In what I can only assume is an attempt to “humanize” the candidates, debate moderator Liz Benjamin asked New York Senate candidates Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Wendy Long (R) if they’ve ever read the erotica-lite 50 Shades of Grey. Apparently New Yorkers need to know this.
To Benjamin’s defense, she doesn’t look pleased to be asking the question, and according to Policy Mic, the question was one in a series of “lightning round” questions not designed for the candidates to spend much time answering. But still the question was asked, and not during a sit-down on The View, but during a candidates debate designed to educate voters on the candidate’s positions and plans for office.
Can you imagine Jim Lehrer asking such a question during the presidential debate? Sen. Gillibrand has built an impressive record in the Senate fighting for equal pay, family leave and pushing back against reproductive rights restrictions. Her competition is a hard-right conservative who insists Republican assaults on women and the middle-class are simply figments of a deluded liberal imagination. There couldn’t be a starker contrast between the two candidates and, as such, there is plenty for the two to debate.
And even if the organizers wanted a moment to inject a little levity, there are plenty of ways to do so without asking two women candidates if they enjoy a little fetish-escapism on the side.
What if either candidate had said yes, then what? The question is not just tacky and inappropriate during a policy debate, it undercuts any success women have had generally in breaking through into leadership ranks in this country. Admitting to reading it would expose Gillibrand to slut-shaming by the right while Long’s admission would likely be used as further proof the war on women is a fiction.
Of course, if this country was anything other than still totally flipped out by the idea of female sexual empowerment then such a question wouldn’t even come up — the titaliation factor would be non-existent. Instead, thanks to the patriarchy, not only does it come up, but it does so in one of the most awkward and inappropriate manners conceivable.
Photo from gaelx via flickr.