Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Is treating Republican women badly a feminist prerogative?

In a recent piece on Meghan McCain, Jezebel writer Irin unleashes a good deal of snark against the self-proclaimed sex-positive Republican.  I don't think McCain is perfect by any means, and I disagree with a good deal of her policy positions, but I personally think the emergence of a smart, articulate, reasonable young woman in the Republican party is a good thing.  I'd rather have the Republican Party lean more toward McCain's views, who is pro-gay rights, pro-contraception, but anti-choice, than to those pioneered by Karl Rove and carried forward by Sarah Palin.

Irin takes issue with McCain's defense of Republican women Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman,  women who have been treated absurdly by the main-stream media, as I described earlier.  McCain links recent media scrutiny to their Republicanness instead of their femaleness.  If the cause is the former, Irin thinks it's warranted, since these women are standing on the shoulders of a women's rights movement that they did nothing to support.  And then she mentions this:
A more spirited yet reasoned analysis can be found in Joan Indiana Rigdon's Forbes.com column on why, exactly, one might be skeptical of these women and their claims to both represent progress for women and the end of any need for such progress.
She describes how Tennessee Rep. Janis Baird Sontany said at a recent breakfast that when it comes to Republican women, "You have to lift their skirts to find out if they are women. You sure can't find out by how they vote." That elicited a response from Michelle Malkin not unlike Meghan McCain's: "When liberals can't handle GOP women, they infantilize, sexualize, demonize and dehumanize them." [emphasis added]
You know what, Michelle Malkin is right.  And it really pains me to say that.  I wouldn't say "liberals do this," as she did, but I would certainly say it's a behavior I've seen applied to Republican women more than once.  Sontany's comment is completely sexist, not to mention it reeks of transphobia.  I understand the idea, expressed elsewhere in Rigdon's column, that female politicians on either side of the aisle use a passageway paved by feminists, so should be willing to pay a "toll" to maintain that passageway.  Nonetheless, if they choose to support different political viewpoints, my principles of feminism dictate I should support their right to speak these views as equals, free from gendered ad hominem attacks.  If we attack their womanness, using ugly rape metaphors, how can we ever expect to stand on the platform we're mad they're not building?  I choose a different path: to criticize their positions while fighting for their right to express them.

That means you can vote Republican (at the poll or in Congress), and I'll still defend your right to be treated with respect.  Not deference, mind you, but basic human respect.


  1. While we're at it, did I detect a bit of transphobia in that comment? Because obviously being a woman is solely determined by the shape of your genitals here.

  2. Yes, I actually pointed that out, but you're absolutely right. Comments like that are ugly and misogynistic to all types of women. The whole, "if you act a certain way, you must have a penis" idea has been used against strong women who were considered outside their "place" throughout history. Now the idea that different genitalia should define your behavior is used against trans women.


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