Monday, March 05, 2007

The Tightrope Walker

Feministe has a good take on a new Los Angeles Times article on Loretta Sanchez, an article which describes Sanchez in these glowing terms:

Pacing next to the desk and U.S. flag in her district office in Garden Grove, the paradox that is Rep. Loretta Sanchez was on full display.

The congresswoman ticked off a meaty legislative to-do list: immigration reform, port safety, stopping sex trafficking, revamping "terrible management" at the Department of Homeland Security. She was articulate and sharp, even magnetic.

At the same time, she was shedding a red St. John Knits suit and shimmying into an ao dai, a traditional Vietnamese tunic and pants, for her next event. Meaning that she was telling a female reporter about her chairmanship of the House Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism while wearing only pants and a black bra.

Was this a glimpse of Loretta Sanchez, siren, a politician known for her strenuous workout regimen and fondness for come-hither heels? Or was this Loretta Sanchez, harried congresswoman, too wrapped up in important national issues to take a break in the name of modesty?

Mmm, modesty. The characteristic which is so common among all male politicians. Oops. I forgot, male politicians don't have to worry about modesty.

But female politicians do. They also have to worry about sexiness and femininity and competence, all aspects which must somehow be fitted into one package. As feministe points out:

If the feminine mold you squeeze into is the one that many younger women are presented with — the hyper-sexualized Girls Gone Wild ideal — then you cannot be taken seriously. If the feminine mold you squeeze into is the one that many female politicians are presented with — the male-impersonating-but-slightly-softer ideal — then you cannot be attractive, and can just barely be a "woman."

It's a tightrope walking exercise, this being a woman and a politician, and falling off is very easy to do.

A little helpful push can do it. For instance, an article might cast worries about the ability of a sexy politician to be competent:

In the coming months, Sanchez will be tested on whether her reputation will be more coquette or congresswoman. Entrenched in the House majority for the first time, she is allied with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and sits on two of the most prominent committees: Armed Services and Homeland Security, being the second-ranking Democrat on the latter.

What would be the male equivalent for "coquette or congresswoman"? A horndog or a congressman? And when were the two seen as mutually exclusive in this country?