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Sticks and Stones or Straight-up Misogyny?

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Full Spectrum

It’s a fact. If you run for a state or national office, you’re going to be scrutinized and probably even attacked. In order for a candidate to survive, let alone come out ahead, he or she needs to toughen up, learn to take the hits from a well strategized opponent, and come back stronger. But more than a half century after the birth of modern feminism, the field that male and female candidates are playing on still isn’t close to being level. Why, with more women involved in politics than ever before, are we still entertaining portrayals of female candidates as whores and witches?

In California, we can credit a recent snafu by Jerry Brown’s campaign, in which a private conversation was inadvertently taped and leaked to the media on Oct. 7. In it, a Brown associate was heard referring to his opponent Meg Whitman as a 'whore' for cutting a deal protecting law enforcement pensions as the two candidates competed for police endorsements. Brown is then heard saying, 'Well, I’m going to use that.'

The event drives home just how far we are from true parity for men and women battling it out in the political realm. Jay Leno recently joked with Seth McFarlane on late-night TV about having oral sex with Delaware senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell. This gem about New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand came from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: 'Many senators are known for many things ... We in the Senate refer to Sen. Gillibrand as the hottest member.'

And, before I get hung out to dry myself, I’m not just blaming the phenomenon on white men. Sadly, sexist treatment of women candidates is an equal-opportunity endeavor involving women themselves and folks of all political persuasions. To wit, it’s quite possible, according to recent news releases, that it could have been Brown’s own wife who made the comment about Whitman! And remember a few months ago when California senatorial candidate Carly Fiorina was caught on a hot mic dissing Sen. Barbara Boxer: 'God, what is that hair? So yesterday.' Whether simply catty, or blatantly sexist, the problem is ubiquitous, and damaging.

A key finding in a recent study by the public opinion firm LRP conducted in early September demonstrated that 'sexism, even mild sexist language, has an impact on voters’ likelihood to vote for a female candidate and on how favorable they feel toward a woman seeking office. It also affects perceptions of trustworthiness, empathy, values, and effectiveness.'

The Name It, Change It campaign, a non-partisan project of the Women’s Campaign Forum Foundation, Women’s Media Center, and Political Parity, wants to draw attention to sexism in the media and end sexist and misogynistic coverage of women candidates. Name It, Change It points out that sexism and equality don’t mix, and when you attack one woman, you attack all women. Maybe together, members of the media and concerned people everywhere can end the longest running political jibes on women that put female candidates into two basic categories — nuts and sluts.

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March 14, 2019