The XX Factor

The Party of Anxious Masculinity

Meredith Shiner and Glenn Thrush at Politico ask the question: Why does the GOP have a “woman problem”-i.e., a problem recruiting female candidates? This should be one of those simple answers to stupid questions situations, because the easy answer is that the Republican party has become the clearinghouse for straight white men angry that they have to share a little power with everyone else . Running too many women, especially women who don’t play sexpot or crazed right-wing shill (Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, respectively), would send the skittish angry white men of the party fleeing, hands over their ever-vulnerable man parts.

Unsurprisingly, the Politico writers don’t simply write, “Because the Republican party is run by people like Rush Limbaugh, duh,” and call it a day. Not that they don’t have a few examples of tone-deaf Republicans-such as Pete Sessions, who suggested that women should accept higher insurance premiums, like smokers do-but they balance that out with soft-pedaling remarks from GOP representatives using stereotypes about women being soft or pragmatic in order to explain this situation away. It’s more pleasing to Republican egos to think of it in those terms, but if they’re serious about recruiting more women, they need to look at certain cold, hard realities.

They could start by admitting it’s not just that some Republican men are tone-deaf sexists, but many leaders are open misogynists with serious masculinity anxiety. Maybe they could admit that it’s not helpful when Limbaugh uses the term “girl” as an insult, or suggests that power-sharing with women is the equivalent of castration . It might not be wise, if one wants to recruit women, to have your main propaganda network pander for ratings by sexually objectifying women while simultaneously raising the alarm about how female sexuality is ruining our nation. When the Republican base suggests that women should get cervical cancer as a warning to others who might consider becoming sexually active, that sends a signal that women are not only not respected, but openly hated.

But even if you rein in the rhetorical misogyny, you still have to contend with the policy issue. Rep. Deborah Pryce suggests women avoid the GOP because they have “a more practical, less ideological way of approaching life and, therefore, approaching politics,” which is a nice way of saying that many female Republican politicians don’t enjoy the way that the right wing of their party campaigns on Fear of the Vagina. Call in the Sandra Day O’Connor dilemma: When faced with an “ideological” law requiring that women get their husbands’ permission before getting an abortion, O’Connor “pragmatically” rejected the belief that women are the property of their husbands. Not having your full human rights does create practical problems for many women, true-O’Connor herself faced that many times when she was denied job advancement after law school strictly because of her gender.

But don’t expect much more from Republicans beyond a little public hand-wringing and some mild recruitment efforts. If they actually made the reforms necessary to attract more female candidates, they’d alienate the “God, guns, and gays” crowd that votes their masculine anxieties, and fears female liberation, gay rights, and someone taking away their phallic symbols above all other things. Without the angry white male vote, the GOP has nothing. It may not even have the female voters it does have now, who are much more likely to be married than Democratic female voters, probably in no small part because women relinquish their voting independence alongside their maiden names when they marry. But if the Republicans can’t attract the angry white male voter, they’ll probably also lose their wives. And all they’ll have left are a handful of hardline racists and people who believe they can repeal the income tax with a well-placed lawsuit, enough to win perhaps 10 percent of the vote if they’re lucky.