Byline: Julia Baird
Stop ogling Republican women.
Something pretty creepy has been happening to conservative women lately. There seems to be an insistent, increasingly excitable focus on the supposed hotness of Republican women in the public eye, like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Michelle Malkin, and Nikki Haley--not to mention veterans like Ann Coulter. The sexual references are pervasive: they come from left, right, and center, and range from gushing to highly offensive. Harper's asked, "Is Sarah Palin Porn?" as others quizzed the former governor about whether she had breast implants. Right Wing News compiled a list of the hottest conservative women in new media. Playboy even ran an outrageous piece titled "Ten Conservative Women I'd Like to Hate F--k," which read like a sick attempt to make rape cool. "We may despise everything these women represent," wrote the author, "but goddammit they're hot. Let the healing begin." Moron.
It's odd to see how some men insist that when women start to grasp power, we should think of them primarily as playthings and provocateurs. Is this the best way to explain their success? They aren't challenging the status quo. They're being wild! They're not trying to lift the ban on offshore drilling. They're being naughty! When four women beat a field of men on the same night recently, competing for primary and gubernatorial nominations, it was widely referred to as "ladies' night." Aren't ladies' nights those promotions where women are allowed free entry into bars to provide fodder for the men?
Women in politics are used to being trivialized, and have tended to dress and behave soberly in response. The wisdom has long been that discussions about their sexuality are not just distracting and degrading, but also destructive.
Which is why what happened to Nikki Haley during the campaign for Republican candidate for governor of South Carolina was so fascinating, and counterintuitive. She entered the contest as a little-known businesswoman. She was endorsed by Jenny Sanford--the former wife of Mark Sanford, he of the Appalachian Trail. When she was anointed by Palin, Haley shot up in the polls. Then, on the cusp of the vote, two men--one of whom worked for a rival--suddenly declared they had had "inappropriate …