Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Double Down

I had not paid close enough attention to the scandal that engulfed the promising career of former California Congresswoman Katie Hill until I saw this political ad for one of the local State Senate races in Virginia. The ad exploits the circumstances of the sexual assault allegations that have dogged embattled current Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. As I was doing the research to find that link, I learned that similar content is being used against another candidate in another part of the state.

For what it is worth, I have already shared my concerns about the allegations brought against Fairfax, but that was eight months ago. Since then, another accuser came forward and for that along with various other reasons, my feelings about his political future are no longer as wishy-washy. He needs to go. He comes from a well-connected family, has a good private-sector job, and in the best interest of everyone involved, stepping away from the limelight spares us the agony of watching him transformed into a modern-day Willie Horton. It makes me sad, BUT not sad enough to acquiesce to the suggestion that the good he could have done in public office could not be accomplished by someone else.

In that same vein, it's outrageous that the accounts of his two accusers have become part of a cynical political narrative intended to disillusion voters. One candidate even bolstered the impact of the ads with mailers that allude to the allegations, but that feature someone else's image, which I find both disturbing and deeply offensive. Mind you, Justin Fairfax isn't even on the ballot and I am pretty sure that these women did not consent to use of their image in this way. And I am also 1000% sure that neither of the campaigns that produced these ads give one whiff about what these women endured by coming forward. Just ask Christine Blasey Ford.

Someone famously quipped that politics ain't beanbag; for women it can be dodgeball with live grenades. From what I have observed throughout my life, but definitely in the last three years, women are the collateral damage in most political scandals.

Consider the scrutiny that accompanies the wives of political office seekers. The traditional role of a political spouse was that of a smiling, well-coifed homemaker. Then along came modern women with their own opinions such as Hillary Clinton and Teresa Heinz, who when pitted against the likes of Cindy McCain and Laura Bush, were regarded as liabilities. It is a perverted Mrs. America Pageant, especially for FLOTUS, where every aspect of a contestant's life is dissected and mounted for public display. Not even the useless Melania Antoinette evaded being slut-shamed for having taken nude pictures in her past (yet, somehow that worked in her husband's favor).

Women who pursue candidacies of their own face a Ms. Congeniality competition that pits appearance against intellect and ideology. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a popular conservative target, not because she is a ballsy millennial upstart, but because she is young, attractive, and smart. Her detractors get a lot more mileage from mocking her alleged intellectual deficiencies than they would by going up against fellow freshman Congresswoman Katie Porter (even in this Batgirl costume). Liberals had our fun back when Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann were trending, so the ridicule cuts both ways. And if we aren't directly disparaging a woman's looks, then the next line of attack is her age which is also a sideways insult on her appearance, so there's that.

And if we aren't attacking or maligning or deriding the women who are married to power or who are seeking it for themselves, then our issues are political fodder. Abortion might be the most explosive and polarizing, but pay equity, family leave, public benefits, minimum wage, and healthcare fall under that umbrella of kitchen table issues used to describe and then dismiss domestic policy that disproportionately impact women. Every policy change debated in that space turns on the financial impact to employers or taxpayers, which is just another way of saying that we give lip service to equality and fairness but we don't want to pay for it.

All of this makes the rapid rise and fall of Katie Hill so perfect for the Lifetime movie treatment. She hadn't even finished a full year of her term before she self-destructed. Her hasty departure could have been the stuff of another Helen Fielding sequel--Bridget Jones Goes to Parliament or perhaps we should go back and watch The Contender.

The problem I have with her resignation isn't that it happened, but that she won't get any credit for sparing us the tawdry details of her private life. While I agree that she was subjected to a double standard (because men have been accused of much worse and managed to hold on), she went down for more dubious reasons. Instead of being the purpose-driven, dutiful wife caught up in a love triangle with a philandering husband in a long-distance commuter marriage, she was the sexy siren who was seducing her staff to join in their threesomes. By proclaiming her bisexuality as part of her political biography, she left her blinds wide open.

Of course her untimely resignation seems unfair. Of course the very idea of a sex scandal that takes down a female elected official is so on brand for the bizarro world in which we live (because it requires a lot more hubris to take out a male politician). Of course the revenge porn allegation has merit, because the outlets that published her nude photos were partisan. Of course her once promising political career is done even though one would have thought the same thing about the dude who sent dick pics to underage girls. Of course she was sacrificed on the altar of political expediency because Mama Pelosi doesn't have the bandwidth to protect a reckless freshman who can't keep her slip from hanging.

Whether we are the reluctant protagonists of a negative ad campaign; the wives who are paraded as props for political advantage (Madonna and whore); the candidates who smile past the insults and belittling by pundits; advocates for issues that are deferred as expendable; or the rising star that suddenly goes supernova, life ain't been fair for women since Adam blamed his downfall on Eve.

Our only recourse is to press on in spite of the double standards. And to close the blinds.

PS: Those ads didn't appear to have worked in Virginia this time.

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