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'Mean Girls'? The GOP women's bad rap.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fair is foul, and foul is fair. There's something witchy in the air.

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Perhaps 'tis the season, but womankind is suffering a froth of frivolity.

"I'm not a witch," insists Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell in an ad that forever will provide the exclamation point on a bewildering political season. Not since Salem have we witnessed such witchification of women who dared stray from the cauldron of the sisterhood.

Now, we hear, female candidates aren't witches after all. Too rhymey with the B-word in these enlightened times. They're "Mean Girls," professional provocateuress Maureen Dowd writes in the New York Times -- "grown-up versions of those teenage tormentors who would steal your boyfriend, spray-paint your locker and, just for good measure, spread rumors that you were pregnant.

"These women -- Jan, Meg, Carly, Sharron, Linda, Michele, Queen Bee Sarah and sweet wannabe Christine -- have co-opted and ratcheted up the disgust. . . . Whether they're mistreating the help or belittling the president's manhood, making snide comments about a rival's hair or ripping an opponent for spending money on a men's fashion show, the Mean Girls have replaced Hope with Spite and Cool with Cold. They are the ideal nihilistic cheerleaders for an angry electorate."

Well. She does have a point, though she misses the bull's-eye.

It was profoundly odd to hear Sarah Palin talk about the president of the United States' "cojones" relative to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's posture on illegal immigrants. Ditto when Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle instructed 70-year-old Majority Leader Harry Reid to "man up" during their recent debate.

Heaven forbid a man should similarly challenge a woman's physical attributes. Imagine if Reid had responded: "I'm glad you got that off your chest, Madame, such as it is."

As for the other "Mean Girls," the focus on "womanly" habits seems a little off, as well as way off a more important point. First, though California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina did say something about her opponent Barbara Boxer's hair (not realizing her microphone was still on), the remark is hardly the defining entry on Fiorina's résumé, which includes having run Hewlett-Packard.

Dumb comment? You betcha. We're all living and learning to keep our thoughts to ourselves -- to the great detriment of spontaneity and the uncertain future of banter.

As for Meg Whitman, the former chief executive and president of eBay now running for California governor, she is hardly a catty character who puts one in mind of "she's pregnant" gossip.

Do some of the women running on the GOP ticket make us cringe with embarrassment? Let me answer that question with a 2007 quote from O'Donnell:

"American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains."

Double, double toil and trouble, indeed.

O'Donnell, who made the comment on "The O'Reilly Factor," probably was thinking about a 2005 report about scientists implanting human cells into mice to demonstrate that human brain cells can be created from stem cells.

Alas, it is not the first time a political candidate has become befuddled by facts beyond their ken. To which fact one hastily adds: female and male.

The point missed -- or avoided -- by Dowd is that men and women can be equally dumbfounded and equally "mean," if in sometimes gender-tilted ways. What is gratifying about this season is that we have enough women running that we can criticize them without resorting to the old catfight canard.

Some women, just like some men, are simply unqualified and should be "refudiated" on their merits or the lack thereof. That Queen Bee Sarah has led the hive of busy benefactors, meanwhile, should be cause for a celebration of sorts -- and would be if the brewing brood were Democrats. Why, a swell of liberal women threatening to take over Congress with tough, manhood-withering talk would have the sisterhood in cackles.

Once upon a time, Dowd and I were appearing together on "The Chris Matthews Show" to discuss Dowd's book "Are Men Necessary?" In the green room, I remember telling her: "We have more in common with each other than with them [the men and others who would relish our disagreement]. They obviously want a catfight. Let's deny them."

And so we did.

It is a testament to feminism that we have so many female candidates. That we may dislike or disagree with some -- or find them foolish -- is as the world turns.

Sisterhood means letting women be just as dumb -- and mean -- as men.

kathleenparker@washpost.com



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