Midterm Elections: Stop Calling Conservative Women Sluts

O’Donnell likes nights on the town, Palin is a clotheshorse, Angle is “crazy,” Whitman is a “whore”—conservative women are being attacked from all sides, but voters will reward the victims at the polls, says Mark McKinnon.

Nuts and sluts, bitches and whores: That’s the gauntlet conservative women must run to compete for the “honor” of political office today.

While every campaign season is deemed more vicious than those that came before, the attacks this time around have reached a new low. Rather than debate ideas and policies, weak-minded opponents of strong-willed women resort to sexualized attacks—a cover to compensate for their own inadequacies.

Those who hoot and holler, cheering from the sidelines, and those who enable the abuse with their silent acceptance, are as complicit in the rape of reputation as those who spew the vitriol.

By choosing to step forward to serve the public good, women who are wives, mothers, and daughters are called crazy, loony, and mentally unstable. Conservative women who dare to run for office are simultaneously attacked as sleazy and prudish. Phony reports of illicit affairs are leaked online, where the damage can never be undone. Their sex lives and the parentage of their children are called into question.

As a husband and as a father of girls, I cannot imagine any woman in my family making the sacrifice of sanity required to run for office. The limited reward for public service cannot blunt the cost.

The nuts and sluts attacks began in earnest when Sarah Palin entered stage right. To combat the wildfire of her natural and spontaneous appeal, a caustic air attack of firebombs ensued. Offended by her success in choosing to be all a woman can be, detractors criticized her looks, her wardrobe, her motherhood. Her IQ and her bra size were debated. Though unsuccessful in her first foray into national politics, unbowed, Palin has shown more mettle at times than President Obama. And the more the Mama Grizzly has been brutalized, the stronger her support has grown.

With the left unsated, Christine O’Donnell became the surrogate Palin piñata, beaten about by a blindfolded press and a dizzy, disdainful establishment. Not a professional politician, she was ridiculed for her beliefs and naiveté. A logical question posed by Professor William Jacobson went unanswered: “If O’Donnell is so nuts, why did the Delaware Republican Party nominate her to run against Joe Biden just two years ago?” The National Organization for Women, self-anointed defender of the limited liberal view of womanhood, has finally condemned the latest round of online sleaze and misogynistic attacks against O’Donnell. But its outrage is diminished by its months of silence.

The list of conservative women targeted goes beyond Palin and O’Donnell. Sharron Angle, a former schoolteacher and grandmother of 10 in Arizona, is so “ crazy” and such a “bitch,” such a “ moron,” that she now leads a race against the most powerful man in the Senate. Nikki Haley dared to take on the good ol’ boys in South Carolina, even within her own party, and has been repeatedly slimed by a lovesick blogger. A mother of five and foster parent to 23, Minnesota powerhouse Michele Bachmann is labeled as being “ against children.” And Meg Whitman, a women who has actually created jobs and signed the front of paychecks, setting her apart from professional politicians, is a “whore” in the eyes of her opponent’s staffer and also, most shamefully, NOW’s California president.

Is it any wonder women are so under-represented in our country’s political leadership?

Although a recent study by the Wesleyan Media Project finds that the distribution of negative ads this season is comparable to 2008 in proportion and volume, there is a crucial difference: “Democrats are using personal attacks at much higher rates than Republicans and a much higher rate than Democrats in 2008.”

Is it any wonder women are so under-represented in our country’s political leadership?

The Wesleyan study looks at the number and frequency, but not the depth to which political attacks have sunk. With little to run on, some Democrats have lowered themselves beneath the gutter of desperation. Mudslinging is not new in this ugly game, but the onslaught of attacks on women by those who demean femininity as fragility is shameful, and telling of the fear they engender among the weaker powers that be.

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Many in the media serve as enablers with subtle but insidious belittling of conservatives. And these “ mean girls” continue to be the butt of jokes on late-night television and in a blogosphere-gone-wild. Few so-called feminists have risen in defense of their conservative sisters, though they are indignant when liberal women are deemed “ hot.”

But voters are noticing. They recognize a double standard. And their response will be to reward the victims.

I expect the acrimony and sexualized slander to reach a new pitch next year in an attempt to dethrone Palin. But she is not the “enemy.”

There are very real enemies—waste, greed, and stupidity—that threaten our economic survival. It’s time to take them on—as men and women of equal class.

Our daughters are watching.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.