YouTube Preview Image

When I was an adolescent growing up in wild West Texas back in the Stone Age 1950’s, I matured early, as they used to say. It wasn’t unusual for the boys to make public jokes about my physique. All in good humor of course. They probably thought it was a compliment.  Commentary about breast size, what was under your skirt, or how you might fare in a wet t-shirt contest was just the way things were: that era’s version of cowboy chic. A woman had to grin and bear it if a man objectified her this way or she’d risk losing her friends, her job, her popularity at school. The term “sexual harassment” hadn’t been coined, let alone become the subject of laws to prevent the various abusive behaviors that fall into its rubric.

But, thanks to the courageous action of women and men who had the good sense to recognize such abuse of power for what it is, there are laws now to protect people from that kind of humiliation.

Laws that apparently don’t faze one man running for president of the United States. John McCain’s disrespect for women was captured by this video. I was in pain watching Cindy McCain. She looked like she’d swallowed a lemon when at a South Dakota biker rally, Senator(!) McCain suggested that Cindy enter the notoriously raunchy and frequently topless Miss Buffalo Chip contest. Instead of swallowing and laughing like I did in my pre-consciousness-raised youth, she should have called him on it and walked off the stage. I’ll bet she would have been cheered.

That same fundamental disrespect for women shows in McCain’s opposition to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (verbally; he didn’t show up to vote on it), 100% anti-choice ranking from NARAL, intent–if president–to appoint Supreme Court justices who will violate women’s human rights to make their own childbearing decisions by overturning Roe v Wade, while voting against family planning programs that could prevent abortions, to point out just a few of the most obvious examples. (Update: see The New Republic piece by Sarah Blustain, “Life Sentence” for more documentation.)

McCain looks in this video like he thinks publicly offering up his wife to participate in a sexist “beauty” contest was all in good humor, even complimentary, just like those boys in my high school. And it’s possible he’s equally oblivious. But isn’t that part of the problem: a man so out of touch he doesn’t know social mores have changed since the 1950’s and doesn’t get that a man isn’t entitled to run roughshod over a woman’s bodily integrity any more, not even his wife’s?  Is anybody going to send him the memo and tell him to come into the 21st century?

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Image Politics: Everybody Lies About Sex, But Who Knew They Lie About Food, Too?

For those exhausted with Clinton-Obama debates I thought I’d comment on the recent Cindy McCain “farfallegate” recipe scandal–you can scroll down to the end to see the evidence:

Cindy McCain was probably clueless that an intern on her pugnacious war hero husband’s campaign staff had rifled through recipes published on the Food Channel’s website and presented several as Cindy’s own on Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign website.

Dubbed “farfallegate” in honor of the recipe combining farfalle pasta with turkey sausage (of course in today’s health conscious world, a low cholesterol recipe gets extra points), mushrooms, and peas that busted Mrs. McCain and docked the non-pay of the unlucky intern tasked with selecting just the right recipes to position Cindy as happy homemaker, the food scandal was bound to come to the attention of the ever-voracious press.

It’s hardly surprising that the campaign wanted to soften the eerily unreal image projected by her Stepford Wife eyes and shellacked hair as she stands ramrod straight as though at perpetual attention beside the senator, whose political career was calculated and in no small part brought to us by her wealthy beer distributor daddy. And what better way to warm up a candidate’s wife than to conjure a vision of the little lady in her conservative Republican apron stirring up some dinner?

Did the intern ask her whether she cooks and if so what her actual favorite recipes are? If so, were his entreaties ignored or rejected? Or was he simply afraid to approach her, so he defaulted to the virtual kitchen where he could construct his own preferred image via the recipes he chose to represent the particular brand of gemutlichkeit he was asked to produce by campaign handlers?

Politicians in the crucible of public attention, with the help of their guru-consultants who often delegate the actual implementation to enthusiastic young staff, spend as much time and energy concocting their images as they do serving up the substance of their platforms. A candidate and his/her spouse are so handled and managed that it is a real question if anyone ever knows who their true selves are. Sometimes least of all themselves.

Who wants to bet Cindy McCain rarely cooks dinner herself in real life? I mean, when does she have time to whip up that passion fruit mousse she was credited with anyway? (Note that this link takes you to the New York sun, which published recipes of McCain, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton, but neither of the male candidates or Bill Clinton.)  And if she doesn’t cook for whatever reason, why doesn’t she just acknowledge the fact and go on? Many women and men would relate to that. Or if she is one of those rare people who actually cooks using Food Channel and Rachel Ray recipes verbatim, she should say that. Using a recipe that’s published precisely so people will use it is hardly a scandal of Spitzer-esque proportions. Who would care? Why be devious about it?

Judging by Hillary Clinton’s much reproduced oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe (coming from the woman who during her husband’s first campaign was creamed by the press for saying she wasn’t a cookie-baker, or at least that cookie baking didn’t define her), laying hands on food could be the female gendered equivalent of the tacit campaign requirement that male candidates lay hands on guns.

But voters can’t lay at the campaigns’ feet the entire fault for whatever lack of authenticity results from such aggressive image-making and buffing about things that have little impact in the grand scheme of making policies that affect our daily lives profoundly.

We Americans have always placed impossibly bifurcated demands on our leaders. We want them to be celebrities, we want them to be regular people. We demand they have soaring vision but we want them to be down to earth bowlers and cookie bakers and farfalle makers who can relate to our daily lives and struggles.

Food is after all second only to sex as our most universally humanizing experiences, and universally guilty pleasures.  Wanna bet Bill Clinton still throws back a greasy Big Mac now and then? Pass the French fries please.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.