The XX Factor

Are Women Automatically Outsiders?

Carly Fiorina, Meg Whitman, Nikki Haley all drove home the angry-outsider narrative, with great success. With bloggers here and elsewhere , Haley’s story in particular has resonated: daughter of Indian immigrant parents who is now well-positioned to win the highest office in a deeply conservative, racially polarized state known for its bruising politics. The interest in her among some feminists reminds me of how lots of liberal South Asians admitted feeling pride when Bobby Jindal got elected governor of Louisiana, even though they disagreed with all of his policies.

But in the end, the outsider stance is a story that the GOP especially has mastered. On NPR’s Diane Rehm Show today, Amy Walter of National Journal’ s Hotline put it best: “Just because you are currently an insider that you can’t establish yourself as an outsider. We talked a lot about these women running as outsiders. Anybody can be either one: Carly Fiorina isn’t exactly an outsider. She’s part of the establishment, she had establishment support behind her.”

In watching the races unfold, I had a hard time seeing how the GOP women candidates were making the Republican tent any bigger-in other words, how they differed in their biographies and their viewpoints from men who’ve run in the past. With few exceptions, most notably Haley, they’re white. They’re largely affluent. They’re corporate heavy-hitters, like Fiorina and Whitman, who alone spent a dizzying $71 million on her gubernatorial primary , putting her in the same league as Michael Bloomberg, the far less successful Steve Forbes, and, to be fair, Democrat Jon Corzine. Haley, for all her talk about being an outsider, served in the state legislature, was a protégé of disgraced former governor Mark Sanford, and is still being advised by his top consultants .

The women candidates hew to the latest GOP orthodoxy of uncompromising conservatism: smaller government (except when it comes to defense), less regulation, lower taxes. Yet the primaries came at a time when I fully realized, after looking back at years of being a business reporter, that the oil spill in the Gulf, the financial crisis, and housing meltdown, and the scandals around adulterated food and dangerous medications were the legacy of the systematic dismantling of regulation in this country. Thank goodness I now have the wise and readable James Surowiecki to back me up on what would otherwise be my own private mumblings, though I differ with him substantially on the efficacy of the FDA .

Where are the outliers? Some were among the Tea Partiers who lost in less conservative states, like New Jersey. One is in Oklahoma City, but she isn’t a Republican. Lawyer Brittany Novotny filed yesterday as a Democrat to run against GOP Congresswoman Sally Kern in November . Novotny is a transgendered woman, and Kern said in 2008 that homosexuality is a greater threat to this country than terrorism. Novotny said the race isn’t about her gender identity but about issues like education.

In an article in the Tulsa World , Kern defended her record and said “I sit on the education committee, and I have helped pass many bills that have helped schools,” she said. “She is just an outsider looking in.”