September 14, 2010 / Sexism, Unity

Christine O’Donnell & Today’s Delaware Primary


Delaware has never elected a female senator. The state is among seven of the original thirteen states that have never been represented in the Senate by a woman. Delaware may get its first real shot at correcting this oversight should polls bear out in the primary between Christine O’Donnell and Mike Castle today. O’Donnell, the Tea Party favorite, is slated to beat Republican party favorite and 30-year office-holder, Mike Castle. O’Donnell is among a slew of Republican candidates endorsed by Sarah Palin this election season, and Palin’s recent endorsement has breathed life into what was once thought to be a predictable race among Republicans in a traditionally blue state. The seat was once was held by Vice President Joe Biden.

O’Donnell and Castle have been at the center of a nasty campaign that has grown increasingly sexist in recent weeks. I started paying attention to this race a couple of weeks ago after I saw some fishy rhetoric being thrown around in an online spat between Mark Levin and Jim Geraghty, two national conservative radio commentators, over an interview O’Donnell had given to a local station about her 2008 Delaware Senate race. In that race she was the Republicans’ handpicked candidate. In the interview she gave, she apparently confused some of the county results from the 2008 race, leading Geraghty to dismiss her as a serious candidate, suggesting she was radically conservative, too conservative for Delaware surely. Levin retorted via Facebook, “Perspective, Boys, Perspective.” Geraghty, frustrated that his political advice should be challenged, replied, “My mistake, fellas.” This seemed to me to be the typical insider boys’ club-style of talking over a woman’s head. So I started paying attention.

Right after that Sarah Palin endorsed O’Donnell, and I knew the sexist rhetoric would ratchet up. It was only a matter of time. O’Donnell has an unusual background for a Senate candidate. She’s not rich or connected, and in fact has been unemployed for some time now. She has a house foreclosure in her recent history, and a gender discrimination lawsuit against a former employer. She’s Catholic and pro-life, and  comes from a large Irish-Italian family. She is single. Nearly all of this has been used against her by an elitist and sexist political establishment both inside and outside Delaware, which includes water carriers in the press.

Which brings us to this last Sunday, two days before the primary, and this smear piece in The Weekly Standard by John McCormack. As William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection aptly described, it uses the nut prong of the nuts-and-sluts strategy to paint O’Donnell as crazy. But it also paints her as so much more than that. The article reports about O’Donnell’s 2005 gender discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit against a former employer, and McCormack focuses on three aspects in particular: O’Donnell’s “mental anguish;” the amount of money at stake in the (dismissed) suit ($3.6 million); and and the fact that the suit was against a conservative nonprofit organization. Thus O’Donnell is portrayed as crazy, greedy, and disloyal. These act as dog whistles to the profoundly, if latently, sexist culture so common in the mid-Atlantic and New England. It’s a slightly different kind of sexism than exists in the South,  Midwest and Western states (in case anyone thought I was picking on the East Coast).

O’Donnell has also been excoriated for being unemployed and poor, and for losing her house. And yet, given the economy and the demographics of her time and place, these are unsurprising facts. Many people have lost homes; many people, especially women, are poor or have trouble climbing the ladder of success with so many barriers in their paths. She has occasionally misspoken on the campaign trail, which has been used to paint her as a liar and thus unreliable. Many of us remember some of these same tactics being used against Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in 2008.

Christine O’Donnell may or may not be the candidate for you if you live in Delaware. Voters there will have to use their judgment to evaluate her candidacy, and decide for themselves who will best represent them. They shouldn’t have to weigh that decision with a cloud of sexism muddying the information stream. Sadly they do. That’s why it’s important to call out this kind of latent sexism when we see it. I’m not a Delaware voter, and I don’t agree with some of O’Donnell’s politics, but I do defend her right to take a chance getting elected without being targeted because of her gender.

O’Donnell’s candidacy has seen a 17 point surge in support over the last month, with over 60% of Delaware’s registered Republicans supporting her. She may very well win today, and that may carry with it an important lesson in and of itself. Perhaps we can’t eradicate sexism right now, today, but we may be able to find strategies to win in spite of the presence of sexism in the media and on the campaign trail. As Sarah Palin has demonstrated so well this election season, working together and supporting women is one way to do that.

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  • Amy Siskind

    Great piece AB. Let’s create an even playing field and end the sexism.

    Step 2 coming (very) soon -Searching for Sexism, episode 1.

  • Bes

    I think it is time the East coast sexism be called out. They export it all over the USA and in fact the world on their nightly “national news casts”. Frankly I have stopped watching, I live in a state (WA) with two woman Senators and a woman Governor and I have never seen this sort of rabid sexism in the whole time they were building their careers. They really need some perspective, East coast news is not the “national news” and their brand of sexism is easily recognized and disgusting to the great unwashed masses of us out here in the west. I wish I could cancel the channels that feature it so I wouldn’t be subsidizing it with my cable payment.

  • Anna Belle Pfau

    Thanks, Amy. Looking forward to that feature!

    Bes, I agree with you about the difference in sexism among the various regions in America, and I also agree that the west is more enlightened in this regard. What was happening to O’Donnell stank of that aggressive-passive-aggressive East Coast crap I’ve seen all my life, and I thought it was worth pointing out because it so often gets overlooked as just “the way things are,” which is exactly the problem when you have enough power and print space to generate reality instead of report on it.

    All that said, sexism is a real problem for America, and no place is free of it. I hope O’Donnell wins in spite of it. Nothing like thumbing the old boys network with a win in spite of them!

  • Bes

    Anna Belle, I hope she wins too (although I had never heard of her until today). No amount of talking at these elitist hosers will change their behavior, they need to get their butts kicked in elections and the media hosers need to lose their viewers. At that point they might begin to rethink their deeply held smirky prejudices.

  • Janis

    “O’Donnell has also been excoriated for being unemployed and poor, and for losing her house.”

    Heaven forbid.

    And trust me, Bes — the West isn’t heaven.

  • kiuku

    I like reading about O’ Donnel, and the sexism that other women have endured, but not talked about, because one of the biggest problems with sexism is the sense of isolation the victim feels, like no one else goes through this, as the men deny it even exists.

    And why do people deny sexism? Is it the guilt? (doubtful) or does it interfere with their sense of merit, as all successful people like to believe that they did something to merit that success, as an afirmation. If it’s just a bromance, what are men really?

  • Amy Siskind

    Lively discussion happening on our Facebook page:

  • kiuku

    Exactly Anna Belle. Generate reality, instead of report on it. And I don’t can’t really be an issue of intelligence can it? People are equal in intelligence, aren’t they? I truly believe so, in spite of IQ tests, which I don’t think any test can truly measure intelligence, common sense, decency, humanity; the very fabric of it has to be in equal measure in every single person. So why don’t people stand up to it. Why is there 6000 years of stupidity? The same old song and dance, literally. And then I’m also surprised that people aren’t bored of it. Aren’t they bored of it? I never fail to deliver. I watch as my ideas, -my ideas-, consistently generate profit for other people. But I could never profit from them. And now I’m bored of it. I’m bored of my ideas, my creations, my individual expressions making other people (males) money, sometimes billions of dollars. And then I’m even bored of “see look you really are just a hypocrit.” Can’t people just get it already? I think it’s intelligence. I think it’s just a different threshold for boredom. Otherwise theyd be like “yea i’m a hypocrite.” atleast at some point they would be “yea I’m a hyporite but it’s fun” but I haven’t even seen much of that.

  • kiuku

    so they blast her for being poor, when they are the reason she’s poor. Their desires and wants don’t follow her condition, as a woman. That is why she is poor.

    But they don’t ever articulate this. They don’t ever say “Listen, I just don’t like her because she’s a woman.” Instead they say it’s because of something she did, the way she talks, walks, breathes, or dresses. Meanwhile in comes a man who talks, walks, breathes the same way, and it’s an orgy, nothing short of one. I realize all of my biases, every single one and I’m always very honest about them, and I do what I can to ignore them completely. I expect that other people can realize their biases too, but I don’t know whether or not they actually can. Is it a matter that they do not or they just aren’t being honest about them. Because it’s one thing to be sexist. It’s one thing to be racist. It’s one thing to just not like someone, but they should be honest about it. They should say “Look the action is great, but I just don’t like that person.” Or “the idea is wonderful, but I just don’t like that person.” Instead they say “I just don’t like that idea.” “I just don’t like that action.” or even worse being physically violent and acting out. Instead of letting other things speak for them, and instead of blaming it on their actions, they should say: “I just don’t like this woman” doesn’t count either because it’s just not honest. “I don’t like it when a woman does x, y, or z,” is more honest than the above, but also not completely honest. Then we could deal with the larger problem and isolate where and what in the culture is programming people to not like certain sexes, races, or individuals.

  • Amy Siskind

    She won folks! Women helping women (Palin). Good for her!

  • samanthasmom

    O’Donnell has been declared the winner at Politico. Let’s hope Castle and his supporters come through for her in the general.

  • Bes

    I don’t say the west is heaven but women can and have run for election without the elitist smug mockery for years. I have never seen anything like the sexist schlock that is served up as political commentary by the East coast Corporate Media and I have seen many women run for election.

    In the west you don’t find people who are raging backward sexists patting themselves on the back for being THE most advanced people on earth. The contrast between the ignorant way these people behave and the lofty view they hold of themselves is both stunning and repulsive.

  • Anna Belle Pfau

    w00t! One more shot at more women in the Senate!

  • yttik

    Congratulations to Christine O’Donnell!

    Bes is correct, the sexism coming from the East coast Corporate Media is pretty shocking to some of us out West. We have our share of sexism for sure but it’s not so smug and elitist and in your face.

  • Patti

    This was informative, AB. I was suspicious about all the negative rhetoric being spewed about O’Donnell.

  • Patti

    Yeah right, Bes, the West Coast is so pro-woman that it barely covers the professional woman’s basketball team, The Seattle Storm, who is currently in first place and one game away from winning the championship. My awesome husband pointed out this glaring deficit and noted it would be front page news and ALL the news if it was the men’s team (the men sucked so bad they were shipped off to another state, ha).

    From my viewpoint, it’s just as sexist in the West as anywhere else. Local news media anywhere is more professional than the sexist talking heads on national cable.

  • Anna Belle Pfau

    Congratulations to Ms. O’Donnell! A six point spread says something! Of course, now she’s being discounted nationally. I hope she surprises everyone and that all the folks calling the political news these days have to eat their socks. I’d love to have them served a heaping helping of toe jam by a working class gal.

    All that said, I am hearing in these comments a desire to discuss how sexism manifests and shows itself in the various regions of our country. I think most of us agree that there are differences. Maybe I’ll try to work something up so we can discuss the issue openly.

  • Bes

    Patti: I rarely watch the “news” but I did last night and I saw the Seattle Storm covered quite well. They had a reporter at the Key Arena as the fans were gathering and they interviewed several groups of fans and showed their banners. Then they cut to some footage of a previous game which showed the team and a full arena and had a couple of players talking. But that said it was only covered because it was local news. You would never see that on a channel coming out of the East Coast. East Coast Corporate Media are completely out of touch with reality on many fronts. For one thing they seem to think news regarding Ohio is news from the west and of course there is the sexism issue.

  • Patti

    Whatever, Bes. The coverage has been slim to none in Seattle. You see one report and think that it’s been covered quite well? The fact is that the WNBA is not covered anywhere near the intensity as the NBA or any men’s sports. That’s a no-brainer and if you dispute that then you just like to argue.

  • Helen McCaffrey

    Thank you . Thank You . Thank You, Ms. Pfau for the brilliant and accurate assessment of the “good old boys” network Delaware Division.
    The sexism with regard to Ms.O’Donnell has been over the top. The “Nuts and Sluts” strategy has been going full bore. Even the media joined in the fray.
    Nor was the other woman in the race Michelle Rollins spared. Although she was not attacked to the vicious degree that Ms. O’Donnell was.
    I was hoping that after the candidacies of Secretary Clinton and Gov. Palin exposed the raw meanness of sexist attacks we would see repentance and reformation on the part of the political machines and media but I guess that was just my Pollyanna gene kicking in.
    We have an awful lot of work to do on this front.
    Join me in demanding an end to sexist attacks on women candidates whether you support their ideas or not.
    I am so annoyed I am sending the O’Donnell campaign a donation.

  • marille

    got to politico today. you get it everywhere in the country. they have pulled all stops to damage her. just hope that voters are sensitized enough to reject this coverage.

    the poke fun at O-Donnell years ago for standing up for moral values. for guys like Maher speaking the truth is just one joke. I can sympathize on this issue. when my daughter was in public school kindergarden through 2nd grade our entire discussion topic was the benefit of speaking the truth. suddenly everyone was cheating and that was the way to go. it took a great effort to overcome this attitude.

    then the ridicule on defaulting on loans when our treasury sec isn’t able to pay his taxes.