It’s hard to say which is more annoying: the kneejerk accusation of sexism by women in politics, or their refusal to take responsibility for such a claim, after hurling implications at an opponent. Since the weekend, newspapers (e.g., AP/Daily Freeman, May 9, 2006) have reported that:
“The former chairwoman of the [NY] state Democratic Party attacked Rep. John Sweeney [R - Clifton, Park] Tuesday for referring to a woman challenger as ‘a pretty face,’ saying such remarks are inappropriate.
“Sweeney . . . was criticized by Judith Hope for remarks he made over the weekend about his main Democratic challenger, Kirsten Gillibrand.
“You can’t take a resume and a pretty face from New York City and say to people this is good for you simply because we can spend a lot of money and raise a lot of money,” Sweeney told the Troy Record. [The Troy Record, May 7, 2006]
Ms. Hope opined that “Someone should tell John Sweeney that it’s 2006, not 1906.” However, per the Daily Freeman:
“Asked if she thought the comment was sexist, Hope said: ‘That’s for voters to decide’.”
Hope continued, nevertheless, saying, “The remarks jumped out at me because I think it’s so inappropriate for the congressman to use. … As a woman in politics, I call on Mr. Sweeney to represent the district and address the issues and provide accountability and some answers.”
Hope also charged the congressman’s behavior has embarrassed himself and his constituents, apparently referring to Sweeney’s much-publicized recent visit to a frat party at Union College in Schenectady. I’m with her on the frat party issue — but, I’ve never liked drunken frat boys! [And, note: If I lived in their district, I would surely vote for Gillibrand over Sweeney.]
The f/k/a Gang wants to point a few things out (and/or ask a question or two):
1] Sweeney never said Gillibrand was “just a pretty face,” and he surely could not do so, given her experience in both private and public sector law. She is currently a partner with Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP. Read her firm bio here. (now taken down) [update (Jan.23, 2009): Gov. David Paterson must think very highly of now-Congresswoman Gillibrand, as he has chosen her to fill Hillary Clinton's vacated seat in the U.S. Senate.]
2] For many persons, especially those past a certain age, being called “a pretty face” is a compliment — politics or no politics.
3] Kirsten Gillibrand is pretty, and being attractive is often a criteria used by political bosses, and the electorate, in choosing candidates.
4] If Gillibrand’s campaign wanted to play down her good looks, they should not be highlighting this photo, which surely shows her to great advantage over a popular New York politician:
5] Men have also been called “a pretty face” — for example, Sen. John Edwards (D – NC), during his run for the vice presidency in 2004. See this PBS NewsHour piece, where John McCain and John Cheney poke fun at Cheney — and indirectly at his VP opponent Edwards:
KWAME HOLMAN: In Missouri, Arizona Sen. John McCain introduced the vice president with a jibe at the youthful-looking Edwards.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: In short, my friends, Vice President Cheney is not just another pretty face.
KWAME HOLMAN: Cheney followed up on the comparison of vice presidential candidates.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Somebody said to me the other day that Sen. Edwards got picked because he’s sexy, good looking, charming. I said, “How do you think I got this job?”
You may recall, in addition, that Pres. George W. Bush mentioned back in Jan.2004 that Scott Reid, the senior strategist to Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, has “a pretty face.”
6] In general, unless something really important is at stake, a sense of humor is always a better reaction than a sense of outrage in the battle for gender equality. Next time Kirsten Gillibrand is called a “pretty face”, her supporters should consider lightening up, and singing Shania Twain’s rebuttal, “Not Just a Pretty Face” (lyrics).
7] In passing, we note this article from the Chicago Tribune, “Daddy material, it takes just 1 look” (May 9, 2006), which begins:
“Just from looking at a man’s face, women can sense how much he likes children, gauge his testosterone level and decide whether he would be more suitable as a one-night stand or as a husband, new research published Tuesday suggests.”
Of course, you the voter will have to decide its relevance to the rest of this posting and to charges of sexism.
afterwords: Click for more thoughts on what is or isn’t sexism and when playing the sexism card is appropriate (May 20, 2008).
on the bus
the teenager pulls out a mirror
and adjusts her pout
the son who
I study his face in a puddle
droping stone after stone ..
into the lake I keep
on the face
that last night called me names
through a hole
in the fog billboard girl’s
A sigh from her
then one from me—
two pages turn
the deep well, two boys
talk about girls