One thing I wondered as soon as news that Texas Governor Rick Perry might consider entering the presidential race started circulating was what it would mean for the Michele Bachmann candidacy. Bachmann and Perry appeal in a large part to the same constituency — the “take back America, values voters, one country under a Christian God” faction of the Republican party. The more Perry began to appear as a viable, electable option, the more you would begin to see subtle dog whistles to the evangelical community that would signal one key question standing between her and a GOP nomination.
Do you really want a woman to lead you?
It’s a realistic question to ask, when you belong to a movement that believes that the wife should be led by the husband, and it has been plaguing Bachmann in the background of the race to the point where she was even asked directly during the latest debate.
In the beginning of Bachmann’s national political career, and continuing into the start of this presidential campaign, the conservative movement was busy making it clear that sexist coverage of Bachmann was not to be tolerated. Although she could tout her dozens of children and foster children as part of her “mother” package, and play up the “photogenic” parts of her campaign, the pundits on the right made sure to call out any instance of implying her errors or gaffes were airheadedness as sexist, gendered attacks on the candidate.
Then something changed. Right about when Perry started hinting he would enter the race, the “migraine” story hit, and few Republican politicians or pundits called it out for what it was — an obvious attempt to show her as too “weak” and frail to handle the stresses of commander in chief. As Perry’s pre-candidacy gained steam, the infamous Newsweek cover appeared, and although the right discussed the obvious biases of a liberal media, they ignored the sexist ramifications of the media attempting to derail a female politician’s candidacy by manipulating the public perception via photos.
Now that Perry is officially in, the episodes are escalating, with Republicans no longer willing to call the media on its gender double standards and some conservatives adding fuel to the fire themselves. Suddenly, the “female candidate puts something phallic in her mouth” inevitable photo, in this case Bachmann eating a corndog in Iowa, is making the rounds on the internet. Reports are coming out that she didn’t glad hand enough at the Sunday GOP fundraiser, that she arrived late and allegedly asked for a lighting change, all implying a “diva” status that only applies to irrational, hard to work with women. According to one editorial in the Washington Post, Perry “actually looks like a president”, hence, conversely, Bachmann does not.
Because despite everything, “looking” like a president still means male, and for the most part white.
Until Perry came along, these were memes that the Republicans would push back on to protect their most viable social conservative candidate. Now that they have a back up, and one who “looks” better, they’re not only willing to let these attacks go, but instigate a few themselves.
And once more, it’s the women who will suffer for it.
Photo credit: fibonacciblue