I know Michele Bachmann and Hillary Clinton are at complete opposite ends of the political spectrum, but now that the congresswoman from Minnesota has made her 2012 presidential bid official, she should prepare herself for the inevitable increased amount of media sexism and go to school on Clinton’s 2008 experiences.
“Flake” and “balloon head” are just the beginning from those who can’t get their own heads around the idea of challenging Bachmann on her political views rather than dusting off the usual sexist political playbook.
Many GOP leaders were huge Bachmann fans as she rallied her Tea Party base on their issues, but as she started making noise about going head-to-head with the “more serious” or “more likely” Republican candidates like Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich and others, her GOP BFFs have gotten a little distant. They don’t call, they don’t write. Once upon a time Republican Congressional leadership was happy to bask in whatever conservative spotlight Bachmann provided for their political agenda, but that all changed when the upstart mom of 28 made it clear that she wasn’t afraid of the big boys.
I hope that Bachmann knows it’s going to get a lot worse than that. Of course she’s going to have to get out her history book and brush up on a few facts as some of her critics have pointed out, but that’s an easy fix. If Bachmann is really in this race to win (which I’m not sure she is — I think she wants to position herself for a role in the future GOP leadership espcially after the current crowd snubbed her in 2010), she needs to steel herself for the full Hillary treatment. I’m not sure Secretary of State Clinton would be comfortable commiserating with Bachmann on how to navigate the entrenched sexism against women who seek political power, but in my head I’m imagining that her advice would be something like this:
1. Let other people deal with the whole “balloon head” thing and ignore it. The Hillary Nutcracker got lots of coverage, but I don’t remember her dignifying it with a response. No matter what you say, those old boy male pundits are going to keep finding ways to suggest that there’s no need to take political women seriously, and they’ll use whatever adjectives or questionable collectibles to do it.
2. Some things will call for a snappy retort, so be ready. Remember ” iron my shirt”? Best not to leave that one hanging out there, so you might want to brainstorm with your staff about keeping a few good soundbite-sized responses at the ready for the hecklers.
3. Don’t believe them when they tell you you’re making excuses for other things if you call out the sexim when it happens. High-profile media men and women alike scoffed at the suggestion that the never-ending sexist comments had an effect on Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Clinton may not have lost as a direct result of the constant drum-beat of anti-woman rhetoric, but she was certainly undermined to an extent that when other things happened, voters were able to use the barbs as another reason to turn away from her.
4. Don’t think you’re safe with your GOP brethren. Immediately after the recent CNN debate you participated in your fellow candidates were damning you with faint praise. You pretty much won that debate for preparedness and staying on message, but when asked what he thought of your performance, one of the guys said in a dismissive tone, “She did alright” — the political equivalent of what husbands say when their wives ask if their pants make their butts look fat.
5. Remember to pay it forward. If and when you call out the media or another politician for their sexist jabs, do it not just for your Tea Party sisters, but for all women who take those hits. Even if we don’t agree on anything else, we ought to be able to come together on the idea that no woman, especially an elected representative who’s running for president, should have to put up with the same treatment that Hillary (or Sarah Palin or any other woman) got when she was audacious enough to say, “I’m running for President of the United States.”
We know all candidates, men and women alike, should be ready for questions on their experience, policy positions, demeanor and world view to the extent that they impact decisions that would effect the whole country. But for any woman who dares to think she can channel her inner Geena Davis, she’d buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.