"I will fight to the death to protect you from sexist and misogynistic references, because when you are attacked, all women are attacked," said the head of the Women's Campaign Forum. She was talking to Christine O'Donnell.
Siobhan Bennett was unveiling new research about how sexism affects female candidates: Pollster Celinda Lake found that calling a woman candidate an "ice queen" or a "mean girl" could cost as her much as twenty-two percentage points in support. It's the next prong of the "Name It, Change It" campaign, and conveniently for the name of the campaign, the study also found the following:
The female candidate's numbers went back up when voters heard the attacks called "inappropriate." The numbers went even higher if they were labeled "sexist, divisive rhetoric."
We like to keep those three words on hand — glad to know they make a difference!
Which brings us back to O'Donnell. Bennett is a progressive Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2008 and now leads an organization that is non-partisan but says it "endorses qualified women candidates who support reproductive choices running for all levels of office, nationwide." She went on Fox News last week and called attacks on O'Donnell "sexist and misogynistic. It's unfair, it's wrong, it must be stopped."
O'Donnell isn't easy to reach these days, but Bennett says O'Donnell called to thank her. "She said, 'You are the only person who has stood up and defended me since my race started, and I want to thank you for that.'"
Except... have the attacks on O'Donnell been "sexist and misogynistic"? Sure, they have been glib and mocking — par for the course when there's so much video evidence of her insouciant wingnuttery. And they have involved sex, but only because that was O'Donnell's topic of choice until she discovered a vague and sudden passion for tax cuts.
But aside from Dan Savage's masturbation campaign, hardly a mainstream or wide-scale affair, what could be called sexist? Maybe we haven't been paying close enough attention (though it's been pretty close), but we haven't seen anyone say O'Donnell is unqualified because she's a woman (she is unqualified because she's a PR hack who is both wrong on and seems profoundly unfamiliar with, the issues), or comment at length (or much at all) about her appearance.
It's true, feminists should defend women from sexist and misogynistic attacks, and we said as much when we grimaced over Ben Affleck and Bill Maher's smarmy condescension of a decade ago. And if anything newly unfair emerges, we'll absolutely call it out.
But all criticism of a woman isn't necessarily sexist. And it's even more of an eye-rolling stretch when that distinction is sacrificed on behalf of a woman who actively supports policies that would hurt other women.