Women and Politics

A blog from WCF about the state of women and politics

Giving New Meaning To “Just Like A Woman”

Jill Miller Zimon is one of WCF’s MsRepresentation bloggers in the final weeks of the 2010 election.

Female political candidates just aren’t what they used to be, are they? In the persona of the fabulously named Krystal Ball (yes, it was given to her at birth), the political combat against sexism – the putting down of an opponent with a tactic available only because of gender and gender stereotypes – finally is entering the 21st century.

Last week, a conservative blog published private photographs, taken several years ago, of Democratic candidate for Congress, Krystal Ball (VA-1) and her then-husband at costume party.  Perhaps in a nod to new research that indicates how ignoring sexism on the campaign trail may not help a campaign, Ball has been fighting back.

Just yesterday, she issued the most detailed statement yet and directly addressed the gender-driven leak:

“The tactic of making female politicians into whores is nothing new. In fact, it happened to Meg Whitman, one of the world’s most accomplished business women, just last week. It’s part of this whole idea that female sexuality and serious work are incompatible. But I realized that photos like the ones of me, and ones much racier, would end up coming into the public sphere when women of my generation run for office. And I knew that there could be no other answer to the question than this: Society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives that are going to leak into the public sphere. Sooner or later, this is a reality that has to be faced, or many young women in my generation will not be able to run for office.”

Although even her opponent, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), asked the blog to remove the photos, Ball has battled speculation that her attention to this attention is, well, more about getting attention.  However, Ball’s focus is on making certain that women run for office, no matter the barriers. In the words of Broadsheet writer, Tracy Clark-Flory:

It seems to me that this is a growing issue for both women and men as more and more of our personal lives are recorded and documented online, and Ball agrees. “It’s going to become increasingly common as my generation steps up and runs for office more frequently,” she said. “I suspect that more people will get used to that and they already are. But because we’re still in the early phases of that, it was important for me to get out in front of this.” In the meantime, her message to young women is to “not give in to the embarrassment and shame” — and, of course, to vote for her.

According to the research, sexism against a female political candidate does harm the campaign.  However, the same research indicates that standing up to it, rather than going silent, has a better chance of catalyzing a rebound.  South Carolina gubernatorial candidate, Nikki Haley’s direct hit on adultery allegations is a good example of how speaking out and moving on benefits a candidate – she won her primary with nearly 50% of the vote in a four-way race.

Just three days ago, Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post recognized Ball’s approach of addressing the issue and moving on with her campaign as the right one.  And even Glenn Beck’s The Blaze suggests that bloggers and journalists who published the pictures have acted irresponsibly.

In addition, when candidates are advised to go silent in response to sexist attacks, those who use the diminishing insults are rewarded: it allows the insult to stand unchallenged and invites the continued use of what we now know are campaign-damaging strategies.

Likewise, comments on articles about Ball’s situation suggest that too many voters do not even understand why publication of the photos is a sexist attack. However consider when Scott Brown had his naked photos splayed across the country. The Brown campaign derived no negative effects and in fact, he attributes his success in part to them.

With the evidence against staying silent stacking up, Krystal Ball decided to not follow politics as usual.  She chose to confront these kinds of attacks with the hope that not only will they be frowned upon, but as we have more candidates who have grown up with social media, the Internet and women running for office, it will be the photos that are put in their place, not the women.

Additional coverage of Krystal Ball:

Krystal Ball on the Dylan Ratigan Show, 10/11/10 [video]

The Frisky: Krystal Ball The Tactic of Making Female Politicians Into Whores Is Not

Mediate: Krystal Ball Responds to Photos: Don’t Let Them Shame Women

Partizane: Krystal Ball Reflects The Double Standard

Politico: Ball Responds, Hillary In Mind

RH Reality Check: Womens Groups Call on Media to Focus on Issues-Based Coverage of Female Candidates

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