The new face of women in politics

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2010; 8:11 AM

Now that Carly Fiorina has dissed Barbara Boxer's hair, I guess we can all get down and dirty on the subject of female candidates.

So this is what women talk about when they don't realize the mike is on?

When several Republican women won their primaries on Tuesday, I started thinking about whether the media would dub this another Year of the Woman. Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey said he doubted it, since in his view the mainstream press only likes to celebrate Democratic women, as in 1992.

I don't agree with that, but I also couldn't shake the feeling that this year would not get such a label.

And then it hit me: Eighteen years ago, in the wake of the Clarence Thomas hearings, it was a big deal that women were battling their way into elective office. In 2010, after Hillary Clinton nearly won a presidential nomination, after Sarah Palin ran on the GOP ticket, after three women have served as secretary of state, after many more women have served in the Senate and in governors' mansions, not so much.

It is interesting; it is noteworthy; it is well worth examining and dissecting. But it is not the kind of breaking news it once was.

What is equally fascinating, with more GOP women succeeding in politics -- just three of the 17 women now serving in the Senate are Republicans -- is the wider range of views. The media have often defined feminism as a byproduct of liberalism, but now some conservatives are claiming the mantle as well.

My colleague Anne Kornblut nailed this Thursday:

"With victories by several prominent women in Tuesday's primary elections came the familiar declarations that a 'year of the woman' is underway. But in at least five races, something even more remarkable occurred: The candidates' gender never became much of an issue.

"Tuesday's elections put on display the increasing diversity of female candidates, as well as their growing resilience. They were for abortion rights and against them, old and young, part of the political establishment and new to it. Their male opponents attacked them -- relentlessly, in some cases -- apparently unworried about being seen as picking on a woman. The women touched on their gender, but did so sparingly."

That may be the most striking development. Once upon a time -- 1984, actually -- there was a huge discussion of how aggressive Vice President George H.W. Bush could afford to be in his debate against Geraldine Ferraro. Even in 2000, when Rick Lazio walked over to Hillary Clinton during a Senate debate, he was castigated for invading her space. Now, women punch back with the best of them -- and that's a measure of equality.

In fact, they're so equal that they now have to fight off allegations of infidelity, if Nikki Haley's experience in the South Carolina governor's race is any indication.

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