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Weren't Republican Women Supposed to Like Men -- and Act Like Ladies?

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As others have noted, the hot trend among candidates on the campaign trail this year is questioning the other guy's sexuality. But that it's female candidates who are doing most of the ridiculing has me wondering whether those of us who've argued that more women on the political stage would raise the level of discourse weren't just plain wrong.

And shouldn't we at least be asking whether there's any connection between these increasingly common taunts, from candidates who act like they're in the seventh grade, and the heartbreaking recent spate of bullying of and attacks on gay kids?

Of course the nine New York thugs – the Latin King Goonies, they like to be called – who recently tortured two teenagers and a 30-year-old in a homophobic rage were not literally taking their cues from the cutesy put downs used by female Senate candidates like Sharron Angle (R-Nev.) and Robin Carnahan (D-Mo.). But do we really need any more reminders that squirreliness about sexuality regularly leads to violence? How can we tell our kids that both words and actions have consequences and then elect leaders who run around pointing groinward and laughing?

In Monday's New York Times, Maureen Dowd wrote that we are living in "the era of Republican Mean Girls, grown-up versions of those teenage tormentors who would steal your boyfriend, spray-paint your locker and, just for good measure, spread rumors that you were pregnant. These women -- Jan, Meg, Carly, Sharron, Linda, Michele, Queen Bee Sarah and sweet wannabe Christine -- have co-opted and ratcheted up the disgust with the status quo that originally buoyed Barack Obama. . . . They are the ideal nihilistic cheerleaders for an angry electorate." Some of this strikes me as projection, torment being one of Dowd's own many talents, and she, too, has been known to question a man's manhood, as when she described presidential candidate Al Gore as "so feminized he's practically lactating."

Still, it's true that most, though not all, of the women mocking an adversary's lack of political cojones are Republican, and that's actually quite odd to me. According to their own narrative, weren't conservative women supposed to be the ones who liked men – and hated seeing them put down? Isn't there something disconsonant about touting womb-to-tomb respect for life, then shouting about testicles in any language?

I keep trying to imagine my seriously conservative Aunt Virginia, regent of the DAR -- who wore pumps and full makeup to pick up her dry cleaning, who signed me up for the Phyllis Schlafly Report in the seventh grade, and who would have given Ronald Reagan her last nickel -- saying such a thing, but I can't get there. Nor am I at all sorry about that.

For better and worse, these aren't Elizabeth Dole-style Republicans, but I hope they haven't permanently jettisoned one of the things I admired most about the classy R dames I grew up around, which is that they really were ladies.

Sarah Palin was, as usual, a bit ahead of the pack when she said back in August that Arizona Gov. "Jan Brewer has the cojones that our president does not have to look out for all Americans" by cracking down on immigrants. Defeated Georgia gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel, a former secretary of state, also told her fellow Republican and runoff opponent Nathan Deal that month that it was "time to put the big-boy pants on" and stop "squealing" about her campaign ads. (Deal narrowly won the run-off.)

This fall, Delaware's Christine O'Donnell called her fellow Republican, Rep. Mike Castle, "unmanly" for filing an election law complaint against her. "This is not a bake-off,'' she admonished. "Get your man-pants on.'' Which is the same way Republican Jane Norton of Colorado spoke about her primary rival, senatorial nominee Ken Buck. "Seen those ads attacking me?" Norton said in an ad. "They're paid for by a shady interest group doing the bidding of Ken Buck. You'd think Ken would be man enough to do it himself."

Last week, Sharron Angle smiled as she zinged her debating partner on the topic of Social Security: "Man up, Harry Reid!" And that same day, Democrat Robin Carnahan told her Missouri Senate competitor, Roy Blunt, that she disagreed with him on health care reform. Only, she didn't put it quite that way: "I think people should have access. They should have the same access you have as a member of Congress. So I think if you want to repeal health care reform and let insurance companies go back to their worst abuses, Congressman, then you ought to repeal your own first. And man up. And do what you're asking other people to do."

At least a couple of Republican men have also gotten in on the questionable cojones-questioning: In his campaign in 2009, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said Jon Corzine should "man up and say I'm fat." And the ever-genteel New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, in an open letter challenging Andrew Cuomo to a debate, wrote, "Frankly, I don't think you have the cojones to face me and the other candidates." (Uh-huh, he so does: The debate was Monday night.)

If I'd known that "Man up!'' was going to be the favored insult of the '10 campaign season, I'm not even sure I would have named Politics Daily's women's blog "Woman Up'' when it launched 18 months ago. Yes, the tagline is "Where big-girl panties are always a fit,'' but we were joking, not putting anybody down.

The phrase "man up" does seem to have become more insulting over time; in September, the Times reported in its "On Language" column that "the earliest example I've found of this extended use is from 1987, when the San Diego Chargers defensive tackle Mike Charles told The Union Tribune: "Right now, by the grace of God, we're hanging by the skin of our teeth. Now we've got to man up and take care of ourselves."

The sentiment behind the current usage certainly isn't new, and Madeleine Albright questioned Fidel Castro's cojones 14 years ago. But isn't it time to button up about man-pants, and maybe even big-girl panties? Women in politics and beyond would rightly cry sexism if the tables were turned. And wouldn't a little more decorum from the aspiring gentlemen and gentleladies do us all good?

Click here to follow Melinda Henneberger on Twitter.

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It's unfortunate that the Republicans have chosen this route for discourse, but they have set themselves up for failure. All of the hate speech, man-up speech, gay speech, racial speech will come back to haunt them. Just wait and see! They may or may not gain some seats in the election, but that's short term. In the long run, the Republicans may become a real party of "no".

October 25 2010 at 12:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As a Conservative Women, I do love men, but I want a man who will stand up and take responsibility for his actions, not be wimpy and blame everyone else for their failures. That my dear liberal ladies is NOT A MAN!! No matter what political party they are in!! These women are calling on these men to ACT LIKE MEN, not little boys!! Just because they have male body parts does not mean they act like men!!

October 24 2010 at 10:52 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

The American Left has its "big girl panties" in a huge wad. The most reliable position of liberals is that they are in complete support of blacks, women, gays and the poor who agree with them. Any of these core constituents who step out of line are subject to abuse ,ridicule, and scrutiny that would be foregone with a typical white man. This is consistant with the treatment of a traitor or a scorned lover. The very attributes the left insists are the foundation of our republic, equality, and fairness regardless of race , gender, class or sexual orientation are discarded for political advantage at the drop of a hat.

October 19 2010 at 11:09 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Not saying it's right but, politicians throwing insults at one another is nothing new,look back at the almost comical ways they did it in the 19th century. Even so, "man up" and "cajones" are figures of speech I've heard both genders use so I can really see this author playing the nit-picky politics game with this.

October 19 2010 at 7:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Donnie Viens

Honestly, Do you think the "majority" of the Country shares your ilk towards Conservative women? I mean hasn't the liberal media learned anything over the past few years? There's a reason why Liberal Radio (Air America" fails. There's a reason why Fox News dominates cable news. There's a reason ABC / NBC / CBS are losing viewers when it comes to News. Let's discuss the vile behavior of Liberal women such as Nancy Pelosi, who compared Americans to Nazis ??? Or how about Cynthia McKinney, who assaulted a security guard for doing his job. And let's not forget the self absorbed Barbara Boxer asking a Brigadier General to call her "senator" after he respectfully called her "ma'am" because she had "earned it" ... "Earned It" ??? Are you serious ... More like bought it. Anyway ... Please keep up the biased and out of touch attitude you liberals have. It only makes the Coservative Movement stronger. Liberals represent roughly 20% of the Country, while Conservatives are around 43%. It's funny how liberals throw stones & insults and then act as if they are the victims when those stones are thrown back.

October 19 2010 at 6:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We have become such a nation of wimps. Toughen up, folks! Since when is "man up" or using the term "cojones" so offensive and insulting? Sure, name-calling is tacky -- but saying, "man up?" Perhaps we should focus less on getting our feelings hurt over the slightest slight, and quit worrying about the "example" our politicians will set with their imperative phrases. Instead, let's set a better example of thick-skin, and worry about DOING the right thing instead of SAYING the right thing.

October 19 2010 at 3:58 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bkwdow's comment

Why can't we do the right thing and also say the right thing? What's wrong with being courteous and mannerly?

October 19 2010 at 6:35 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply

excellent article! these women are acting atrocious... so unprofessional and not to mention un-ladylike... not appealing at ALL! i don't care what political party you belong to, there is no reason to not be polite and have good manners.

October 19 2010 at 3:50 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

"...And shouldn't we at least be asking whether there's any connection between these increasingly common taunts, from candidates who act like they're in the seventh grade, and the heartbreaking recent spate of bullying of and attacks on gay kids?" I suppose if we want to ask dumb questions, and use tragedies to advance our political goals... On the other hand, most of us don't make absurd connections like the one above, and don't try to use tragedies to advance our agendas.

October 19 2010 at 3:50 PM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply

they all need to take a course on remedial government.....and the dark ages...

October 19 2010 at 3:12 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

Henneberger, You are the epitome of hypocrisy! As you pointed out, you named your own column with the epithet you are now pointing at Republican women. As with most issues, you liberals talk out of both sides of your mouth, and so you do here. Using the term "man up" or "have the cojones" does in no way refer to a person's sexual preferences. Rather, it refers to a person's fortitude, "guts", if you will, in choosing to make the right choice, or do the job needed. And you well know this. But it seems that when you are looking for any negativity to cast on candidates that you have run out of legitimate arguments against, in typical fashion, you go for any personal insult you can concoct. I have no problem with any candidate asking their opponent to "man up". I would hope that they all would. What I have a problem with is you being the most childish, mean girl on the playground.

October 19 2010 at 2:17 PM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply

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