Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell has said some strange things in her public life. She admitted to dabbling in witchcraft and then recanted that statement with one of the most bizarre political ads of the season. She’s become late night comedy cold with her seemingly never-ending store of anti-masturbation quotes from her days as a purity pundit. She’s even suggested women serving in the military are a threat to national security.
It’s that last one that makes her latest “she really said that?” moment perhaps the strangest one yet. During a recent interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, O’Donnell listed both God and feminist leader Gloria Steinem as sources of inspiration when times get tough on the campaign trail.
Asked about the double standard for women in politics, O’Donnell responded:
I don’t feel it because I don’t watch the news. (Laughs) No. I do feel it. There’s certainly a double standard and I don’t often quote Gloria Steinem but she said you can look at a double standard if they wouldn’t attack the male opponent that way and there’s no doubt that they wouldn;t say the things they’re saying about me, they wouldn’t do the things that they’re doing if I weren’t a woman. I’m not whining but there certainly is a double standard especially when it comes to conservative woman.
O’Donnell seems to be referring to Steinem’s Statement on Equality, issued earlier this year upon the launch of Name It, Change It, a non-partisan effort to stamp out sexism in politics and political reporting. Steinem said, in part:
The most workable definition of equality for journalists is reversibility. Don’t mention her young children unless you would also mention his, or describe her clothes unless you would describe his, or say she’s shrill or attractive unless the same adjectives would be applied to a man. Don’t say she’s had facial surgery unless you say he dyes his hair or has hair plugs. Don’t say she’s just out of graduate school but he’s a rising star. Don’t say she has no professional training but he worked his way up. Don’t ask her if she’s running as a women’s candidate unless you ask him if he’s running as a men’s candidate; ask both about the gender gap, the women’s vote.
Neither candidates nor journalists, it seems, have been good at heeding that advice this election season. The Krystal Ball photos. Ken Buck asking voters to “vote for me because I don’t wear high heels.” Male and female candidates coming up with endless iterations of “man up.” And, of course, Jay Leno’s particularly nasty oral sex joke about O’Donnell herself.
So is it really possible that the Tea Party’s new female darling — who believes abortion should be illegal in all cases, who can’t locate separation of church in the Constitution or name a Supreme Court case, and thinks women serving in the military “cripples the readiness of our defense” – and the godmother of American feminism actually agree on something?
Not likely. Steinem ended her ‘Statement of Equality’ with this:
However, this does NOT mean being even-handedly positive or negative when only one person or side has done something positive or negative. Equality allows accuracy.
If Christine O’Donnell were a male candidate who stumbled into his party’s Senate nomination, he would be laughed out of the political arena as unqualified and unfit to serve. Just take as a counterbalance South Carolina’s Democratic nominee for Senate, Alvin Greene. Like O’Donnell, Greene has a sketchy employment and education history and little actual chance of taking the oath of office come January. Unlike O’Donnell, he’s been disavowed by his party and, after a few national interviews in which he fumbled for words and a coherent policy profile, has slipped into obscurity despite still being on the ballot.
When John McCain nominated an unqualified, incoherent political neophyte named Sarah Palin as his 2008 running mate, the GOP was not making strides for gender equality. Instead, it was the beginning of a party policy of lowering the bar for women candidates, a practice as sexist as raising it, as in the case of Hillary Clinton being forced to run as tougher, meaner, and manlier than any of her 2008 primary opponents. The backlash Christine O’Donnell is experiencing is not, as she says, against conservative women, but against the idea that she and others like her are really as good as female candidates can and should be.
Unfortunately for O’Donnell, the women of Delaware aren’t buying the GOP’s sexism parading as empowerment. Female Delawareans prefer her Democratic rival Chris Coons by a 27 point margin, as compared to the 11 point lead for Coons among men.
In the same CBN interview, O’Donnell talked about praying to God to win the election. In the face of those poll numbers, she might be better off calling Gloria Steinem to find out what a real pro-woman candidate looks like.
Michael Johns, via Creative Commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeldjohns/4534961636/