Christine O'Donnell, Krystal Ball: Sexism and the Midterm Elections

BlogHer Original Post

It appears there will be a net loss of women in Congress for the first time in 30 years. This is a huge blow to the many organizations that work so hard to elect and support women in office -- and it’s especially tough considering that women from both parties took a hit during this election cycle in terms of misogyny and sexism in the media. The hits were coming so hard that they prompted the launch of Name It. Change It. was started to help keep track of sexist attacks on female politicians and hold people accountable for those attacks.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Delaware Christine O'Donnell, a favorite among the conservative Tea Party movement, appears at an election night rally in Dover, Delaware, November 2, 2010. Democrat Christopher Coons won the U.S. Senate race in Delaware on Tuesday, the NBC and CNN TV networks projected, beating out Republican and Tea Party favorite O'Donnell and keeping for Democrats a seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden.  REUTERS/Jason Reed  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

Two of the highest-profile attacks were towards candidates from both parties. Krystal Ball, who was running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Virginia’s first district, and Sarah Palin protege Christine O’Donnell, who was running for the U.S. Senate in Delaware. Both women lost by pretty large margins after some of the most talked-about photos of the election cycle surfaced.

Photos of Ball surfaced that had been taken at a Halloween costume party, when she was only 22, with her then husband, that were slightly provocative and gained her campaign national attention. Ball accused her opponent of leaking the pictures.

The attack on conservative Christine O’Donnell was even worse, with photos AND a raunchy story published on Gawker.com who’s author claimed to have spent the night with Christine O’Donnell. The story was an obvious attempt to humiliate O’Donnell, and in turn women everywhere.

Both these stories were actually non-stories, even if every single word of what was written in Gawker about O’Donnell was true. By posing provocatively at a costume party or having a drunken hook up with a guy (where O’Donnell still managed to stick to her principles by NOT sleeping with him) they did nothing wrong. Yet both incidents were used as tools to try and shame both candidates and hurt their campaigns.

Though both women did end up losing their prospective races, neither lost because of those scandalous attempts at degrading them. They lost because it was a tough night for Democrats and a tough night for some Tea Party candidates. Ball and O’Donnell’s losses had little to do with those photos and everything to do with their political ideologies and the ideologies of the districts they were running in.

Tuesday was a huge blow to women in office because most of those women are Democrats, and Tuesday was a big blow to Democrats. Chalk it up to yet one more reason why we need more women in office.

Though sexism and misogyny were in heavy play during this election cycle I don’t think it really had that much of an affect on the results. What the sexist attacks did do was start a new conversation about misogyny. As we enter a new era of politics where Facebook friends can dust off an old dusty picture of you at a New Year's Eve party in high school, scan it and post it on Facebook for the whole world to see in under five minutes, its a conversation we need to continue.

The resources to find and use this kind of sexist material is only gong to grow with the use of social media and online social networks. In the cases of Krystal Ball and Christine O’Donnell the attacks did not make much of a difference. Both women were behind in the polls and were already climbing uphill battles. But next time, it could make a difference. And that is why talking about the attacks and calling out the people behind them and the media that perpetrates them are so vital now, before the next election cycle begins. Women and men need to make it clear that unless the breaking scandalous penthouse story has some direct bearing on a candidate's ability to the job they are running for, we don’t care and we don’t want to hear about it. And mainstream media needs to understand just because it’s published on Gawker doesn’t make it news.

According to CAWP it looks as though the number of women in the House is going to drop from 73 to 70 and in the Senate from 17 to 15. Those sad numbers are based on politics more than sexism. And because we do not have enough women in office, we feel the biggest brunt of a loss like the Democrats had this week. That being said, sexism is what is going to prevent more women from running for office, unless women stand together and call out misogyny.

As Krystal Ball said in her official statement regarding her own experience, “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.”

Meghan Harvey can also be found blogging at Meg's Idle Chatter, Life360 and SheHeroes.org.

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