringe anytime someone — often far more well-meaning than Huckabee — says it. Because it only makes sense if you believe women are fundamentally different than men. Unless you think women are inferior — uniquely vulnerable and especially in need of such niceties — the first kind of respect should be given to everyone regardless of gender. And unless you believe our femaleness somehow confers on us some unearned abstract superiority, the second kind cannot honestly be granted to “all women” as if they are the same. In other words, if Huckabee truly believed in gender equality, he’d either extend to all people the common courtesies he gives women, or he’d acknowledge that there’s no earthly, non-sexist reason why he’d treat a female political opponent more like his wife than like a male political opponent. Though he might admire both his wife and his opponent, his ways of showing it would be different. Respect doesn’t mean sameness either. Respect means treating women like individuals.
The definition of “patronize,” on the other hand, is to “treat with an apparent kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority.” Just sayin’.
Maya Dusenbery does not “respect men” though she admires quite a few individual men and opens doors for everyone.