By Carey Roberts
Have you noticed how often politicos are playing the gender card these days? The upswing can be traced back to January – that's when Nancy Pelosi was confirmed as Speaker of the House and Hillary Clinton announced her presidential run.
But how many persons truly appreciate the finer points of this latest round of the age-old battle of the sexes? For those who are keeping score, here's a run-down of the saucy schemes:
1. Play the Victim. This well-honed gambit appeals both to men's sense of chivalry and women's sense of angst.
Mrs. Pelosi employed it when she crowed, "I've broken the marble ceiling." And Hillary Clinton incessantly plays this tune with catch-phrases like "now it's women's turn to be heard."
Portraying women as victims is a tactic that is used by male politicians, as well. Senator Joseph Biden, for example, is always good for a juicy sound-bite on abused women, somehow forgetting that women assault their partners as often as men.
And no surprise, Nancy and Hillary are now squaring off in a private contest of play-the-victim one-upmanship. Recently on ABC's This Week, Pelosi lamented, "it's harder to become Speaker of the House than president of the United States for a woman."
Yes, Mrs. Pelosi, I'm feeling your pain.
2. Make Preposterous Claims. Make no mistake, this is Mrs. Clinton's strong suit. These are my favorites from the Hillorama hit parade:
- "Women have always been the primary victims of war."
- "Here we are at the beginning of the 21st century and women still earn significantly less than men for doing the same jobs."
- "Women are 70% of the world's poor."
- "Women were routinely excluded from major clinical trials of most illnesses."
3. Pretend to be Mother Superior. San Fran Nan has become the latest poster girl for the "do what mother says if you know what's good for you" school of political persuasion.
In January, Pelosi made history by becoming the first Speaker of the House to publicly flex her biceps with seven grandchildren gasping in disbelief. And earlier this month she used the occasion of Mother's Day as a backdrop for her latest tirade on the Iraq war.
The mother-knows-best strategy can be deployed against other women, as well. In January, secretary of state Condi Rice went to the Senate to defend president Bush's Iraq strategy, only to encounter a feisty senator Barbara Boxer.
"Who pays the price? I'm not going to pay a personal price," Boxer exclaimed in front of the cameras. "My kids are too old, and my grandchild is too young." Then turning to Rice: "You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family."
Sometimes the political gets very personal.
4. Appeal to the Uber-Female. Some feminists believe that women represent a superior species, a higher force for moral enlightenment.
Like Marie Wilson of the White House Project, who once claimed that female politicians lead "from an other-centered perspective." In contrast, male pols – the guys who enacted female-friendly laws like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and breast cancer research -- tend to be "self-centered."
A couple years ago Hillary made the astonishing claim that "Research shows the presence of women raises the standards of ethical behavior and lowers corruption." Folks, we'll let that one pass without comment, OK?
And one day an unhinged Barbara Jordan, former congresswoman from Texas, came up with this empathic insight: "I believe that women have a capacity for understanding and compassion which a man structurally does not have."
5. Resort to Sex Appeal. When female politicians need an extra boost, they have one more high-card up their sleeves – their feminine charms.
Like representative Loretta Sanchez of California, affectionately known on Capitol Hill as "the babe." When asked by a reporter who would play her on television, Sanchez replied Jennifer Lopez, since "I've got a big booty." And during a recent interview, Sanchez needed to change for her next appearance, so she stripped down to her black bra in front of the female reporter.
Across the Atlantic, French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal did not hesitate to capitalize on her ou-la-la to garner media attention and male votes, once allowing herself to be photographed in high-heels and a satiny-pink negligee.
In the not-too-distant past, candidates for political office scored points based on their record of accomplishment and command of the issues. But now the rational exchange of ideas is at risk of becoming a relic of the patriarchal past.
One day soon politicians will hopefully renounce the use of gender pandering and shrill stereotypes and will forgo displays of racy undergarments. That's when they will be viewed as serious candidates working to improve the lot of all Americans.
Carey Roberts is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.