In 2012, then Senate candidate Todd Akin's statement that "legitimate rape" rarely causes pregnancy unleashed a storm of media controversy, and lost him the support of many in his party.
Flash forward to last week. North Carolina Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, who is running against Clay Aiken this November, urged the Republican Party, especially men in the party, to bring policy discussion "down to a woman's level."
"Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level," Ellmers said. "Many of my male colleagues, when they go to the House floor, you know, they've got some pie chart or graph behind them and they're talking about trillions of dollars and, you know, how the debt is awful and, you know... We need our male colleagues to understand that if you can bring it down to a woman's level and what everything that she is balancing in her life -- that's the way to go."
Clearly, Ellmers hasn't been paying attention to the negative reactions other politicians have incurred when they trivialized rape and reinforced gender stereotypes? Is she so naïve to believe that just because she was talking at a Republican gathering the Internet wouldn't let the world in on her statements? Doesn't she know there are women astronauts now and cabinet members, that women run Fortune 500 companies, that, in fact, women are presidents in a number of countries... maybe our own before too long. Not that we don't have a long way to go before full equality.
Sure women and men are different. Recent brain science is showing just how different. Women tend to have more emotional, psychological and fluid intelligence, pay attention to details more, are more willing to ask for feedback, to hold authority in a more collaborative, less top-down manner, to go to the doctor when their health seems challenged... which may be one reason we live longer than men -- a kind of intelligence the world really needs, in fact. It's not that women are better than men, it's just that we're not having to constantly prove our masculinity. What bothers me is that Ellmers equates gender difference with inferiority -- men speak on a "higher" level and women can only understand on a "lower" level. Feels like she's trying to prove her masculinity.
Now to Todd Akin. Sure, Ellmer's comments have sparked some controversy, but definitely not as much as if a man were to make the same comment. But are we supposed to give Ellmers a pass just because she's a woman? As my friend Gloria Steinem wisely put it, "If Clay Aiken said women can't read pie charts, it might lose him the election. It should lose it for Renee Ellmers, too."
Where does that leave Clay Aiken? Todd Akin showed that out of touch politicians are vulnerable. It's déjà vu with Ellmers. Clay Aiken should take note.