Monday, March 18, 2019

Born To Be In It, Says Beto O'Rourke. Would That Work For Female Politicians?

Beto O'Rourke has thrown his hat in the Democratic presidential primary ring.  He is a charismatic guy, with the looks of a young Kennedy and the fame of having had almost not lost to the conservative ringwraith Ted Cruz in last year's senate race in Texas.  That's like succeeding in almost baptizing the devil in Hell, I assume.

I have nothing against most of O'Rourke's policies (the ones I know about) so my comments here apply only to what he has chosen to reveal about himself in this presidential race.

Take the Vanity Fair cover he has already scored!  Here it is:

It has everything!  A good-looking guy looking relaxed in jeans, next to a Labrador and a pickup truck.  What's not to like**?   Here's just your "ordinary working class truck-driving guy with his dog", possibly listening to Country&Western music.  Or that's how I would decode the symbolism of the cover.

But the text next to the picture begins to open that Pandora's box I am interested in when I slice and dice gender and sex.

The text says:

Beto's choice.  "I want to be in it.  Man, I'm just born to be in it."  

The "it" in that quote is the campaign for the president of the United States in 2020.

And why not?  I, for instance, strongly feel that I was born to be a goddess.

But saying "I'm just born to be in it" really wouldn't work for female candidates.  I read a thousand online comments about how entitled Hillary Clinton was, how it was "her turn" now and so on.

Many people find women who express personal ambition unlikable.   Being unlikable is worse for female politicians than male politicians, because we expect (in almost all cultures) women to be more likable than men and therefore punish them more severely when they are not.

Then there is Beto's joke about his wife taking care of their three children, sometimes with his help.  He apologized for the joke later** and I don't think it was that terrible a joke.  It would have been perfectly funny in 1956.

Still, I wonder if the situation could successfully be reversed.  Could a female politician go on a campaign trail and joke about her husband taking care of their three children, sometimes with her help, without having her political chances seriously damaged?

I doubt that very much.

Finally, O'Rourke left an online trace of juvenile comments for which he has also strongly apologized.  Those included a few pretty sexist and misogynist comments:

In one text file that was dated to 1989, when O’Rourke was 16 or 17, “Psychedelic Warlord” described a “new creature: THE ULTRA TRENDY.” In an over-the-top sarcastic tone, Psychedelic Warlord declared these “ultra trendies” to be “a cancer that might cause the death of each and every scene across the nation.” Psychedelic Warlord went on to say that many of these “ultra trendies” are female “sluts.”
“ULTRA TRENDIES are usually the ‘scene sluts’ that many of the menfolk admire so. They show up, get drunk with the band, and tell the lead singer, ‘I really like your music. I think it’s a lot like the Sex Pistols. Sooo… you wanna fuck?’” Psychedelic Warlord wrote.
The writer went on to accuse these women of “only” liking the Sex Pistols and the group’s frontman, Sid Vicious, and suggested this affinity led them to enter into abusive relationships.
“ULTRA TRENDY females hook-up with violent boyfriends because, (yeah… you guessed it) ‘He’s so much like Sid Vicious!’” Psychedelic Warlord wrote.
After describing the characteristics of these “ultra trendies,” Psychedelic Warlord offered suggestions for how to handle these people. The ideas included encouraging interactions between the “ultra trendies” and neo-Nazis as well as mocking their appearance.
“Tell the Nazi Skins in your area that this certain ULTRA TRENDY has AIDS. … To kill an ULTRA TRENDY female, show her a picture of what she’d look like without make-up. … Tell him or her that they’re completely ugly,” Psychedelic Warlord wrote.

Now try to do a reversal on that!  I can't even imagine a female politician having anything of that sort in her past, but who knows.  I'm sure, however, that she would not be forgiven for something similar.

None of the above is aimed at O'Rourke, specifically.  Indeed, he has acted beautifully in not belittling his Democratic opponents, and I like the way he is good at thinking on his feet.

But it does point out that the rules, they are different, when it comes to women and men in politics.  The tightrope politicians work when trying to garner public approval is narrower and more frayed for women (and even more so African-American women),  and even the safety net below the female tightrope walkers is full of holes.

That's why women who commit political blunders might not be lifted up again.


*  Remember John Edwards?  He was once, too, photographed in jeans and next to a pickup truck.  That didn't ultimately work for him.