Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reclaiming the Words That Smear

Reclaiming the Words That Smear

AMES, Iowa — “UNBECOMING.” “Miss Congeniality.” Not sufficiently “ladylike.” In politics, these words and phrases have long been used to belittle female candidates. But now, female politicians are increasingly trying to rethink — and reclaim — how language shapes how they are perceived.

Recently, Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, trained her sights on a single word — “ladylike.” “Ladylike,” Ms. McCaskill told an audience at Iowa State University last month, means, “Speak out, be strong, take charge, change the world” — all traits she thinks female leaders, or even the first female president, should have, and characteristics she believes are “very, very ladylike.” The term had a very different meaning when, during her 2012 re-election campaign, her opponent, Todd Akin, then a representative, described her performance during a debate as not particularly “ladylike,” and “very aggressive.”

Ms. McCaskill joins a long line of powerful women who are trying to use gender-based words to their advantage. Bella S. Abzug, a feminist and antiwar activist, first ran for Congress in 1970 with the slogan “This woman’s place is in the House — the House of Representatives!”

In 2002, when Mitt Romney ran for governor of Massachusetts against Shannon O’Brien and described her debate performance as “unbecoming,” Ms. O’Brien derided him as a sexist, and Hillary Rodham Clinton and Teresa Heinz Kerry held a rally on her behalf, praising all the “unbecoming women” who turned out in support. And Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, began her political career after a state lawmaker dismissed her as “just a mom in tennis shoes.” The insult prompted Ms. Murray to run for the Senate — and she adopted “mom in tennis shoes” as a campaign motto she still uses.

“The history of social movements is full of things that were a pejorative being reclaimed,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s a powerful means of subverting the original use, and it invites reflection on the intention of the original use. It’s a jujitsu move.”

Ms. McCaskill said she hoped that reclaiming the word “ladylike” would encourage more women to run for office. The “ladylike” message is one she said she wished she had heard as a young woman.

“I wanted to be validated in the fact that I had ambition and the fact that I was aggressive about the things I believed in and that I was highly opinionated,” Ms. McCaskill said in an interview. “I wanted someone to tell me that it was not only O.K. but it was terrific, and I think the more of us that reinforce that message, the more women we’re going to have running for president in the next decade.”

Some are pushing back in other ways. In the corporate world, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, recently began a “Ban Bossy” campaign with the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., to discourage the use of a word she says is used to put down assertive young girls.

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As women increasingly take on high-profile roles in politics — the current 113th Congress boasts a record number of women, with 20 in the Senate and 82 in the House — scholars and campaign operatives say attacking sexism head-on is likely to become a more common, and effective, tactic.

“The more female candidates there are, the easier it is for any individual one of them to talk about these issues and try to find new ways of dealing with it,” said Deborah Tannen, a linguist at Georgetown University.

Sexist statements also can be used to rally the base. The day that Mr. Akin made his comments about “legitimate rape,” Emily’s List, a political action committee that backs female candidates who support abortion rights, raised $280,000 off his remarks.

“We know that running a campaign on being a woman isn’t the way to win, but that there’s a way to turn around sexist attacks and use it as a sticking point to drive home your agenda,” said Marcy Stech, national press secretary at Emily’s List.

Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, said that research she had done as part of “Name It, Change It,” a nonpartisan project to end sexist coverage of female candidates, found that while sexist coverage hurt female politicians, responding to it could benefit them. Sometimes, even the mere hint of sexism is enough to hurt the candidate perpetrating the language.

As a candidate in 2008, Barack Obama faced a swift backlash after he quipped that Mrs. Clinton was “likable enough” during a debate. And Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, was called “Miss Congeniality” and a “prom queen” by her male opponent and his campaign team during her 2012 re-election fight, comments she largely chose to ignore. “I think it worked to my advantage because the people in Minnesota decided how they felt about it themselves,” Ms. Klobuchar said.

Many Republicans dismiss the so-called war on women, arguing that their party’s economic agenda is one that will appeal to women. But Katie Packer Gage, a founder of Burning Glass, a team of all-female political operatives working with Republicans on messaging to women, nonetheless offers a warning to Republican candidates: “The Democrats are going to try to manufacture a Todd Akin moment,” she said.

The current effort to aggressively confront sexism, said Ms. Lake, the Democratic pollster, has taken on a newfound urgency with the possibility of a Hillary Clinton candidacy.

“A lot of Democratic women are really eager to call this out now because they want to create a different kind of environment for Hillary to run in,” she said. “It’s just like, ‘This is our candidate, this is our leader, and we’re just not going to take it anymore.’ ”
Ashley Parker is a reporter in the Washington bureau of The New York Times.
Kitty Bennett contributed research.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Support Our Endorsed Candidates

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Upcoming Candidate Events


Please join Senator Ricardo Lara, Assemblymember Cristina Garcia,
Assemblymember Anthony Rendon, Senator Martha Escutia (retired),
and Bell Councilmember Ali Saleh

for an Evening Reception to support
Betty Yee's Campaign for California State Controller

Monday, September 22, 2014
5:30 pm to 7:30 pm

Cities Restaurant and Lounge
4512 East Cesar E Chavez Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90022

Contribution Levels:
Patron:  $100 | Friend:  $75 | Guest:  $50

RSVP by Thursday, September 18, 2014 to Patricia Cheng by emailing or by calling (415) 813-1933


Please join Steve & Ilene Rosenthal and Marc & Lyn Cohen 

for an Evening Reception to support
Betty Yee for California State Controller
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

Home of Marc & Lyn Cohen
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(Address provided upon RSVP)

Platinum: $1,000
Silver: $250
Friend: $100
RSVP by Friday, September 26, 2014 to Patricia Cheng by emailing or by calling (415) 813-1933.


 Lily Tomlin and Paula Poundstone

Please join Lily Tomlin, Paula Poundstone and Guest MC Fred Willard at the Catalina Club in Hollywood for a night of laughs and a buffet supper to benefit
Sheila Kuehl's campaign

Sunday, October 12, 2014
6:00 pm

Catalina Club
6725 West Sunset Blvd
Hollywood, CA 90028

Sheila won the June primary by more than 10,000 votes but faces a tough run-off in November. A brilliant and innovative leader, her 14 years in the California Senate and Assembly armed her with deep experience in the issues faced every day by our LA County Supervisors: healthcare, foster care, juvenile justice, public safety, environmental protection, transportation, budget management, housing and homelessness, civil rights, small business issues and jobs

Please join us in supporting a truly remarkable public servant and candidate!

Please make checks payable to Kuehl For Supervisor 2014
Mail to: Sheila Kuehl, C/O TAI Events,
13636 Ventura Blvd. #416, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
Please write "Catalina" in the memo line.
Include your Occupation and Employer for donation processing.

For questions or to RSVP by phone, call TAI Events at (310) 996-1188

To learn more about Sheila, please visit


Improve your campaign, messaging, and communication skills

Here is an event that you or someone you know may be interested in attending:
2014 Democratic Club & Activist Summit

September 13, 2014 @ 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

California State University Los Angeles
5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90032

Summit is free. Donations of $10 to $20 per attendee will be requested to help underwrite the cost of the event and lunch.

 Clark Lee

No charge to attend the summit. Lunch will be provided. Donations of $10 to $20 per attendee will be requested to help underwrite the cost of the event and lunch. Sponsorship opportunities are also available.

At 6:00 PM there will be an optional dinner, at a cost of $40, featuring a participative discussion on important policy issues. 

RSVP for dinner is required by September 9, 2014 by calling 213-382-4111 or emailing Dinner reservations are likely to sell out, so reserve your spot today.

The summit will take place in the California State University LA campus in the Golden Eagle Building, 2nd Floor Ballroom, in Section 3. Parking is available for $6 all day in Parking Structure C

Venue is accessible. Call 213-382-4111 or email for disabled-access or reduced-distance parking.

To RSVP call (213) 382-4111 or email


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Campaign Updates as of Sept. 9

Election 2014: Women Candidates for U.S. Congress and Statewide Elected Executive Office in California

  (as of 9/9/14) - from the Center for American Women and Politics

See All

About the Center for American Women and Politics: Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is nationally recognized as the leading source of scholarly research and current data about American women’s political participation.

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