Ann Coulter on Women: We’re Bitchy and Hysterical

Women’s role in ending the government shutdown has been a trending story in the media. And rightly so. Women made up almost half of the bipartisan committee who worked on the deal’s framework, even though they are only 20 percent of the Senate. Highlighting women’s achievements is a fine story—and we encourage the media in this function. What is problematic, however, is relying on stereotypes to explain why women are successful. According to columnists like the Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker, it is no surprise that women played a key part in negotiating the budget: Women are just naturally better at collaborating.

“Sound stereotypical?” she writes. “Welcome to nature.”

In an earlier post, Name it. Change It. weighed in on this topic, explaining why positive stereotypes can be just as harmful, and sexist, as negative ones.

But the conversation continues. And, this time, the sexism is much more blatant.

On last Tuesday morning’s episode of “The View,” co-host Jenny McCarthy asked conservative pundit Ann Coulter: “If a woman ran the country, would there have been a government shutdown?”

Coulter’s response:

Well, this probably won’t be popular with this audience. I’m not sure I agree with the premise. I think there’s a reason the words "bitchy" and "hysteria" come from females.

Such a comment should come as no surprise. Coulter is the same person who once divulged to the New York Observer that she wished women’s right to vote could be taken away so that we wouldn’t have another Democratic president. She’s a well-known provocateur who makes outlandish remarks as part of her act. What she says, though, is usually too absurd to necessitate a response.

But this time, Coulter brings up some deeply held biases against women that usually stay bubbling under the surface of our culture’s national discourse. This makes it worth discussing.

Ann Coulter is right. There is a reason why the words “bitch” and “hysteria” are associated with women. But it has nothing to do with biological determinism.  

When, historically, a hierarchal structure has rewarded women for being complacent and submissive, women who are strong, angry, or outspoken are stereotyped as bitchy, irrational, or hysterical. Using these loaded phrases is a means to an end. They are tools to dismiss women’s voices and maintain the status quo.

What is interesting is that Coulter did end up backtracking when the rest of the women on “The View” objected to her unashamed sexism.

 “All right, you’re right. Men are the ones that came up with those words as words for women—fine, you’ve won me over,” she said.

Admitting that these words didn’t come out of thin air to magically describe women’s inner nature is a good step for Coulter. Perhaps she is adjusting to the almost exclusively female audience of “The View,” or the fact that she is on broadcast television instead of her normal perch on conservative cable news. Either way, it was a welcome retraction.

Unfortunately, Ann Coulter is not the only one who bases her arguments and opinions on antiquated notions of gender essentialism. This has been made obvious by some of the recent media coverage of women in government. It’s great that women in the Senate were leaders in ending the shutdown. And it’s imperative to discuss what government would look like with more equal representation. But let’s just quit it with the stereotypes, positive or negative. It cheapens the discussion.

Published by Emily Birnbaum on 10/29/2013

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