The title has been edited to better reflect the piece.
Too often, we see there is a double standard in the way women on the Right are treated compared to women on the Left. Rather than criticizing Republican women based on substance, people often resort to gendered, sexist, misogynistic attacks to criticize Republican women, from NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.
Last night at the White House Correspondents Dinner, comedian Michelle Wolf made jokes at the expense of nearly everyone associated with media and politics (at one point she told Democrats “You’re somehow going to lose 12 points to a guy named Jeff Pedophile Nazi Doctor”), though it was her criticism of Sanders that received the most attention.
At one point, Wolf said, “Every time Sarah steps up to the podium I get excited because I’m not sure what we’re going to get: a press briefing, a bunch of lies, or divided into softball teams.”
This was clearly a pointed remark at Sanders’ appearance, using the homophobic stereotype that women who play softball are “butch” or otherwise masculine. It is particularly significant she chose to say “softball” rather than “baseball” (or even just “teams”) when both men and women make up the press corps.
This was Wolf’s most offensive line regarding Sanders.
Wolf also said she loved Sanders as Aunt Lydia in the Handmaid’s Tale, which was most likely referring to Aunt Lydia’s support of the oppressive anti-women Gilead regime, but some argue was also implying Sanders is matronly. Wolf then commented on Sanders’ “perfect smokey eye,” which she joked was “probably lies” created with ash using burned facts. I personally don’t find those two lines as offensive and hypocritical as the softball line.
Such gendered criticism is not uncommon. In March, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch was repeatedly attacked with sexist slurs and physically threatened by people who were unhappy with the NRA and her rhetoric.
I am a feminist, and it is both disappointing and frustrating to watch when people are unable to argue with women without resorting to insults based upon appearance, sex, or sexuality. It is especially appalling and infuriating to see such methods employed by those who consider themselves feminist allies and to see self-proclaimed feminists argue for the right to be misogynistic.
There is a clear difference between harsh substantive criticism and gendered harassment or insults. Misogynistic attacks are entirely unrelated to policy, policy positions, or rhetoric. They lack any substance entirely.
Some of last night’s “jokes” didn’t serve to explain the problems with the way the White House treats opponents or journalists, White House rhetoric, or Sanders’ role. The slurs directed at Loesch didn’t serve to point out the problems with the direction of the NRA.
Instead, they served to debase Loesch and Sanders because of their appearance and their sex — because they are women.
To be clear: I personally have been vocal about my problems with both the NRA and the White House. I have repeatedly criticized the direction and rhetoric of both.
That doesn’t mean people should subject a woman to sexist, misogynistic slurs or photoshops because they disagree with her.
Such cheap, gendered jabs undermine any legitimate criticism.
Furthermore, these sexist insults, and feminist allies remaining silent or otherwise treating them as though they are acceptable, imply that women deserve to be subjected to gendered attacks based on differences of opinion and that women do not deserve respect based on their appearance. Gendered harassment and insults therefore contribute to the reinforcement of negative gender stereotypes, which hurts all women.
A woman’s words or actions do not determine whether or not she deserves to be the target of gendered harassment or insults.
However, there is reason to feel reassured: Wolf has been nearly universally condemned by journalists.
Because I want to give people credit for doing the right thing, here are some of the media members speaking out (others obviously also RT'ing them):https://t.co/iyj3KVWKVHhttps://t.co/KmsENhJVIFhttps://t.co/ds9Yoo9OcEhttps://t.co/cAot4aGtYBhttps://t.co/oLHb0x9cyA
— (((AG))) (@AGHamilton29) April 29, 2018
This morning, ABC News’ chief White House correspondent, and 2019-2020 White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) President, stated Wolf “went over the line”:
Video: @JonKarl, hosting ABC’s #ThisWeek, on mean-spirited personal attacks at White House Correspondents’ dinner: “My take here was that the comedian, @MichelleIsaWolf, went over the line…This was supposed to be celebrating the First Amendment.” #WHCD #WCHA #TTT pic.twitter.com/RPnmJjjUHG
— Brent Baker (@BrentHBaker) April 29, 2018
Other journalists pointed out the hypocrisy:
Hateful and unfunny.
Mocking a woman for her appearance? I guess that counts as woke now—just as long as she isn’t progeessive. Or thin. https://t.co/FjgeIcc79J
— Terry Moran (@TerryMoran) April 29, 2018
This incident, and journalists’ responses to it, are reminiscent of another sexist incident a few months ago. When unfounded rumors of an affair between President Trump and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley spread because of journalist Michael Wolff’s book, women from both sides of the aisle denounced the rumors as unfair and sexist.
This is what we need. We need people from both sides of the aisle to call out the unfair and gross treatment of women, no matter who the target is.
This means that hypocrisy on the Right must be criticized as well. Some Republicans are more than happy to laugh at jokes that attack Hillary Clinton’s physical appearance, not her political positions. And many Trump supporters, who will be outraged by last night’s comments on Sarah Sanders, voted for a man who attacked Carly Fiorina’s face, mocked Heidi Cruz’ looks, and frequently makes fun of Democrats’ appearances.
Neither side should continue to accept bad behavior from their allies. It only hurts us all. We must do better. Luckily, judging from the overwhelmingly negative response to Wolf’s jokes, it is clear that that is more than possible.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.