Only themselves to blame

Two quotes, by one author, in the course of a single column.

A. Might the politics of women change if more women were in politics? Even now, fewer than two out of ten members of Congress are female. For this, women have only themselves to blame.

B. Perversely, a decade of high-profile role models has done nothing to make a political career more alluring. If anything, the experiences of the likes of Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and the former House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, appear to have produced the opposite effect. If the survey of nearly 4,000 well-qualified men and women is to be believed, the treatment meted out to these women confirmed the fears of others about venturing into the snake pit of politics. Two out of three of those surveyed thought that Mrs Clinton and Mrs Palin were the victims of sexist media coverage, including excessive reporting on their appearance.

Ah yes. Only themselves to blame.

6 thoughts on “Only themselves to blame

  1. I don’t think it’s fair to characterize the author’s message as “women have only themselves to blame.” The author identifies the ultimate cause (and thus where the blame lies) as just the sort of thing a standard feminist analysis would point to — institutionalized sexism, the institution here being the media (and, presumably, political institutions with which the media are in a symbiotic relation). Given the way Clinton and Palin have been treated by sexist institutions, it’s rational (although bad for all of us) for women to choose, in disproportionate numbers, to stay out of political careers. Who wants to be raked over the coals by sexist institutions?

  2. The author’s message is both of these, it seems to me. The “only themselves to blame” line is, after all, theirs. You’re right, though about what the author’s message *should* be.

  3. From that same piece: “In short, what women mainly lack is political ambition.”

  4. There’s a really interesting and helpful book to be written about sexism and presidential politics because the ways these cases interrelate and contrast are fascinating. I was particularly struck by the case of Michelle Bachmann.

    In a way, sexism both made and destroyed Bachmann’s run at the Republican nomination. Sexism made her campaign because Republican fetishizing of her and the idea of a woman in power is the reason why someone with a resume as lousy as hers stood out in the first place. Compare Bachmann to Thaddeus McCotter. You don’t know who McCotter is? That’s exactly the point. McCotter had a resume almost identical to Bachmann’s (a few terms in the House in a swing-state, outlandish Tea Party-inspired policy views, etc.). No one covered McCotter’s campaign and it died a slow and boring death.

    But interviews with Republican voters and Republican insiders, not to mention the sexist media coverage, show that she was being objectified and not taken seriously by men in power.

  5. I agree, M. Atherton, that at some points, the author used language that’s best avoided (and is downright offensive taken out of context). But I don’t think my interpretation of the piece overall is a matter of wishful thinking (as Jender’s comment might be taken to suggest).

    I don’t think the blogger was distancing him/herself from what the survey respondents said about the ultimate cause of women’s lack of ambition (which in the article seems to be operationalized to mean no more than that women are disproportionately unwilling to run). In fact, the rationale for saying it’s only women who have themselves to blame also is simply reported from the study: “The problem, according to a recent study and survey by Jennifer Lawless of American University and Richard Fox of Loyola Marymount University, is that so few choose to run.” I don’t see why we would accept that the author is endorsing one part of the study but not another.

    Here’s another reason to choose the charitable reading. Although much of the piece is written in the language of neutral reporting, some of the author’s remarks suggest that the s/he is ultimately on the side of gender justice. Consider: “Mr Romney’s promise to defund Planned Parenthood, the organisation on which millions of poor women depend for family planning (including abortion), or by the antics of Republican state legislatures. In recent months newspapers have carried startling reports about Republican-governed states pushing women who seek early abortions to have a probe inserted into their vaginas, in order to provide an image of the unborn child, in the hope that the picture will change their minds. The lowest moment in the primary sex wars came when Rush Limbaugh, a radio jock with huge influence inside the Republican Party, said on air that a young woman who wanted her (Catholic) university’s insurance plan to cover contraception was a “slut”.”

    Startling reports? Antics? Pushing women to have probes inserted in their vaginas? Lowest moment? On which poor women depend? Granted the author stops short of condemning Republicans in confrontational terms. Still, these sound like the word-choices of someone who, on balance, disapproves of the Republican war on women. (And look at the cartoon at the top!)

    Also, consider another explanation bruited by the author (with no hint of disapproval) of women’s unwillingness to go into politics: “women in America still do most of the child care and household work.” Sounds to me like a point that might well be offered as part of a feminist analysis of the situation.

  6. May I recommend the book by Vermont’s first female governor, _Pearls, Politics and Power: How Women can Win and Lead_, by Madeline Kunin. She was the first to tell me, when I asked why there aren’t more women governors, “Women wait to be asked. And men don’t ask.” She identifies the responsibilities as wide and as shared.

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