Courtesy of the tea party, we some real humdingers of female candidates lining themselves up for the 2012 election, with Michele Bachmann as the current leader of the field, it appears. These women are a subject of much discussion, and rightly so. They’re being presented as viable candidates, they are campaigning, they are taking part in debates and other events, and they are illustrating the shifting face of politics in the United States, where women candidates for the Presidency no longer seem quite so outlandish as they once did.
Unfortunately, of course, there’s also a lot of very disgusting stuff going on in the way people talk about these candidates. I’m already encountering opinion pieces about how these women are ‘good for politics’ because they’re women. Simply because they’re women. Their politics are not a matter of interest, only their gender. Some of these pieces even suggest that candidates like Bachmann are good for feminism and social justice. The idea that simply being a woman makes a candidate progressive is alarming, especially when these women are, as even a casual glance at their rhetoric will show, anything but progressive.
Michele Bachmann is an extremely frightening candidate. There are numerous reasons for progressives to vigorously oppose any sort of campaign she runs, because her values are scary. She’s an extremely conservative Republic who believes in limiting access to reproductive health care, slashing social services, keeping women at home ‘where they belong,’ and a number of other really awful things. She is not a good candidate, and women shouldn’t be supporting her simply because she’s one of them. Fortunately, most women voters are, astoundingly, able to overlook the gender of the candidate in interest of what the candidate actually thinks and does, defying the common perception of women voters as a thoughtless hivemind who will vote for anyone identifying as a woman.
Much of the rhetoric surrounding Bachmann is lively, some of it is very interesting, and some of it sadly highlights a serious gender issue in the way people talk about politics. Many people on the left are found of painting Bachmann as crazy. She’s too crazy to be President. Her politics are crazy. Male candidates with similar, and sometimes more extreme, views aren’t crazy, they’re just evil, or bad. Rick Perry, for instance, is routinely highlighted as an example of a really terrible GOP candidate because his politics are appalling. But few people call him crazy.
Perry and Bachmann, of course, have a lot in common. They believe in many of the same things, although Perry’s actually more extreme on some issues. Yet, one of them is painted dismissively as ‘crazy’ while the other is described as a harmful candidate because of his politics. By progressives, who should know better than to fall into this trap. When Perry promotes vile policy, no one’s calling him crazy. They’re attacking his policy and talking about why it’s harmful, but they aren’t writing off the entire discussion with a flip and dismissive epithet—don’t pay attention to him, he’s crazy.
Dismissing female candidates as ‘crazy’ is a problem on multiple levels. For one thing, it returns to the old stereotype that women do not belong in politics because they’re too fragile or neurasthenic or sensitive or any number of other things. ‘Crazy’ women have been shut down and silenced for an extremely long time, leveraging the social attitude that people with mental illness have nothing of substance or value to add to society. Women who are outspoken and aggressive are often labeled as crazy in an attempt to shove them aside, which is exactly what’s happening here with Bachmann, and it carries a particular sinister undertone, because it implies that women don’t belong in politics any more than they belong in boardrooms and at the operating table and in any number of places.
People concerned with the role of women in politics should be very, very worried about the way Bachmann is being framed by progressives. We should be taking female candidates seriously, not dismissing them, to make it clear that women belong in politics too. Bachmann’s politics are absolutely awful, there’s a lot to discuss and engage with, and people should be doing that. People should be shutting Bachmann down as a candidate not just because her beliefs aren’t progressive, but because there’s evidence that the kind of policy she wants to promote would be bad for the United States. She would make a bad President because the kinds of decisions she would make could be extremely harmful.
She doesn’t believe these things because she’s ‘crazy.’ She believes these things because she’s part of a political movement that promotes this kind of policy, she’s running as a figurehead of that movement, and she wants to appeal to her voters. Conservatives are taking Bachmann seriously because they like her politics. Conservative women see the way progressives dismiss Bachmann and get angry, which bolsters their support for her. Progressives who don’t like her politics are calling her crazy instead of attacking her politics, dismissing her because she’s a woman while they take the time to debunk Rick Perry’s rhetoric and claims, to show how Perry would be a terrible President.
Michele Bachmann’s politics are bad. Why aren’t we focusing on that? Why are progressives essentially hindering their own cause, of making sure that women have a seat at the political table, by using dismissive arguments against opposing female candidates? They can’t exactly cry foul when conservatives do the same thing to them, after all, unless they want to go through a round of pot calling the kettle black. No less a person than the current President of the United States has called for a clean, civil campaign with a focus on civic engagement and actual political discussion, and progressives are already failing.