Cattiness, Eye-Candy and the 2008 Presidental Campaign

Shortly after the infamous Obama Girl video was released, there was discussion over on Terry Frank’s blog about the practice of using sex to sell presidential candidates to American voters. Frank closed her post by asking: Is this how women vote?

I pooh-poohed the entire post. Not because I like pooh-poohing Frank’s talk whenever possible (although it is fun) I truly reject the notion that physical appearance has significant influence on the voting public.

However, I recently discovered “aesthetic appeal + x = electibility” is a formula, which some accept as true where female voters are concerned. Just this week I was informed by two soon-to-be-ex poli-sci geek friends that women are considered low-information voters. Therefore, they “rely exclusively on two political heuristics: (a) physical appearance and (b) political party.”

Huh? What? Seriously? Yeah, they said it.

These bozos think women take a few serious cognitive shortcuts and make poor political decisions. Essentially, didn’t they say – we’re unfit voters?

After all, golly gee, we lil’ ol’ girls cannot watch a debate. It might give us a headache. We cannot read a newspaper. We’d have to sound out the big words. We’d rather stay busy painting our fingernails and prancing around in frilly lingerie (because, you know, in their heads, this is what they think we do in our spare time.) Then, at election time, we skip out in our pink pumps to vote for the hottest political buns.

C’mon! Women ARE NOT electing governing bodies of hotties here. Those of us in the US1/TN4 alone can disprove that theory. You’ve seen our state and federal lawmakers, right? They aren’t exactly centerfold material.

Honestly, if this theory held any weight, Bob Corker wouldn’t be in Washington and this discussion would all be pointless because Hawkins County Juvenile Judge Jay Taylor would be the Reigning King of the Universe.

I accept that physical appearance plays a marginal role in politics. The research confirms that appearance influences perception. Physically attractive people are thought to possess more desirable traits: older people are thought to possess more wisdom. Studies also support the fact that the appearance of female politician is more important than that of her male counterpart because she is 6 times more likely to be evaluated negatively.

But women have always been judged by hair and hemlines. The difference is, in the past, they were being assessed for suitability as First Lady and needed to be fashionable. Today, they are being assessed as potential leaders and must strike some impossibly androgynous balance.

If they’re too attractive: they’re stupid. If they are too homely: they become the butt of jokes and not taken seriously. If they seem to strong and independent, they’re threatening and aggressive. If they seem to soft and feminine, they’re weak. They should be stately and approachable, serious but not stiff, well-coiffed but not overly so or they might not be viewed as professional. And heaven help the female politician who wears ugly shoes. Headlines will be not about her platform, but the thickness of her ankles.

On the other hand, men can be fat, crusty, skeletal, shifty, have comb-overs or a bald spot and wear ugly ties and poorly fitted suits. Yet you rarely see Joan Rivers in DC shrieking at male politicians, “Ohmigod! I’m going to be sick! Who are you representing in that suit? Whoever it is you should blow them up with WMD! Oh that’s right, there aren’t any!”

Yes, there is a link here which places females at a disadvantage – and Media reinforces the connection.

Recently we were sujected to the Times speculation about Fred’s wife being too hot for the White House. Then, there was the slightly weird discussion about Fred’s (non-existent) physical attractiveness and speculation that Fred, who is on good terms with his ex’s, might have an edge with female voters as the desirable friendly man-ho. Pardon me, if I don’t feel a “woot” coming on.

We got the John Edwards “I Feel Pretty” video because his wife, Elizabeth, is off limits. Michelle Obama has taken some flack for being an outspoken working mother. Of course, yesterday she was edged out by the WaPo article on Hillary’s cleavage.

I believe these things are tales for the sidebar – but do they create a voter bias? I don’t think so. I know I will not vote for Hillary for non-breast related reasons. I will not vote for Obama despite my admiration for his wife. In fact, I might just vote for someone ugly – you know, to prove a point.


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