July 23, 2007
A Different Kind of
Sex Scandal: Sex Appeal and the 2008 Election
Sex scandals and
reproductive rights aside, sex and politics are an unlikely pair.
Generally, if politics were to be given a face, it would be that of an
aging white man, and for good reason. Aging white men, perhaps the least
“sexy” demographic imaginable, still have a significant stronghold on
But for the first
time in American history, a woman is well on her way to becoming the
Democratic presidential nominee, an honor that brings with it a scrutiny
of her sexuality that uniquely accompanies female politicians.
Across the globe,
too, women are vying for the position of ultimate power in their
nations. In France, Ségolène Royal, a socialist, ran for president and
lost. On July 2, Cristina Kirchner, a senator and former first lady in
Argentina, announced that she would be running for president. The word
“sexy” is most often used in the description of these high-heeled,
long-haired, undoubtedly feminine women, while Hillary Clinton is
considered the “dowdy” female presidential candidate.
According to ABC
News’s Susan Donaldson James, Clinton’s no-nonsense style is a
reflection of American puritanical taste. While Ségolène Royal and
Cristina Kirchner are known for their fashion sense, Hillary Clinton
relies on her trusty pantsuit ensemble, which mirrors the couture of her
male counterparts in terms of sex appeal.
According to James,
Sen. Clinton’s sensible rather than sensual demeanor and wardrobe will
ensure that she remains the Democratic favorite. Never mind her position
on the issues, her intelligence and her political vigor. As long as her
hem stays low and her neckline high, she still stands a chance against
But Clinton made a
bold move this past Friday, and made Washington Post headlines
for it. No, I’m not talking about her request for a Pentagon briefing
regarding a timetable for troop withdrawals, which was followed by a
scathing Pentagon response. Rather, as Sen. Clinton spoke about the
costs of higher education on the Senate floor, she dared to wear a black
v-neck shirt under her pantsuit, displaying not “an unseemly amount of
cleavage,” according to Post fashion writer Robin Givhan. but
Rarely do the
clothing choices of male politicians make news, and if they do, they are
certainly not discussed in terms of sex appeal but rather in terms of
how distinguished and, in turn, powerful, the clothing makes him look.
For female politicians in America, clothing that covers too much gets
them the “dowdy” label. Clothing that covers too little, well, that gets
them an even worse label that I won’t mention here. (Hint: it’s almost
always reserved for the description of females.)
On the other end of
the “sexy politics” spectrum are the YouTube video vixens dubbed the
“Obama and Giuliani Girls,” who each made separate music video odes to
their favorite candidates and then came together to create a video that
includes a panty-clad pillow fight in the name of politics.
Two of the women
stand at podiums in mock-debate and sing about the benefits of their
respective candidates. Their “debate” sounds like this, “I still want
Giuliani on me,” sings one, while ripping off her jacket. “I like my man
like I like my coffee” is the other woman’s rebuttal as she lifts a cup
of steamy coffee to match her steamy gaze at the camera. YouTube has
come to represent the future of elections in America, where candidates
and citizens alike can broadcast their political ruminations. I fear the
half-dressed, sexualized Obama and Giuliani girls, by far the most
watched political videos on YouTube, have come to represent the new face
of political discourse, especially when it involves women.
between the sexuality/politics combination as it is used against
Clinton, and how it is displayed in YouTube videos, is that the Obama/Giuliani
girls, of course, made a decision to appear in these films. Clinton has
no say in how the media treats her sexuality. The popularity of the
videos, however, is telling. Even the most conservative are comfortable
with women in a sexual role, and when a woman tries to assume a
political one, sexuality must be brought in somehow, to show that even
powerful women are still sexual objects by virtue of their gender.
In the Obama vs.
Giuliani videos, the “girls” satirically sing about the sexuality of the
two men, but it’s meant to be humorous, and it is humorous
because it is rare that male politicians are looked at in a sexual way.
I applaud that
female influence is becoming the norm in politics, both here in the
United States and worldwide, but I will not declare a victory for women
until YouTube videos of a real political debate amongst educated women
gets two-and-a-half million views (as the original, sexy, “I Got a Crush
on Obama” video has received). I will not celebrate until a woman can
enter the political arena without being subjected to sexual critique.
© 2007 North Star Writers
Group. May not be republished without permission.
Click here to talk to our writers and
editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.
To e-mail feedback about this column,
click here. If you enjoy this writer's
work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry
This is Column # JV014.
Request permission to publish here.