Man Up, Woman Down? Masculinity, Femininity and the 2010 Elections

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From the LA Times, “It’s a Strange Year for Gender in Politics,” by Kathleen Hennessey of the Tribune Washington Bureau:

In one of the stranger moments in the Nevada Senate debate Thursday, Sharron Angle, the ever-grinning, grandmotherly GOP Senate candidate, fired off the retort of the night.

“Man up, Harry Reid,” the 61-year-old said, dropping the smile as she pushed the Senate majority leader to discuss Social Security’s solvency.

Angle’s zinger stood out for its unexpected near-hipness. But in the current political climate, the fact that it was loaded with sexual stereotypes seemed hardly to register as controversial.

The 2010 election cycle may be remembered for a jarring shift in the political dialogue between the sexes, a moment when polite sensitivities were shelved and bold gender-based power plays became the norm.

The trend is clearest among a new class of conservative women — the “mama grizzlies” who pride themselves on a strong and irreverent post-feminist posture and frank rhetoric. Their leader, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, set the tone when she told Fox News Channel in August that President Obama didn’t have the “cojones” to get tough on illegal immigration.

About a month later, Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell told a radio interviewer that her primary opponent should “put his man pants on.”  * * *

The trend isn’t exclusive to conservative women. Missouri Democrat Robin Carnahan also told Republican Rep. Roy Blunt to “man up” in their Senate debate Thursday. * * * The boldly direct approach seems to suggest a double standard. It is hard to imagine a male candidate telling a female opponent to be more ladylike without facing repercussions. In fact, the candidates who have recently been accused of sexism were men.

In Colorado, Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck was widely criticized for telling voters to support him because, unlike primary opponent Jane Norton, “I do not wear high heels.” In California, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown apologized to Republican Meg Whitman after an aide was recorded calling Whitman a “whore.”

But in the Colorado Senate race, Buck was not the first to strike on gender terms. In a July ad, Norton assailed attack ads against her. “They’re paid for by a shady interest group doing the bidding of Ken Buck. You’d think Ken would be man enough to do it himself,” she said. * * *

Implicit remarks are no less effective. It was Margaret Thatcher, a hero of Palin’s, who, when sensing that President George H.W. Bush was wavering on the Gulf War, reportedly warned, “Don’t go wobbly on us, George.”

The full story is here.

-Bridget Crawford

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