Election 2012 Sexism Watch

Commentators on both sides of the aisle have been quick to point out sexism directed at their own, while participating in sexist discussion of candidates running on an opposing ticket.  In the tradition of our coverage of the 2008 election, we’re joining Feministing, the Women’s Media CenterThe New Agenda, and the film, Missrepresentation, in a non-partisan effort to monitor and report on the inevitable disparate treatment of female presidential contenders during this election cycle, cross-posted at my blog.

Consider this the official SocImages Election 2012 Sexism Watch.  We’ll add content, as it arises, in reverse chronological order.

– Caroline Heldman, PhD


#3  Sexism and Bachmann’s Problematic Female Personality

August 22nd, 2011
Caroline Heldman, Contributor

Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has already faced a steady stream of blatant sexism since considering a presidential run.  In June, Fox News host Chris Wallace asked her the question, “are you a flake?”  Then in mid-July, Bill Maher mused during an interview with a laughing Piers Morgan that Bachmann and Sarah Palin would “split the MILF vote.”  (Watch it here.)

About the same time, Bachmann faced intense focus on her migraines.  This medical ailment mostly affects women and was presented as a biological factor limiting fitness for the presidency, reminiscent of arguments about menstruation.  A few weeks later, sexism was spotted again in a Newsweekcover featuring Bachmann with “crazy eyes” that presented a visual representation of the “crazy women” frame used against Hillary Clinton in 2008.


#2  Only Women Get in Cat Fights

August 22nd, 2011

Caroline Heldman, Contributor

We imagine that women are in competition with each other in a way that they are not with men specifically because we see them as women first, and people second.

Bachmann was asked the “catfight” question by Fox News host Bret Baier:

BAIER:  Former governor Sarah Palin is here in Iowa this week as well.  She’s not in this race yet either. Congresswoman Bachmann, is she stealing your thunder?

BACHMANN:  I like Sarah Palin a lot.  We are very good friends. And I think there’s room in the race for Governor Perry, Sarah Palin, or even, Bret, you, too, if you want to throw your hat into the race.

BAIER:  I think I’ll be out of this one. (LAUGHTER)

This question reveals at least three disturbing assumptions about female presidential contenders.

First, since Palin is a female candidate, she would only be stealing thunder from another female candidate (based on the assumption is that female candidates don’t pose a real threat to male candidates).

Secondly, this question implies not only an interchangeability of female candidates, but also the idea that there’s only room in the race for one token candidate (again, revealing the assumption that female candidates aren’t “real” candidates).

And lastly, this question assumes that if two women are in a race (and let’s be clear here – Palin is not in the race), they will compete with each other as women in a way that supersedes the electoral competition.  Politico reporter, Maggie Haberman, caught up with Palin who noted the obvious sexism in this question:

“Just because there may happen to be two women in the race, that they would you know as Michele had put it once, get in the mud and engage in some catfighting that’s ridiculous. It’s kind of even a sexist notion to consider that two women would be kind of duking it out… If I’m gonna duke it out I’m gonna duke it out with the guys.”


#1  Whose Marriages are Relevant?

August 22nd, 2011

Caroline Heldman, Contributor

Sexism in the electoral arena is easy to determine with a simple test: “Does this action (in this case, a question) treat Bachmann differently than her male competitors?”

During the Republican debate in Iowa last week, Washington Examiner reporter Byron York asked this question:

“Representative Bachmann, in 2006, when you were running for Congress, you described a moment in your life when your husband said you should study for a degree in tax law. You said you hated the idea. And then you explained, ‘But the Lord said, Be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.’ As president, would you be submissive to your husband?”

In response, Bachmann offered a ridiculous revision of the meaning of the word “submission” (“submission… it means respect.”)  But she never should have been asked that question in the first place.  Bachman’s views on power dynamics in her marriage are irrelevant to the presidential contest, and since her male competitors were not asked if they uphold the prevailing societal/religious notion that men should be the head of household, this question was gendered and unfair.


For past examples of sexism in U.S. presidential politics, see the round up of our coverage of the 2008 election.


  1. Caroline- your points are so well taken, whether it is Governor Palin or Speaker Pelosi, Bachman or Malkin, or you- we men should not permit sexism to exist- and must take all necessary steps to eradicate it..I know you know of the site but perhaps your readers do not…check out thenewagenda-great job as always

  2. I have to disagree on the appropriateness of the question asked in the debate about whether Michele Bachmann would defer decisions to her husband if elected President. While on its face, it appears to give credence to the sexism meme (which is indeed alive and well), Ms Bachmann willingly and voluntarily opened herself up to this. Had a male candidate stated that he only studied to be a accountant because his wife commanded it of him, the question would be just as valid.

    Another way of looking at this is that no one has asked (or even suggested) the same of Sarah Palin. Michele Bachmann opened herself up to this critique by her own repeated statements and it is a valid concern. The public has every right to be concerned if electing Michele Bachmann is in fact putting (unvetted) Marcus Bachmann in charge of the country.

    Barack Obama was accused of “palling around with terrorists” because of his acquaintance with Bill Ayers and raked over the coals due to his attending the church of Jeremiah Wright. I won’t even bother with the Tony Resko accusations. If his judgment is allowed to be called into question due to association with random people he knows, how is it not fair or appropriate to call Michele Bachmann’s motivations into question due to her own statements about making decisions based on obedience to her husband’s directives?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: