Barbara Boxer, Carly Fiorina, Sarah Palin: Is It Fair to Go for the Looks in Politics?

BlogHer Original Post

There's been a rash of cattiness going around. I'm not talking about what I've said lately about Lindsey Lohan (for example, do prison jumpsuits have leggings?), I'm talking about the recent treatment of female conservative political leaders. Lately, it's gotten personal, because people are starting to connect people's looks to people's ability to govern effectively. It is, quite honestly, a bi-partisan thing.

And let me say, let she (or he) who is without a back pocket full of political (or personal) one-liners designed to cut at the heart of an opponent cast the first rotten tomato.

Hillary Clinton's cankles have been the subject of many a desperate comedian with ten minutes to fill at a comedy club filled with drunken tourists. We may not know why Helen Thomas felt compelled to make a career-ending, utterly disgusting statement about the Jewish people on camera last week, but we now know what happened to Baby Jane. Nancy Pelosi blinks ten thousand times per minute. Barney Frank has a lisp. John Boehner tans so much he's practically a cougar. Vicious one-liners aren't just hilarious. They're a staple of the political landscape. After all, what am I supposed to talk about, if I'm not supposed to talk about their looks? Their policy? That's complicated. And dangerous. And it could get me in trouble with my friends who all inexplicably voted for Barack Obama. Everyone can agree that this person's ugly, this person's weird, that person looks a lot like I do when I walked out of the shower that time and discovered I had a lump on my eyelid that I had to hit an all-night clinic for. Humanity's great equalizer is poking fun at other humanity.

Not that Sarah Palin has exhibited anything resembling the ability to govern effectively lately, but last Monday, she accurately predicted winners in a number of key states. Her endorsement, it seems, shrewdly conferred after exhaustive study of cable television, proved to be the difference between staying alive through the primaries and a summer spent playing golf. But is that what the media is currently obsessed with? Nope. Apparently, she had a boob job or something.

Did Sarah Palin get breast implants? That seems to be the question du jour. Palin showed up to the Belmont Stakes last weekend wearing a white t-shirt that has some people saying her girls might have been surgically enhanced.


Believe it or not, if you put "Sarah Palin Implants" into Google, you a gazillion hits of people talking about her breasts, calling her "Sarah Boobula," questioning who paid for them, where they came from, whether she plans to show them in an adult film, when she had them done. This story has distracted people for a full week, and worse, it's being pointedly used to question Sarah Palin's ability to be a mother and discredit Sarah Palin's very real power within the conservative movement. Think what you want about her, but you're wrong to dismiss her  influence over American voters and, beyond that, the true lure of populist appeal.

And then there's Carly Fiorina, who, apparently, because she has super short hair, is a Communist or something.

It was Carly Fiorina who shocked me. More to the point, it’s her hair.

Okay. Back when she ran Hewlett-Packard, Fiorina was this attractive, slender executive with a short, blonde do. It was one of those hairstyles that looked good without drawing attention to itself. The haircut said, “I’m a professional. And I’m a good-looking broad. Just deal.”

So I guess I don't get it. Fiorina has cute hair now. She also cancer. Which occasionally results in chemical treatments which make your hair fall out. But apparently, as a high-powered female, Carly Fiorina was expected to command that her hair not fall out lest True/Slant become convinced that her new resultant 'do was somewhat less attractive in a sort of weird way. Would it be better if she wore a wig? Would it be more commanding if she weaved in some purple highlights or started a collection of particularly fabulous hats? Would that change her abilities, her outlook or her chances of winning?

Or, for that matter, does hair have anything to do with Barbara Boxer's?

Fresh off her win in California's Republican primary, Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina found herself gabbing in front of an open mic as she waited for a CNN interview to begin. Let's just say that Barbara Boxer's stylist will not be amused.

As her makeup was being applied, Fiorina was caught making fun Boxer's hairdo. Speaking to a person who remained off-camera, Fiorina said, "Laura saw Barbara Boxer briefly on television today, and said what everyone says, God what is that hair." Fiorina then laughed and added, "Sooo yesterday."

As someone who occasionally makes a pastime out of "funny," I have to say, in all of these cases, no one should have to apologize, least of all Carly Fiorina. Or, at least, she should start apologizing in a minute after I get done composing a joke about Kim Kardashian's rear end or Rep. Bob "Chokehold" Etheridge. In order to make my own standard fair, if I were to request an apology out of Carly Fiorina, I'd have to request one out of everyone (including myself) who took the Sarah Palin photo as an opportunity to comment salaciously on her being.

In all seriousness, this does bely a struggle women have always had: the commanding presence. In comedy or in any stage performance, women have to practice incessantly to get a handle on how to command a stage. Women in politics aren't just haranged for their looks, they have to worry about them on a regular basis. Clothes make the man, they say. They break the woman. It's a historical inequality, a remnant of a past where men passed over us and listened to themselves, it's a fear from a bygone era of being too loud, to intense, to much like a man. We worry about it a lot -- what we look like, who we appear to be -- and we know that our aesthetic mistakes are watched more closely than men's are.

But the worst part is that women will use these attributes as legitimate ammunition against other women. Sarah Palin and Carly Fiorina represent a new era in feminism -- a moment in time where a woman's ability to be powerful in this world is not connected to her dedication to the ideas of her liberal foremothers. Is Sarah Palin a feminist? In a manner of speaking, yes, she is, because like it or not, she's blazing a trail. As she does this, millions of women and men wait in the wings for an excuse to tear those dreams down to Earth.

So, in summary, jokes are okay. The political agenda of personal attacks, thinly veiled by celebrity gossip? Not okay. It's a tough double standard to live up to, but its a curse we have to bear.


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