The XX Factor

How Christine O’Donnell’s Gender Discrimination Suit May Have Helped Her

I said yesterday that if Christine O’Donnell won the Republican nomination for senate in Delaware , I would revisit the issue of her gender-discrimination case . A brief recap: According to the amended complaint (PDF), O’Donnell says she experienced a hostile work environment in which male subordinates would not take orders from her and male employees made inappropriate sexual comments to her. When O’Donnell allegedly sent an e-mail to her superiors at ISI, clarifying a complaint she had made about the organization to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she was fired the next day.

Typically, conservatives see such complaints as frivolous and weak , and they aren’t afraid to talk about it. But in this case. they’ve pretty much made no comment on it at all, choosing to focus on the fact that O’Donnell did not tell the truth about taking master’s-level classes at Princeton in her law suit. Maybe it’s because the Princeton lie was so juicy. Or maybe it’s because the idea of a Palin-backed candidate allying herself with terms like “hostile work environment” just produces a kind of cognitive dissonance.

O’Donnell’s suit makes more sense when you view her in the context of the Mama Grizzly movement. As Hanna pointed out in a Slate piece about women of the Tea Party, many women who do not consider themselves feminists have long felt that their voices have been stifled by a conservative Republican Party of good ol’ boys, and also bad chauvinist bosses.

Sure, O’Donnell’s Princeton fib definitely hurts her credibility overall. However, as said before, there’s no evidence that her gender-discrimination claims are untrue.  I reached out to ISI for comment, but the organization won’t speak on the issue. Senior Vice President Jeff Nelson says ISI has a policy of not commenting on anyone’s employment history. O’Donnell’s lawyer in the case, G. Kevin Fasic, would also not comment.

Though it does seem like O’Donnell might have been treated unfairly at ISI because of her gender, the liberal women’s blogosphere hasn’t exactly stepped up to her defense. In a Jezebel post (cisclosure: I am a former Jezebel editor) about O’Donnell from yesterday, the headline is about O’Donnell’s ultra-conservative views about sex . The writer eventually mentions O’Donnell’s suit, in which she objects to a colleague telling her to “strap it on,” and then adds this commentary: “We’re not ones to condone sexual harassment, no matter who the target, but it sounds like what truly horrified O’Donnell here is the suggestion that she might have been deviant or ‘act[ing] like a male.’ ” From a site that generally treats gender discrimination as a grave matter , this is a real stretch of logic in order to avoid taking O’Donnell seriously on this count.

Both liberals and conservatives are still confused when they hear a woman like Christine O’Donnell say things like, “[W]henever a strong pioneering woman comes onto the scene, there’s some backlash” while at the same time espousing anti-choice and anti-sex views. But that combination of messages-anti-good ol’ boys and anti-liberal feminist-that has proved to be so potent for female candidates like O’Donnell, potential South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley , and Nevada GOP candidate for Senate Sharron Angle . In such a climate, a gender-discrimination law suit against an established conservative nonprofit was a boon to O’Donnell. In fact, it may have even helped O’Donnell win last night’s election.