Media trot out gender stereotypes in discussion of Elizabeth Edwards' comments

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE

After Internet gossip Matt Drudge posted a headline that read "GENDER BENDER: WIFE EDWARDS SAYS HILLARY 'BEHAVING LIKE A MAN," several media figures trotted out gender stereotypes about the leading Democratic presidential candidates while discussing comments former Sen. John Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, made about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton during an interview with Salon.com Editor-in-Chief Joan Walsh.

In the interview, which was posted on Salon.com on July 17, Edwards said:

Look, I'm sympathetic, because when I worked as a lawyer, I was the only woman in these rooms, too, and you want to reassure them you're as good as a man. And sometimes you feel you have to behave as a man and not talk about women's issues. I'm sympathetic -- she wants to be commander in chief. But she's just not as vocal a women's advocate as I want to see. John is. And then she says, or maybe her supporters say, "Support me because I'm a woman," and I want to say to her, "Well, then support me because I'm a woman." The question is not so much how she campaigns -- that's theater. The question is, what does her campaign tell you about how she'll govern? And I'm not convinced she'd be as good an advocate for women.

On the July 18 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, ABC senior national correspondent Claire Shipman claimed that "[t]here is striking gender role reversal on the campaign trail" because "Hillary Clinton [is] by far the toughest politically and stylistically," while Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "are emoting like crazy." Shipman later said that "[s]ome political watchers argue that voters are ready to move beyond gender clichés."

On the July 17 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, host Tucker Carlson asserted, "Edwards said she understands why sometimes Hillary has to campaign like a man in order to make up for the fact that she's not," before asking The Hill's A.B. Stoddard: "I mean, let's take this critique seriously -- is Hillary Clinton too manly to be president?"

In the July 17 edition of his "Best of the Web Today" column, OpinionJournal.com editor James Taranto asserted: "Yet another ultraliberal woman has been won over by John Edwards's womanly charms: his spouse, Elizabeth Edwards," before falsely claiming that Elizabeth Edwards "suggest[ed] that Mrs. Clinton is more mannish than Mr. Edwards."

On the July 17 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, host Rush Limbaugh asserted that "Well, now Mrs. Edwards has confirmed it today. Elizabeth Edwards has said Hillary is just -- she's -- well, let me get it up here. I don't want to paraphrase this because it's too important. Hillary is behaving like a man, unlike her husband. So vindication, ladies and gentlemen." Limbaugh was claiming "vindication" for an earlier smear of Edwards. As Media Matters for America noted, on the March 8 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Limbaugh referred to a March 8 New York Sun article, "Could John Edwards Become the First Woman President?" to repeatedly mock Edwards as "the Breck Girl," who is "on tap now, according to one of the nation's largest abortion rights supporters, to become the first woman president in the United States." Limbaugh played a parody of "I Am Woman" as a lead-in to the segment on the July 17 broadcast, which, as Media Matters noted, he promised during the March 8 edition that he would use for "any further John Edwards news," calling it one of the "official update theme [songs] for the Breck Girl."

From the July 18 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:

SHIPMAN: And there is striking gender-role reversal on the campaign trail. Hillary Clinton by far the toughest politically and stylistically.

CLINTON: Let's focus on those who have attacked us and do everything we can to destroy them.

SHIPMAN: Obama and Edwards, meanwhile, are emoting like crazy.

JOHN EDWARDS [at hospital bedside]: Your hair is being fixed. You already look very pretty.

OBAMA: There's nothing more difficult than me being on the phone hearing about their soccer game.

SHIPMAN: Some political watchers argue that voters are ready to move beyond gender clichés.

ARIANA HUFFINGTON (Huffington Post co-founder): We as a culture don't need to be buying the stereotype that men are tough, women are emotional. In a way, she's giving into the cultural stereotype if she does that.

[end video clip]

SHIPMAN: The Clinton campaign was uncharacteristically quiet on all of this, but the two women are quickly developing an acrimonious history.

From the July 17 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:

CARLSON: Mrs. Edwards told Salon.com she doesn't think Hillary is a strong enough advocate for women on issues like health care and abortion. Edwards said she understands why sometimes Hillary has to campaign like a man in order to make up for the fact that she's not.

Two questions: Is Hillary Clinton's sex and her femininity still an issue in the presidential race, and would John Edwards be well served to get as publicly tough as his wife is? Here to answer those questions, associate editor of The Hill A.B. Stoddard and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey [R-TX]. Welcome to you both. A.B. Stoddard, is -- I mean, let's take this critique seriously -- is Hillary Clinton too manly to be president?

From the July 17 edition of Taranto's "Best of the Web Today":

Yet another ultraliberal woman has been won over by John Edwards's womanly charms: his spouse, Elizabeth Edwards. In an interview with Salon, Mrs. Edwards suggests that Mrs. Clinton is more mannish than Mr. Edwards:

When I worked as a lawyer, I was the only woman in these rooms, too, and you want to reassure them you're as good as a man. And sometimes you feel you have to behave as a man and not talk about women's issues. I'm sympathetic -- she wants to be commander in chief. But she's just not as vocal a women's advocate as I want to see. John is. And then she says, or maybe her supporters say, "Support me because I'm a woman," and I want to say to her, "Well, then support me because I'm a woman." The question is not so much how she campaigns -- that's theater. The question is, what does her campaign tell you about how she'll govern? And I'm not convinced she'd be as good an advocate for women.

Taking a slight liberty with the quote, the Drudge Report ran (and later changed) the banner:

GENDER BENDER: WIFE EDWARDS SAYS HILLARY 'BEHAVING LIKE A MAN'

This put Salon editrix Joan Walsh, who conducted the interview, on the defensive:

I knew Edwards was making news when she criticized Clinton, but she was definitely not calling her a man, which is one of the GOP's favorite slurs against Hillary Clinton. This is the last, best hope of the Republicans to hold onto the White House: To brand the leading candidate, who happens to be female, as too mannish, while slurring the leading men -- John Edwards and Barack Obama -- as girly.

We remember reading such slurs in an article just last week:

In a few words, this Iowa voter had epitomized the struggle now playing out between the top two Democrats nationally. They are fighting for undecided female voters who are attracted by Obama's feminine appeal, but still drawn to the macho performance of the only woman to ever have a real shot at the Oval Office.

May the best woman win.

The author of that piece, Salon's Michael Scherer, didn't even hazard a guess as to whether Edwards was male or female. If you believe what you read in Salon, it takes a chicken sexer to keep the Democrats straight.

From the July 17 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: I'll tell you what, folks, we wanted to go back and play this update because Mrs. Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards, has confirmed all of this. You remember back in March, The New York Sun -- Josh Gerstein did a story in The New York Sun in which he had talked to -- what was her name? Oh, Kate Michelman. Kate Michelman, former abortion-leader babe, said of all the candidates, that John Edwards was the most sensitive to women. Of all -- not Hillary Clinton, not Barack Obama. John Edwards was the guy, first female president. Just like Clinton was the first black president, John Edwards was going to be the first female president.

And so we put together this update having seen that. And then, of course, Media Matters for America got all upset that I would dare stoop this low. Well, now Mrs. Edwards has confirmed it today. Elizabeth Edwards has said Hillary is just -- she's -- well, let me get it up here. I don't want to paraphrase this because it's too important. Hillary is behaving like a man, unlike her husband. So vindication, ladies and gentlemen.

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