'Mean Girls' or 'Sisterhood': The Politics of Women

It was a made-for-TV moment that wasn't intentionally made for TV -- Carly Fiorina, the GOP's rising star and newly minted candidate for the Senate ticket from California, caught on an open mic taking a dig at Sen. Barbara Boxer's hair.

"So yesterday," a laughing Fiorina said to an aide, before quickly realizing her big "oops" moment.

This is not the first time a politician has been caught on a hot mic and certainly not the worst thing that has been said. Remember Jesse Jackson saying he wanted to cut off a part of then candidate Obama's anatomy? Or President George W. Bush calling a New York Times reporter a "major league a**hole?"

VIDEO: A hot mic shows Carly Fiorina mocking opponent Sen. Barbara Boxer, Meg Whitman.
Carly Fiorina Mocks Barbara Boxer's Hair

But the fact that a female candidate criticized another female politician's appearance has opened up a Pandora's box of opinions on the "mean girls" debate and prompted the question, "Where is the sisterhood?"

"Women will continue to take two steps forward and three steps back until they drop the sorority girl act and become the stateswomen and leaders that we need," Nicole Wallace, a senior adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign and former Bush administration official, wrote in a scathing article in the Daily Beast. "Fiorina's sarcastic 'diss' of her opponent's appearance may show why the presidency remains out of reach for the current crop of women candidates, at least for now."

But many women in politics argue that Fiorina's comments shouldn't be read into as more than an embarrassing moment. The spotlight her comment has garnered, said Ann Lewis, a former aide to Hillary Clinton, shows that women are still held to double standards compared to their male counterparts.

"Having first congratulated one other on a primary election in which higher number of women got nominated -- although we still have a ways to go -- we sort of immediately turned it into a high school yearbook contest," Ann Lewis, a former aide to Hillary Clinton, told ABCNews.com. "What's striking to me is that this is a standard that's being used for women candidates, not for the men. I have seen no columnist asking, now that he's a nominee, how does Rand Paul really feel about Mitch McConnell?"

The number of women holding public office is still relatively low, even though most voters are female. There are only six female governors at present. Of the House of Representatives' 435 members, only 76 are women and in the Senate, 17 of the 100 members are women.

But women are moving up to key positions, such as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California. And 2010 could be a record year for women office holders, especially Republicans, with big names on the ballot such as Fiorina, California GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and Nevada GOP Senate nominee Sharron Angle.

"We really are in a new frontier in that we have record number of women running and a record number of women running against each other," said Karen O'Connor, a professor at American University and author of several books on women and politics.

With so many women in the political field, the days of candidates using gender as a tool in their campaigns are phasing out, some say.

"Very few candidates have made their gender a central part of their message," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. "Both parties are becoming much more accustomed to female candidates... in higher office."

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