A Politician’s Manhood

By , October 29, 2010 9:18 pm

Before the Christine O’Donnell “One-Night Stand” story came out, I was already thinking about sexism in politics going the other way: toward male candidates. This year, several female candidates have called the manhood of their male opponents into question. Those candidates include O’Donnell who called her primary opponent Mike Castle “unmanly” and said, “this is not a bake-off, get your man-pants on.”

Sure, that’s not the worst thing you could say to someone, but if you use someone’s gender to attack them, isn’t that sexism? When a female candidate’s sex life is made public, it’s done to shame her because some people think women should be sexually modest. When a male candidate’s masculinity is questioned and he’s told to “man-up” or “be man enough,” is that shaming him by saying he’s weak and impotent?

A recent study by the Women’s Media Center showed using sexism in political campaigns works when men use it against candidates who are women. When women fight back, though, voters favor them.

HENDERSON, NV - OCTOBER 27: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) appears at a volunteer canvass kickoff event October 27, 2010 in Henderson, Nevada. Reid, who is seeking his fifth term, is in a tight race with Republican challenger Sharron Angle. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

There’s a difference between fighting the sexism and just responding to it. When Nevada Senate candidate Sharon Angle told Harry Reid to “man-up,” Reid, a former boxer, said, “From the street to the ring to the Senate chamber, I’ve never had to prove my manhood to anyone.” That’s an adequate response, but by mentioning “the street” and “the ring” he actually was asserting his toughness, and therefore, attempting to prove his manhood.

Photos were recently released of Krystal Ball, a congressional candidate in Virginia, and her then-husband at a college party playing with sex toys. She responded to the photos by saying:

Society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives that are going to leak into the public sphere. Sooner or later, this is a reality that has to be faced, or many young women in my generation will not be able to run for office.

In talking about the support she received from Hillary Clinton’s supporters and those who fought for women’s rights in previous generations, Ball said:

They will not see their daughters called whores when they run for office just because of some college or post-college party. They will not watch the tide of everything they fought for washed away by the public exposure of female sexuality.

That is fighting back!

It would be interesting to see if the Women’s Media Center study’s results would be the same if the genders were reversed, but I don’t think male wouldn’t fight back like Ball did. Not yet. It would mean challenging the strong, silent type that is the model of the modern American man: Take your licks, suck it up and move on. Politicians and the public aren’t ready to have that conversation. We may be aware that the modern man needs to be redefined, but we don’t know what he’s supposed to be.

Not yet.

See Also:
Both Gawker And O’Donnell Fail In “One-Night Stand” Story

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