Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bachmann Played the “Gender Card”?

Just prior to the Iowa caucus last January, the results of which prompted Representative Bachmann’s decision to end her run for the GOP nomination for president, one article particularly got my attention.  The headline was “Bachmann plays gender card as Iowa GOP vote nears.”  It is available at the link below:

I thought the headline was interesting because from my vantage point, Representative Bachmann had not seemed to emphasize gender much.  And after reading the text of the article, in my mind there did not seem to be a lot of evidence that Representative Bachmann was emphasizing her gender.  The article by Brian Baskst of the Associated Press quoted her as describing herself as an “Iowa girl” and saying “We need a strong woman to turn this country around, right?”  To me, such throw away lines don’t seem to be much if any emphasis on gender.  So, she used gendered nouns instead of a more neutral term like “person.”  Big deal.  That hardly means that Representative Bachmann was making some sort of claim of superiority due to her gender.

Mr. Baskst also noted in his article that earlier in the campaign Representative Bachmann had shared an “emotional story about how a miscarriage fortified her anti-abortion views,” and she had made references to motherhood in the campaign.  Again, I don’t see that as particularly different from what male candidates have done in the past. 

Some of them have referenced their children or shared difficult family trials to make political points.  Rick Santorum has made references to his large clan to shore up his support for family values.  John Huntsman talked about his sons’ military service to shed light on positions he’s embraced. 

Again, these points don’t seem to support Mr. Baskst’s claim that the congresswoman played the “gender card.”  Sure, she may be the only one to talk about her experience of having a miscarriage.  But obviously that is simply because she is the only one running for the GOP nomination in this election cycle to have been pregnant.  Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich by virtue of biology simply could not have those life experiences to draw upon. 

Mr. Baskst also describes Representative Bachmann’s status as a mother of five and a foster parent to several dozen as a “favorite biographical detail” of the congresswoman.  But plenty of male candidates have done the same sort of thing.  Senator Santorum in particular comes to mind.  If family values are a critical part of your political philosophy, it makes sense you are going to play up to voters how your own family has been important in your life.  Again, I don’t see anything about Representative Bachmann’s gender that makes that different.  Perhaps I am wrong, but if her husband were running for public office, I suspect he would also be touting those same credentials as a parent.

In the article, Mr. Baskst also describes Representative Bachmann’s affectionate nature on the campaign trail.  He talks about the “warm hugs” she gives, as well as running “her hand along another woman’s back during conversations.”  Interesting.  So, being affectionate is playing the “gender card” per Mr. Baskst?  I find that to be terribly sexist. 

Apparently like Representative Bachmann, I too tend to be a hugger.  When people are happy or sad, my reflex is to hug them.  That is one way I myself express empathy to those around me.  But I don’t think that has anything to do with having a uterus.  I know plenty of women who are not affectionate.  And I know plenty of men who are.  It is very sexist to associate affection with gender.  It plays to gendered stereotypes that women are supposed to be nurturing while men are supposed to be tough and stoic. 

As both a modern 21st century person and a Christian, I think such stereotypes are just caca.  Indeed, Jesus was male, but he was apparently very nurturing and in touch with his emotions.  He ministered to people in gentle, personal ways.  He often healed them by the laying on of hands. 

I also understand that Jesus was affectionate with his friends.  Indeed, it is said that he was “betrayed by a kiss.”  Judas Iscariot used a kiss to Jesus as the sign to signal the authorities who he was so that they could arrest him.  I glean from this that such expressions of affection were not uncommon among the disciples.  Judas was trying to subtly signal the authorities.  He was doing something that would not arose attention or suspicion.  If Judas and Jesus never expressed affection in that way, then the kiss would have not been received or would have attracted commotion. 

Further, when his friend Lazarus died, it is recorded that Jesus wept.  As I understand the Scriptures, this was apparently out of empathy for the grief of Mary and Martha who were mourning the loss of their brother.  Jesus seemed to know that he was about to raise Lazarus such that his death was not permanent and was not worthy of mourning.  As a result, Jesus does not seem to have wept for Lazarus, but instead for the pain Mary and Martha were experiencing.  That passage suggests that Jesus was so empathetic that he was feeling the pain of Mary and Martha.

Beyond examples from the New Testament, I also think the focus on Representative Bachmann being affectionate is misplaced based on modern political context.  She is hardly the first candidate for the Oval Office to be affectionate on the campaign trail.  I recall Hillary Clinton doing the same thing when she ran for president.  Heck, her husband was even better known for his big bear hugs when interacting on the campaign trail.  And I’m pretty sure Bill Clinton does not have a uterus.

Anyhow, the article by Mr. Baskst provided little evidence of an alleged playing of the “gender card,” but instead focused on comments of voters on the gender issue, as well as comparisons to Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin.  Instead of reporting on what Representative Bachmann was or was not doing to emphasize her gender, the article seemed more a bit of analysis of how gender was impacting her campaign. 

The misleading title of the article is annoying to me.  It was lacking in transparency.  If Mr. Baskst wanted to write some analysis of gender, then he should have done that without suggesting that Representative Bachmann was herself exploiting her gender. 

Moreover, the title of the article, in my mind, suggested that there was something to be exploited to the benefit of Representative Bachmann’s campaign because she was female.  In my observation that is far from the truth.  Being female is much more of a hindrance on the campaign trail than it could ever be a benefit. 

Further, the wording of the title plays into fears and even paranoia of many in our society who believe that affirmative action gives unfair advantage to those who are unworthy and unjustly denies benefits to those who are deserving.  There are many in our country who have never been able to see beyond President Obama’s race and believe that he was elected simply because he is partially of African heritage.  I disagree with those who hold such views.  Like being female, I think being African American is much more of a hindrance in a nation-wide election than it could ever be a benefit.  But I am cognizant that many disagree with that conclusion.  The title of this article on Representative Bachmann, however, feeds underlying fears and paranoia that are very much alive in our country.  I do not know Mr. Baskst and have no idea if that was his intent.  Perhaps it was an unintended consequence.

Matthew 26:48

The man who was going to help them catch Jesus had told them that he would give them a sign. He said, “The man that I kiss is the one. Catch him and hold him.”

John 11:30-35

Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him.

The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.

Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.

And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.

Jesus wept.

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