SEX AND THE CITY SEPTEMBER 15, 2013
Everyone in the magazine business understands that sometimes you sell articles or blog posts by making them sound sexier than they actually are. However, there are some things that one should probably shy away from. One of those things is accusing people of sexism without a shred of evidence. The charge shouldn't be made lightly.
However, in New York magazine, Lisa Miller has a blog post titled "Christine Quinn Got A Raw Deal—Because She's a Woman." I suppose it's somehow less hurtful to accuse hundreds of thousands of people of sexism than it is to pick on a specific person. But Miller's post has other problems: namely, the lack of a coherent argument.
Here is how she begins:
What did Christine Quinn do to deserve her lousy third-place finish Tuesday night in the New York Democratic mayoral primary?
This seems a rather strange way to begin a post, what with the implication that Quinn "deserved" anything. What does that even mean? Things don't improve in the next paragraph:
Quinn's campaign may have had its faults, and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio may have keenly capitalized on them, but nothing about her candidacy merited a failing grade. She was tarred in the end by her alliance with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and her support for his third term, but that's part of a political narrative, not a real-life one.
I read this final sentence several times in the hope of deciphering its meaning, but I have merely ended up where I started. Is Miller saying that Quinn's decision to go along with Bloomberg's third-term gambit was not a "real-life" action? Whatever you think of Bloomberg, wasn't his move an important decision for the people of New York? Miller eventually gets to her thesis:
I submit that Christine Quinn is exactly the kind of woman that people don't like. She may be qualified, but she's bossy and brash. She has an annoying voice, weird hair, and ill-fitting clothes. She wants what she wants, and she wants it too much. In these particulars, she is reminiscent of another female politician who lost in a 2008 primary to another smooth-talking man with a telegenic family. The loathing directed at Hillary Clinton has long been out of proportion to her qualifications and has focused on aspects of her womanhood that people have found lacking: her moods, her hair, her marriage, her domestic skill set. It is only now, with eight years in the U.S. Senate and a term as secretary of State under her belt, that Hillary's likability has ceased to be her biggest problem.
Quinn may be "reminiscent" of Hillary Clinton in some of these ways, but if Miller finds her "bossy and brash," then Quinn is also reminiscent of ... Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer, two male politicians who also lost an election on Tuesday. Moreover, Miller seems to be implying that Hillary Clinton lost the 2008 primary because of some combination of her wardrobe and her ambition, and the sexist response to both. Not only is there a lack of evidence for this claim, but it was abundantly clear to almost all observers that the stupid and occasionally disgraceful attacks on Clinton helped her. Put it this way: Does Miller think Team Obama was happy or unhappy when Clinton was attacked for her clothes or when someone called her shrill?
Miller then turns to a New York Times piece about Quinn and sexism, which had stated:
"Democratic voters who expressed unfavorable views of Ms. Quinn in New York Times/Siena College polls described her in follow-up interviews as "ambitious," "petty," "mean," "bossy," "self-interested," "defensive," "combative" and "argumentative."
To which Miller adds: "All of these are euphemisms for 'girls don't behave like that.'" All of them? No doubt some of these terms are more often applied to women, but "mean"? "Petty"? Moreover, just because sometimes these words are unfairly used to describe women does not mean that they are necessarily inappropriate in Quinn's case. (Miller herself seems to acknowledge this earlier in the post with the "bossy and brash" comment.)
And that's it. Next time she indicts a large chunk of the country's biggest city, she should have better evidence than a 2008 presidential campaign—which was utterly unrelated to Quinn's candidacy—and a handful of adjectives in a New York Times article.
Isaac Chotiner is a senior editor at The New Republic. Follow him @IChotiner.