Emasculation Politics: What's Wrong With 'Manning Up'?

Sharron Angle joins other politicians questioning their opponents' manhood.

October 15, 2010, 12:37 PM

— Oct. 15, 2010 -- "Man up, Harry Reid," declared Sharron Angle, facing off Thursday night in a Nevada campaign debate against the senate majority leader.

The sound bite of Angle challenging Reid's manhood was the defining moment of an otherwise unremarkable debate where both candidates repeatedly stumbled over their words.

Many Republicans have declared this the year of the Republican woman, and a number of Republican women have suggested that their opposition would be better at politics if they acted more like men.

To "man up" has become a catch-phrase this year, after Newsweek's provocative cover story about modern manhood, which asserted that the whole country needs to "re-imagine masculinity" and men should abandon traditional perceptions of the man as breadwinner and worker, and adopt a more co-parenting model.

On the campaign trail, women candidates have used those old perceptions to criticize their male opponents.

"Female candidates have traditionally been stereotyped as being less aggressive," said Jennifer Lawless, Director of the Women in Politics Institute at American University. "That can be perceived as weak. When she asserts that he's not as assertive, as aggressive, then she is in a way shoring up her aggressive credential."

She said there is a tacit societal problem when the ideal candidate is a manly candidate.

"This stereotypical notion of masculinity embodied by aggressive politicians is the bar by which we judge who is fit for office," Lawless said.

Angle's challenge was not the first time in this election year that a strong female candidate essentially told their opponent to "be a man."

In Colorado, Republican Attorney General Jane Norton used a TV ad to accuse her opponent, former Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, of running ads against her financed by outside interest groups.

"You'd think Ken would be man enough to do it himself," Norton said in the ad.

Buck responded to the ad several days later by telling a group of supporters, sort of tongue in check, to "vote for me. I don't wear high heels."

Norton's questioning of Buck's manhood didn't seem to raise anyone's alarm bells. But Buck's high heels comment put him on defense through the rest of the primary. He eventually won.

"My opponent has said a number of times on the campaign trail that people should vote for her because she wears high heels, because she wears a skirt, because she's a woman. ... She ran a commercial that said Ken Buck should be man enough to do X, Y, and Z. ... I made a statement, it was a lighthearted statement that I'm man enough, I don't wear high heels and I have cowboy boots on." Buck told CBS.

Palin Challenges Obama's Manhood

Lawless said there is no real comparison between calling a female candidate a "whore," -- as someone in California gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown's campaign called his opponent, Meg Whitman -- and questioning a males' masculinity by telling him to "man up."

"Manning up is not seen as a derogatory slur," she said. "It might be questioning his masculinity, but it's not an overt slur, with sexist overtones."

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin had the ultimate cutdown for President Obama earlier this summer.

In criticizing the Obama administration for opposing Arizona's controversial immigration law, which requires immigrants to carry identification papers, Palin used a Spanish term to say the President didn't have as much manhood as the Governor of Arizona, who is a woman.

"Jan Brewer has the cojones that our president does not have," she said. "If our own president will not enforce our federal law, more power to Jan Brewer," said Palin on Fox News.

"The language matters," said Michael Maslansky, author of "The Language of Trust." "If Jerry Brown had said Whitman sells out her principles to the highest bidder, there would have been no controversy. If Angle had been more colorful in emasculating Reid, there might have been a controversy. "

Man to Man Combat on Campaign Trail

He used the earmuffs test to make his case.

"Put it this way: how would you feel if you had young children and they heard both of these statements? Chances are you would cover their ears for the first one and be able to explain the meaning of the second one"

It doesn't have to be a female candidate questioning a male opponent's manhood. Republican Carl Paladino, running an outsider bid for Governor in New York, tried to goad Democratic Attorney General Andrew Cuomo into debating.

"Andrew has to address the people, and it's time he got a set of cojones to be able to do that," said Paladino.

And Republican Rand Paul told Democrat Jack Conway in the Kentucky senate debate to "step up and be a man, take a chance, say you're for something."

Beyond the theatrics of calling out Reid, Democratic strategist Anthony Coley said voters are smart enough to see through the one liner.

"Voters are intelligent and even the catchiest phrases won't cover up the facts," he said of the debate Thursday night between Reid and Angle.

"Angle still wants to privatize Social Security and she never directly answered the question on if insurance companies should ever be mandated to cover anything or anyone."

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