An Obsession with the GOP's Bad Girls

By today’s standards, Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman’s recent scandals—over a hair joke and a three-year-old workplace incident—were pretty tame. But because both are women and Republicans, a media firestorm was inevitable.

06.21.10 12:04 AM ET

I love women in politics. Even if our political ideology diverges, I respect any woman who goes into what is still, depressingly, a man’s world. Any woman willing to put up with the inevitable sexism that correlates with seeking political office deserves to be admired on some level, because she is helping to continue to break that glass ceiling. And if a woman running for office and I have similar political views, I am even more enthusiastic.

Had Whitman and Fiorina been two male Democrats running for these seats in California, I have a feeling the media would have had an entirely different take on both incidents.

Carly Fiorina Caught With An Open Mic

Two women who have recently thrown their hat in the ring, Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, have been receiving a lot of media attention, not only for winning their primaries but also for a few “bad girl” scandals. Fiorina, who won the Republican nomination for Senate in California, made waves after being caught on a live microphone making fun of opponent Barbara Boxer’s hair. She later said she “regretted this whole situation” and that she “gave people the opportunity to talk about something petty and superficial.” Whitman, the Republican nominee for governor in California, is getting publicity for allegedly shoving a subordinate in 2007, while she was chief executive of eBay; the employee later received a confidential six-figure settlement.

Are Fiorina and Whitman reinforcing negative female stereotypes about women, or are they being forced to put up with a media witch hunt because they are both women and Republicans?

I spent time with both of them during my father’s presidential campaign, especially with Carly, who was an early supporter during the Republican primaries. I found both women to be hardworking, and both have a very dry sense of humor, something I always like in other people. Is this enough to make them a good governor and senator of California? Of course not. But I think these women genuinely want to change things for their state and believe that they can effect positive change through their impressive experience in the work force.

Had Whitman and Fiorina been two male Democrats running for these seats in California, I have a feeling the media would have had an entirely different take on both incidents. I am sure if a man had been accused of shoving a subordinate, the reaction would have been more lenient. It is also interesting to note that the woman Whitman allegedly shoved later told The New York Times that they did have “an unfortunate incident” but that they resolved it and continued to work together at eBay.

Both Fiorina and Whitman made mistakes that they have apologized for and moved on from—and really, by today’s standards, neither is particularly shocking nor even that provocative. Fiorina was caught on a microphone making a stupid joke about her opponent. Do you not think that behind closed doors, Boxer makes jokes about Fiorina? And three years ago the CEO of eBay was involved in an incident that was resolved. As Whitman’s spokeswoman said, “A verbal dispute in a high-pressure working environment isn’t out of the ordinary.”

In the end, neither of these so-called scandals really matter. What matters is what both these women plan on doing to help their state and, ultimately, this country. I hope that they continue on to successful campaigns—and that they make this political atmosphere a little easier for the women who will follow them. Unfortunately, because they are powerful women running for office, they have to deal with a level of scrutiny that just wouldn’t be as intense as it would be if two men were running. And because they are Republicans, that intense scrutiny borders on obsession.

Meghan McCain is a columnist for The Daily Beast. Originally from Phoenix, she graduated from Columbia University in 2007. She is a New York Times bestselling children's author, previously wrote for Newsweek magazine, and created the Web site Her new book, Dirty Sexy, Politics, will be published in August.