Game Changing Female Villains.
by Meredith O'Brien
“Nothing you’ve experienced has prepared you for this, how ugly it can be.” -- McCain aide to GOP VP nominee Sarah Palin about presidential campaigns.
The new, buzzy book that has captured the attention of politics and news junkies -- Game Change, an expose about the 2008 presidential race written by two journalists who used unnamed sources – seemed like a must-read. As I listened to pundits chew on its details over the past week, I wanted to read it in order to look inside the heads of national campaign managers. I didn’t like what I found.
Even before I got my hands on a copy, I read an excerpt in New York Magazine on John and Elizabeth Edwards. Accompanying the excerpt were six cartoons depicting the major players in the Edwards drama: John and Elizabeth Edwards and John’s mistress Rielle Hunter. John was satirized in one as angrily yelling at a staffer and in another picture he was breaking into a sweat while reading a tabloid story about his affair. The ones featuring Hunter showed her looking smitten and overtly flirtatious. As for Elizabeth, she got the worst of it. In one cartoon she was standing outside an airport after she’d ripped open her blouse and yelled, “Look at me!” In the other drawing, Elizabeth resembled an unhinged monster, fingers curled up like claws while she bellowed into a phone that stories about John’s affair were killing her. Given that it was John’s behavior which helped make him a political pariah, the tone of these cartoons surprised me.
Then I actually read Game Change. And damn did it tick me off. Women, by and large, came off abysmally. The men – Edwards, Barack Obama, John McCain, Bill Clinton Joe Biden and Rudy Giuliani – were portrayed as feisty, profane, inspiring, cocky, narcissistic, messianic, shallow, phony and occasionally ill-tempered, although when their anger was discussed it seemed to be of a variety that didn’t warrant a bunch of florid, patronizing adjectives, as if such behavior is the norm, while women’s behavior is the aberration. When it came to the two female candidates – Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin – and the female spouses of the candidates (with the exception of Michelle Obama), they were frequently described with negative female-centric put-downs and held to starkly different standards:
Hillary Clinton: “This woman shouldn’t be president.” This was supposedly a thought that a Clinton staffer had about Clinton (and shared with the authors) after observing Clinton’s response to losing the Iowa caucuses to Obama. Clinton was described as having a “bitter and befuddled reaction” and a “staggering lack of calm or command.” What specifically had Clinton done? Given a terse congratulatory call to Obama in which she said, “Great victory, we’re three tickets out of Iowa, see you in New Hampshire.”