With Carly Fiorina’s political star on the rise, her national vetting has begun in earnest, as one would expect. One of the criticisms currently being leveled at her, particularly by conservative and Republican women, is that she is “playing the gender card.”
Before we go any further, can we talk a little about that word, “gender”? It’s used badly quite often these days. It was once a grammatical term signifying, in some languages, the division of nouns into classes that determine the noun’s form as well as other associated words (articles, adjectives).
Now the word “gender” most often refers to human beings’ sexual “identity.” Earlier this year, Facebook widened its already multitudinous “gender” options by adding one more: “custom.” The move was an inevitable outcome of postmodernism run amok. It matters not what the objective reality is—what DNA one has—but how one wants to define himself. Or herself. Or, um, itself. If you want to engage in a little counter-cultural resistance, start by refusing to buy into the practice of categorizing people by “gender.” Instead, get back to talking about sex. At last check, that’s still the word you’ll find on your passport application, with a choice of two possible answers: “male” or “female.”
Carly Fiorina Acknowledges the Truth
But I digress. Whether we use the word “sex” or “gender,” the bottom line is that all of the candidates running for POTUS are either male or female (that’s no surprise to God), and short of putting them in closets and having them talk through voice disguisers, there is no way to totally ignore that.
Nor should we. Men and women are different, and acknowledging and talking about that is not “playing the gender card.” It’s telling the truth. Such truth-telling is one of the reasons I’m a conservative—because, unlike liberals, conservatives generally aren’t bound and determined to pretend there are no material differences between the sexes.
It’s a huge contradiction within feminist ideology that the same people who claim women and men are essentially the same simultaneously seek all sorts of special accommodations and allowances on the basis of sex (such as the sole right to decide whether a child in the womb will be allowed to live). This is why it is so very hypocritical of liberal women like Hillary Clinton to attempt to use their female identity as a weapon. How can they use as a weapon what they so often seem intent on denying?
In contrast to the kind of woman who seems ashamed of what makes her a woman, there is the one who embraces the full range of her femininity, going so far as to ask to be treated like a lady. That is what Fiorina did during the second GOP debate. Asked to respond to Donald Trump’s previous disparaging of her face, she parried with one simple, loaded statement: “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”
Judging Appearance Is Different from Judging Competence
Criticism of that rejoinder holds that in taking his comment as an insult to her womanhood Fiorina engaged in identity politics. As D. C. McAllister points out, Ben Carson did not respond to Trump’s description of him as an “okay doctor” as an attack on his race. The analogy, however, is a faulty one. Trump did not call Fiorina an “okay businesswoman.” He attacked her face. If he had made a similar comment about Carson’s face after eight years of a black president, there might have been a few more questions raised.
But are we really going to argue about whether women are more likely to be judged on their appearance than men? It is a truth universally acknowledged that men get more distinguished with age, while women just look older. You will never convince me that Trump’s “look at that face” comment was in the same league as a similar comment made about a male candidate.
It is why, as much as I dislike Hillary Clinton, I have never appreciated criticism of her appearance or her wardrobe. As a woman I did hear very clearly what Trump said. And trying to patch things up in the debate by talking about how beautiful Fiorina is didn’t help matters. It only dressed up the insult in ribbons and bows and perpetuated the practice of judging a woman’s value by her looks.
The Buzzfeed Video Requires Two Sexes for Its Humor
Fiorina’s recent BuzzFeed video has also come under fire for so-called identity politics. In it Fiorina plays the part of a powerful executive asking questions of subordinate men that are more typically asked of women: “How do you manage the work-life balance?” “Does your wife help with the kids?” “You like to bake. How about you handle the cake for Gina’s birthday?” Fiorina’s delivery is spot-on, making the video a total hoot.
That’s where the gender-card argument fails. The video is not an angry feminist rant with a list of demands, but a humorous and lighthearted look at the reality that women in the workforce have a different experience and set of assumptions to deal with. To say that is not to play the gender card; it is simply a statement of fact.
Women and men are different in their physical, psychological, and emotional makeup. It is the woman’s body, not the man’s, which gives itself over to growing, bearing, and initially providing sustenance for a new human being. It is only natural that this truth would spill over into various aspects of life, including the professional arena. Can a female candidate talk about that, and about other ways women experience life differently from men, without being accused of “playing the gender card”?
The Fiorina team turned Trump’s face insult into a campaign ad featuring a series of beautifully diverse, smiling female faces who, according to Fiorina, represent not an “interest group” but “the majority of the country.” Again, the argument seems to be that to talk about the experience of being female, an experience this candidate shares with half the populace, is to play the gender card. Yet it could also be argued that, with the ad, Fiorina is combating identity politics by moving women out of the realm of a special-interest group that only cares about “women’s issues” into one that, reflecting their majority status, cares about every issue under the sun.
Carly Fiorina is a woman. It’s okay to acknowledge that and to have a thoughtful discussion about not only what it means to be a woman in twenty-first-century America but also what it would mean to elect the first female president of the United States.
What is not okay is for Fiorina’s fellow candidates to dismiss or disrespect her in ways that are reminiscent of schoolboy antics. Those who do so should not be surprised when Mrs. Fiorina, in perfect schoolmarm fashion, looks down her nose, frowns, and tells them to sit in the corner.