At This Rate, Soon We’ll All Be Tracy Flick

Fri, January 30, 2009

Moms & Politics

Remember Tracy Flick from the movie Election? The over-achieving, uber-ambitious, won’t-let-anything-get-in-my-way gal running for class President? If she didn’t before this week, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is now very familiar with Tracy, who some are saying is Gillibrand’s alter ego.

If Tracy Flick was a real person she’d be 28 — old enough to have run and won a seat in Congress (you KNOW she would have). But she would NOT be happy that yet another, successful, high-profile woman politician is getting compared with Tracy’s less attractive characteristics.

In the span of less than a year, Gillibrand is the third major woman candidate to endure this ever-more-common comparison. The media had a field day comparing Hillary Clinton to a ruthless Tracy. Then the MSM voices chimed in with the same for Sarah Palin, describing her as “ferocious overachiever Tracy.” Now, Gillibrand is the latest to be tagged with the Tracy Flick persona.

Really? I could have sworn we were out of high school, but apparently I was mistaken.

In comparing Gillibrand to the fictional Flick, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd described her as “opportunistic and sharp-elbowed.” A man with those same qualities? I have a feeling he’d be painted as “knowing how to seize the moment with a take no prisoners approach.”

Dowd goes on:

Fellow Democrats were warning Harry Reid … that he was going to have his hands full with the new senator because she’s “a pain.”

A man wouldn’t be called a pain; he’d be called persistent.

But there’s a bigger issue than just semantics. As we allow ourselves to be painted in these terms without objecting, we set the stage for a play we don’t want our daughters cast in. If we let it go on, we allow a new common wisdom to be born.

The first comparison to Tracy Flick was new. The second time could be called a coincidence. After three times, it’s accepted shorthand for devious, calculating and bitchy. Is that how we really want the women and girls we are encouraging to run for office to be described? One of these days, one of them will be President of the United States and I don’t want to hear anyone comparing her to Flick.

I’m not the only one thinking along these lines. The New Agenda has termed it the “SOB”-ing of women in politics:

The press and mainstream media have Simplified, Objectified, and Bimbo/Bitchified them all: SOB.

A smart, independent, vibrant, self-made, non-deferential, and attractive woman who is forthright and ambitious ends up being called a “bitch.” She is, to coin a word, “ambitchous.” Alternatively, she may end up labeled a “bimbo.”

We need to name and label the process. It is important that we have a name for this process that happens to these women so that we can better understand it, communicate it to others, and do something about it.

In 2008, it became acceptable political commentary to mock women politicians as divas, ditzes, bitches and bimbos. If it doesn’t change, why would any of our daughters ever think about becoming our next generation of leaders? They won’t.

Granted, I’m guilty of it, too. I compared Palin to Tracy Flick during the campaign. Sometimes, comparisons are valid. But when it’s the same one for every XX-er who comes on the political scene, it ceases to be fair in individual instances and starts to portray political women only in the extreme, fictional, cartoony world of Tracy Flick.

To those who see only her faults, let’s not forget there was a good side to Tracy Flick. She saw the system for what it was and took it on anyway in hopes of accomplishing something good. Tracy realized before Tina Fey ever said it, that “bitches get things done.”

I like that in a girl. Maybe the next Tracy Flick comparison can be to that quality.

Cross-posted at BlogHer, where PunditMom is a Contributing Editor for News & Politics.

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4 Responses to “At This Rate, Soon We’ll All Be Tracy Flick”

  1. Michelle Lamar Says:

    Amen! It makes me sick! Until we evolve as a country, I think ANY women in a powerful position, politics or biz, should plan on being called a bitch. Great lesson for our daughters, right?

  2. patrick Says:

    Why is it that this country has such issues with woman in politics? Woman have lead countries/been in politics in Europe for eons and I dont recall them getting the treatment that the woman in politics here do, why?

  3. anniegirl1138 Says:

    We need to continue calling out media who use the SOB model for female candidates and remember that battles have been won but the war is far from over on equality.

  4. Cat Says:

    I have to say, when I watched Election, I liked Tracy. She was a doer, not a whiner. You could not have had the movie if Tracy had been a boy because he would have just been getting the job done.

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