Was Specter Out of Line Telling Bachmann to “Act Like a Lady”

As a progressive writer, feminist, and activist from the cold, cold state of Minnesota, I’m going to do something that is very difficult for me.  I’m going to try and look at the exchange between Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Minnesota’s own rabidly conservative congresswoman, Rep. Michele Bachmann with an open mind.  Was Specter being arrogant and patriarchal when he told Bachmann to “act like a lady?”  Or has the comment been blown out of porportion by a party of people who ironically enough love to tell women what they are really thinking?

First, the background:

Specter’s remarks came during a special broadcast from Washington of the Giordano show to mark the first year of President Obama’s term.

Specter, the 79-year-old Republican-turned-Democrat, who is facing a tough primary, and Bachmann, 53, a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement, were Giordano’s first guests.

At one point during an exchange over the health-care bill, Specter noted that Bachmann had said she voted for prosperity.

“Well, prosperity wasn’t a bill,” the Pennsylvania senator began to explain.

“Well, why don’t we make it a bill?” said Bachmann, talking over him.

“Now wait a minute,” Specter said. “Don’t interrupt me. I didn’t interrupt you. Act like a lady.”

“Well, I think I am a lady,” Bachmann said.

“I think you are, too,” Specter said. “That’s why I’m treating you like one. But just don’t interrupt me.”

Needless to say, conservatives have been completely up at arms over this comment.  “Jan Larimer, cochair of the Republican National Committee, said yesterday that Specter’s remarks were ‘disrespectful’ and ‘demeaning to all women.’”  Bachmann is decrying his “arrogance,”  saying he “basically told me to sit down and be quiet.”

She’s right.  He did tell her to sit down and be quiet.  But that was because she was interrupting him. 

With nearly 30 years in the senate under his belt, the rules of civility that are second nature in congressional debate are no doubt reflexive to him.  Congresspeople refer to each other as “esteemed collegue,” “gentleman” or “gentlewoman.”   The term “lady” to him, both from his history in office and from being of an older generation would not be as loaded as it could be for those of us under the age of 60.

Then, there is the fact that Bachmann wasn’t upset by his term, but for being told to stop talking.  Her response back, “I think I am a lady,” shows clearly that she embraces that word and the characteristics implied by it.

Of course, the Republicans have taken the clip and run, in an attempt to help Specter’s opponent in the next election.  And, without the smallest trace of irony, the RNC is claiming Specter is treating women like “second class citizens” (because taking away their rights to their own bodies, on the other hand, is NOT treating them like second class citizens).

But so much of that is the regular drumbeats of election day politics.  Find an alleged scandal, have multiple people use it in a chance to advance a candidate, and see how much fundraising you can get from it.

Specter has now appologized to Bachmann for his remarks, hoping to get the incident off the news and blogs.  And the broohaha will likely die down without ever making it far beyond the right wing echo chamber.  As one local progressive female politician put it, “I was angry with him over the Thomas-Hill hearings [another incident in which he was accused of talking down to women]. But I forgave him, because of all he has done for women on every other front. In supporting the Violence Against Women Act, choice, NIH funding, equal pay, and other concerns, Arlen Specter has been there for the women of Pennsylvania.”

I’d have a few choice words for people who try to misuse claims of sexism to advance a party that revels in its own love of subjugating women, but I won’t print them here. 

After all, I am a lady.



Kate M
Kate Mabout a month ago

Thank you.

W. C
W. Cabout a month ago


William C
William Cabout a month ago

Thank you.

JoAnn Paris
JoAnn Paris4 years ago

I would have bought tickets to this.

Debra M.
Debra G6 years ago

This is silly twisting of words. The Republican Party has the spin machine on full blast. She was being rude, and apparently needed to be told. I hate when people talk over one another, it is a sign of rudeness, self centeredness, and just bad behavior.

JAMES HOLLEY6 years ago

Specter, bless his heart, just chose the wrong words. He should have said, "Act like an adult."
Children interupting adults is a common thing amongst children, and we usually correct them with "Act like an adult," or, more commonly, "Act like a young man" or "Act like a young lady."
These are the three most common ways (here in the south) that we correct kids when they interrupt us. Specter's response was just a knee-jerk reaction to interruption.
What is really on cue is the way that Bachmann has reacted. If we thought she was being childish before by interrupting, then she's really acting her age now..............

Nita L.
N L6 years ago

The question above is not correct. Specter did not tell Bachmann to be a lady. He told her to act like a lady because she was interrupting him. That is quite different. If she had been male, I am quite sure he would have been told to act like a gentleman and stop interrupting. Many people need to learn to act like ladies and gentlemen in this regard. This remark was not sexist.

Victoria M.
Past Member 6 years ago

she needs to find some manners.

Sylvia W.
Sylvia W8 years ago

I'm no huge fan of Spector, but he was neither sexist nor rude. She, on the other hand, took his gentle rebuke and tried to play the 'sexist' card, just as some people would play the 'race' card. I have no patience with folks who try to turn a perceived or invented slight to an unfair advantage. She was rude to interrupt, and while his wording is a bit old-fashioned, well DUH - she was behaving rudely - AKA not like a lady - and he is of an age where that was precisely the turn of phrase was appropriate. If that poor excuse for a tempest in a teacup was the only way she could get one up on him she has bigger problems than a comment like that.

I have no patience with rudeness - even if it's artificial - that Shell commercial where there are a couple of male techs and a woman, and one of the guys starts to tell about their 'new improved' product and she interrupts - grr - gets under my skin! Courtesy is not gender specific - you want courtesy, you have to give it!

Fred S.
Fred S8 years ago

Let the "Lady" act like a lady!