This is the official SocImages Election 2012 Sexism Watch.  We add content, as it arises, in reverse chronological order.


#9 Bachmann Pours Away Presidential Bid

How did we miss this one? Representative Michele Bachmann performed the comically gendered role of pouring water for all of the (male) Republican candidates and the (male) host at the start of the Republican Family Forum debate in Iowa this past November.

Some of the candidates seemed uncomfortable at this puzzling behavior, and the host joked, “I want to begin by thanking Representative Bachmann for taking care of the water for today’s event.” It’s possible that Bachmann only intended to pour water for the person sitting next to her, but was put on the spot when the host assumed she would pour water for everyone.

This event was hosted by CitizenLink, the political action arm of the uber-conservative Christian organization, Focus on the Family. CitizenLink describes itself as a “family advocacy organization that inspires men and women to live out biblical citizenship that transforms culture.” They promote traditional families as the “building block of society,” so it’s possible that Bachmann was strategically catering to an audience that is less supportive of women in “unconventional” roles.

Whether intentional or unintentional, Bachmann’s actions highlight the contradiction between traditional gender roles and conceptions of leadership.  And the lack of media focus on this incident illustrates how unremarkable it is for a woman to be in a service role in the company of men.  If Governor Rick Perry had gone around the table and dutifully poured water for all of the Republican primary contenders, it would have made the front page.

More Election 2012 Sexism Watch after the jump!


#8 Bachmann Enters Stage to “Lyin’ Ass Bitch”

November 25th, 2011
Caroline Heldman, Contributor

Earlier this week, Michele Bachmann entered the set of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon accompanied by the musical musings of The Roots covering the Fishbone song, “Lyin’ Ass Bitch.”

Glenn Beck responded by calling Fallon a “despicable human being.” The Women’s Media Center noted that this gender slur was both “sexist and unfunny.” Fallon has since apologized.


#7 Manicure Alert

November 5th, 2011
Caroline Heldman, Contributor

Michele Bachmann’s French manicure has created quite the chatter amongst bloggers and “news” organizations (see herehereherehere,here, and here) who are debating whether the polish style is classy, tacky, or even worth discussing.  Hint: It’s not worth discussing any more than it’s worth discussing the accumulation of dirt under Bachman’s male competitors’ nails.

The ever-important manicure topic previously drew attention during the 2004 presidential race when a Fox News reporter used homophobic slurs in an attempt to diminish John Kerry’s candidacy.

But maybe I’m overlooking the electoral influence of manicures.  BloggerDarren Garnick writes that “Perhaps one of the most overlooked moments of the 2008 presidential race was the endorsement of Barack Obama by Empress Stephanie, one of the nation’s most influential nail polish bloggers.”


#6 “Thank God” (She Kept Her Clothes On)

October 8th, 2011
Caroline Heldman, Contributor

The senate race between Republican incumbent Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren has taken a sexist turn.  During last Tuesday’s debate, a college studentposed this question to Warren:

To help pay for his law school education, Scott Brown posed for Cosmo. How did you pay for your college education?

Warren responded, “I kept my clothes on…I borrowed money.”

The topic surfaced again a few days later when Brown was asked to respond to Warren’s comment on local radio station WZLX. His response? “Thank God” (she kept her clothes on), eliciting raucous laughter from the male disc jockeys in the studio.

This planned comment was certainly vetted by Brown’s campaign and had the double impact of belittling her physical appearance and reminding voters that women are first and foremost judged by their appearance, despite other accomplishments.

In this same interview, Brown went on to defend his decision to pose nude by painting Warren as an elitist. “Bottom line is, you know, I didn’t go to Harvard, you know, I went to the school of hard knocks, and I did whatever I had to do to pay for school,’’ he said.

But here’s the thing.  Elizabeth Warren did not attend Harvard. She’s the daughter of a janitor who started waiting tables when she was barely a teenager, and later worked and borrowed to pay her way through the University of Houston and Rutgers School of Law. Warren worked her way up to becoming a professor at Harvard Law School.

In addition to attending the school of “hard knocks,” Brown also attended Tufts University and Boston College School of Law.


#5 Bachmann Denies Sexism

September 27th, 2011
Caroline Heldman, Contributor

From The Factor, September 26, 2011:

O’Reilly: “Do you think you’re being treated differently because you’re the only woman in the race?  Here you’ve got eight sweaty guys – they’re all sweaty – and then you’re there.  Are you being treated differently because you’re the only woman in the race, do you think?”

Bachmann: “You know I don’t think so. I’ve never felt that way. I grew up with three brother and no sisters.”

O’Reilly: “So there’s no gender bias, anything like that?”

Bachmann: “No, I grew up with three brothers and no sisters. That’s the best preparation for politics that any girl can have.  I don’t feel in any way that I’m discriminated against. I’m just grateful to be able to be in the race. I think it’s wonderful…”

O’Reilly: That’s refreshing to hear.  Remember Hillary Clinton when she ran last time [scoffs], ‘you know, I’m getting hammered because I’m a woman….’ You don’t see it that way.”

Bachmann: “I don’t think so. All of us have to go through this.”

Where to begin with this video. O’Reilly reduces men to “natural” brutes with his two kidding-on-the-square comments that the male primary contenders are “eight sweaty guys.” Bachmann then affirms this idea with her contention that growing up with three brothers prepared her for politics, insinuating that she is well versed in responding to (naturally brutish) male behavior. Can I get a “boys will be boys” here?

Then, after Bachmann draws a clear distinction in the way boys/men and girls/women behave, she claims that she is not being treated differently because she is the only woman in the race. “All of us have to go through this.”

There’s pressure for Bachmann to not complain about the (obvious) sexism she faces for fear of being labeled a “victim”/weak, even though it has likely already cost her the candidacy. O’Reilly’s effusive praise of Bachmann’s denial of sexism — “refreshing” — is evidence of this pressure.

O’Reilly then scoffs at Hillary Clinton’s claim that she faced sexism in the 2008 election, despite ample research finding that she did (hereherehere, and here), and egregious examples, including audience members yelling and holding up the sign “Iron My Shirt” at several campaign events.

Being the first candidate to have a nutcracker made in her likeness:

Rush Limbaugh asking about Clinton, “Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?”

Author Marc Rudov speaking on Fox News: “When Barack Obama speaks, men hear, ‘Take off for the future.’ And when Hillary Clinton speaks, men hear, ‘Take out the garbage’” (in a mocking high pitch).

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews describing Clinton’s senatorial victory speech:

It can grate on some men when they listen to it, fingernails on a blackboard… How does she do it without screaming? How does she do it without becoming grating?

Washington Post reporter Joel Achenbach writing that Clinton “needs a radio-controlled shock collar so that aides can zap her when she starts to get screechy. She came perilously close to going on a tirade.”

MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson featuring Republican strategist Roger Stone, creator of the anti–Hillary Clinton 527 organization, “Citizens United, Not Timid”—or C.U.N.T.

“Progressive” Air American radio host Randi Rhodes declaring at a network event that Clinton and former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro were “fucking whores.”

Some of the most egregious examples of altered, degrading images of Hillary Clinton that littered the Internet during the election can be found at Women-America (trigger warning: nudity, pornography) and in this video montage:

Perhaps O’Reilly was channeling Chris Matthews who asked, “Is Hillary out of line for painting herself as a victimized woman every time her male rivals criticize her? And do we want a president who plays the gender card every time her opponents attack her?”

Presidential candidates run with the knowledge that they will be attacked, but can O’Reilly honestly say that Clinton wasn’t getting hammered because she was a woman given this mountain of evidence? It’s great that O’Reilly is giving face time to a female presidential contender, but his mocking dismissal of sexism on the presidential campaign trail hurts Bachmann and future female contenders.


#4  And Then There Were Two?

September 12th, 2011
Caroline Heldman, Contributor

Major news outlets have deemed the competition for the Republican nomination contest a two-man race, including:

This early framing of the contest as a two-man race may effectively end Michele Bachmann’s candidacy, despite her winning the Ames Straw Poll (knocking Tim Pawlenty out of the race) and polls showing that she, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul have considerably more support than other candidates. Also, according to this Gallup poll, Bachmann and Perry generate more positive intensity than Romney.

CNN Reporter Roland Martin’s blood is boiling at journalists for prematurely framing the nomination as a two-man race: “Our actions are utterly shameful when we choose to negate every other candidate solely because we have determined that they can’t be elected… coverage is slanted toward those who we think stand the best chance at winning, thereby depriving any other candidate the opportunity to put their message forward.”

According to the Gallup poll below, Bachmann’s support increased slightly in July and August, while Romney support fell with Perry’s entrance into the race.

An August 24, 2011 PPP poll shows a closer race with Perry at 33%, Romney at 20%, and Bachmann at 16% support amongst Republicans. Aside from differences in polling methods and numbers, it is important to note that were are five months away from the first primary election, and these numbers will shift, perhaps dramatically. Perry is still enjoying a Honeymoon period, and the race will likely get tighter as voters find out more about him and his record. John McCain, the winner of the 2008 Republican nomination, trailed in national polls until the end of December in 2007, so discounting candidates this far in advance can artificially and anti-democratically limit choice.

The two-man race framing was evident during the third Republican debate last week at the Reagan Library where Perry and Romney were asked more questions than the other candidates and given more opportunities to respond to each another, especially at the start of the debate when they verbally sparred back and forth while the other candidates stood idly by.

I propose that the ease with which Bachmann’s candidacy has been discarded by the press has something to do with her being a woman. I witnessed something similar happen to Elizabeth Dole during the 2000 Republican nomination contest. Despite running a strong second in the polls, enjoying high favorability ratings (75% favorable impression compared to 69% for George W. Bush in March, 1999), and beating Al Gore in a hypothetical head-to-head contest, Dole was never considered a “real” candidate because she was a woman.  Relentlessly biased press coverage contributed greatly to her failed candidacy, as noted in this research and by her campaign manager (and later White House Press Secretary) Ari Fleisher. Hillary Clinton’s 2008 candidacy was also hindered by blatant and subtle sexism in press coverage, as documented in several studies, including this one.

In the back of the minds of many pundits and reporters, Bachmann has never been a serious contender because she is a woman, and this two-man framing all but ensures that she will not be.


#3  Sexism and Bachmann’s Problematic Female Personality

August 22nd, 2011
Caroline Heldman, Contributor

Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has already faced a steady stream of blatant sexism since considering a presidential run.  In June, Fox News host Chris Wallace asked her the question, “are you a flake?”  Then in mid-July, Bill Maher mused during an interview with a laughing Piers Morgan that Bachmann and Sarah Palin would “split the MILF vote.”

About the same time, Bachmann faced intense focus on her migraines.  This medical ailment mostly affects women and was presented as a biological factor limiting fitness for the presidency, reminiscent of arguments about menstruation.  A few weeks later, sexism was spotted again in a Newsweekcover featuring Bachmann with “crazy eyes” that presented a visual representation of the “crazy women” frame used against Hillary Clinton in 2008.


#2  Only Women Get in Cat Fights

August 22nd, 2011

Caroline Heldman, Contributor

We imagine that women are in competition with each other in a way that they are not with men specifically because we see them as women first, and people second.

Bachmann was asked the “catfight” question by Fox News host Bret Baier:

BAIER:  Former governor Sarah Palin is here in Iowa this week as well.  She’s not in this race yet either. Congresswoman Bachmann, is she stealing your thunder?

BACHMANN:  I like Sarah Palin a lot.  We are very good friends. And I think there’s room in the race for Governor Perry, Sarah Palin, or even, Bret, you, too, if you want to throw your hat into the race.

BAIER:  I think I’ll be out of this one. (LAUGHTER)

This question reveals at least three disturbing assumptions about female presidential contenders.

First, since Palin is a female candidate, she would only be stealing thunder from another female candidate (based on the assumption is that female candidates don’t pose a real threat to male candidates).

Secondly, this question implies not only an interchangeability of female candidates, but also the idea that there’s only room in the race for one token candidate (again, revealing the assumption that female candidates aren’t “real” candidates).

And lastly, this question assumes that if two women are in a race (and let’s be clear here – Palin is not in the race), they will compete with each other as women in a way that supersedes the electoral competition.  Politico reporter, Maggie Haberman, caught up with Palin who noted the obvious sexism in this question:

“Just because there may happen to be two women in the race, that they would you know as Michele had put it once, get in the mud and engage in some catfighting that’s ridiculous. It’s kind of even a sexist notion to consider that two women would be kind of duking it out… If I’m gonna duke it out I’m gonna duke it out with the guys.”


#1  Whose Marriages are Relevant?

August 22nd, 2011

Caroline Heldman, Contributor

Sexism in the electoral arena is easy to determine with a simple test: “Does this action (in this case, two questions) treat Bachmann differently than her male competitors?”

During the Republican debate in Iowa last week, Washington Examiner reporter Byron York asked this question:

“Representative Bachmann, in 2006, when you were running for Congress, you described a moment in your life when your husband said you should study for a degree in tax law. You said you hated the idea. And then you explained, ‘But the Lord said, Be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.’ As president, would you be submissive to your husband?”

In response, Bachmann offered a ridiculous revision of the meaning of the word “submission” (“submission… it means respect.”)  But she never should have been asked that question in the first place.  Bachman’s views on power dynamics in her marriage are irrelevant to the presidential contest, and since her male competitors were not asked if they uphold the prevailing societal/religious notion that men should be the head of household, this question was gendered and unfair.


For past examples of sexism in U.S. presidential politics, see the round up of our coverage of the 2008 election.

Caroline Heldman is a professor of politics at Occidental College. You can follow her at her blog and on Twitter and Facebook.