In case you missed it, Missouri senatorial candidate Todd Akin has again raised the ire of those who care about gender justice by stating that his opponent, Senator Claire McCaskill, was “much more ladylike” when she ran in 2006. He went on to say, “I think we have a very clear path to victory, and apparently Claire McCaskill thinks we do, too, because she was very aggressive at the debate, which was quite different than it was when she ran against Jim Talent.” (The Washington Post, and the Associated Press described the debate as more cordial.) In other words, Akin thinks that McCaskill’s unladylike aggressiveness at the debate will cause her to lose the election.
It’s rare to hear such a clear articulation of the double-bind of women’s leadership, where female leaders have to enact masculine traits to be considered “leaderly,” but this is then held against them because they aren’t being “properly ladylike.” I hope that Missouri voters are smarter than this, but maybe Akin is on to something. Several prominent Republicans who shunned Akin in August for his conflation of “forcible rape” with “legitimate rape,” endorsed him the day following his unrepentant “unladylike” statements. But it’s hard to say whether they were responding to this statement or his suggestion the next day that employers should be able to pay women less than men.
The close timing of these two overtly sexist statements begs the questions: Is Todd Akin purposefully exploiting potential sexism in the Missouri electorate to advance his campaign, and are notable Republicans supporting him because this tactic might work? Political journalist Chris Cillizza thinks Akin is a “devastatingly bad candidate” who will cost Republicans the Senate, but a series of polls indicate that he’s not only climbed back into this race, he may have a slight lead.