Esquire’s Tom Junod on DC as Hollywood for Semi-Attractive People: SEVERE MISOGYNY

Tom Junod’s articleHow DC Became Hollywood for Semi-Attractive People,” in Esquire magazine is severely misogynistic for citing sex appeal as the reason behind changes in public support of both political parties. The deeply-flawed article likens Delaware Senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell to a “ninny,” claims that female Democratic candidates are “old or unattractive,” and asserts that President Obama should have a "wall-banging affair" with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make things more dramatic and interesting.

Are these the guidelines for success in politics? All three of the above statements are part of Junod’s overarching argument that “the values Americans care about are not family, but entertainment.” In making this assertion, he reveals ignorance about the breadth and depth of the political landscape by overlooking many important factors that contribute to the success of either party: accomplishments in office, accountability, and ability to address the public’s most pressing concerns. Moreover, Junod discounts the negative effect that this media entertainment has on candidates--especially women candidates.

His key examples of successful “semi-sexy” GOP politicians include Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell. Both have yet to be successful in politics. Sarah Palin now enjoys a favorability rating of 22%, while Christine O’Donnell trails her Democratic opponent Chris Coons by 19%, a fact which makes her unlikely to win. Ray Rahman at Mediaite made an interesting point on Junod’s article:

“Ridiculous scandal aside, what point is Junod really trying to make here? Is 'a party led by a man who clearly thinks too much before he speaks' doomed to lose to 'a party led by a semi-sexy woman who will say anything'? Perhaps, but less so when you consider that the actual leaders of the GOP — RNC Chairman Michael Steele, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader John Boehner — are either too goofy, too geriatric, or too neon to qualify as traditionally sexy. Meanwhile, his two primary examples, O’Donnell and Palin, aren’t currently elected officials, a fact that will likely remain true on November 3rd.”

Rahman is right to point out that Palin and O'Donnell are not the actual leaders of the GOP despite their alleged "semi-sexy" celebrity status. However, what both writers fail to capture is that it is this very "status," this very focus on sexualizing female candidates that often prevents women's success within our electoral system. The media may indeed be elevating these women to celebrity status, but the media frenzy over women candidates' sexual appeal inevitably damages their bids for public office.

In an interview with MSNBC, Junod and The Nation’s executive editor Betsy Reed discussed their impressions of “sex appeal trumping substance” during this year’s campaign cycle. When asked to outline his argument, Junod tried to clarify the article by saying:

“My point was that the Republicans have gotten off the mat by sort of embracing entertainment values and part of that is producing stars as much as producing candidates. Christine O’Donnell is a perfect example of one. She really has no basis for being a candidate, but she does have basis for being a star.”

The omnipresent inference throughout is that women should accentuate their sexual appeal in order to suceed in today's sensationalistic political landscape. Junod's advice for Obama to have a "wall-banging affair" with Hillary Clinton is horrendous in its suggestion that women should submit to sexual objectification in order to impress a media-obsessed electorate. Junod may be making a broader claim about modern American culture, but his misogynistic comments only serve to perpetuate what he attempts to critique.

Published by Kate McCarthy on 10/14/2010

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