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What the Heck?: Voters Told to Put Congresswoman “Back in the Kitchen”

April 30, 2010

I cringe at how frequently I hear men and women of my generation suggest that we live in a “post-feminist," egalitarian society.  I wish.  Despite our commendable achievements, sexism has most certainly endured.  Want proof?  Let’s talk about the language of the Ohio GOP’s recent newsletter mailer against Congresswoman Betty Sutton, which urged voters to “take Betty Sutton out of the House and put her back in the kitchen.”

Wow.  I repeat.  Wow.  Does the blatant sexism of that statement even need an explanation?  I hope not.

In responding to the mailer, Congresswoman Sutton argued that the sexist language not only offended her, but “women across the board.”  She called the mailer’s language “an insult to all women regardless of whether they work within the home raising families and managing households or work beyond the home, providing for themselves and others.”  (Read more on Ms. Sutton’s response).  Such outrageously sexist language devalues all women’s contributions to society and should immediately offend anyone who values equality.

The Ohio GOP’s response to criticism of its language, conversely, merely poured salt on the wound.  Chairman Bill Heck argued “I’m positive it was not intended to be sexist… It is rhetoric that I think is very common in all elections, of sending people somewhere – whether to the House or back from the House” and “I saw it, but I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.”

Sorry, Mr. Heck, but that explanation just won't cut it.  You didn’t just call for Ms. Sutton to be sent “somewhere;” you called for her to be sent to the kitchen.  Why the kitchen, Mr. Heck?  Would you call for voters to put a congressman “back in the kitchen”?  And if you truly did not recognize the sexism, you certainly should have.  Do we really want people who are so utterly insensitive to our enduring legacies of inequality to be our country’s leaders?

This certainly is not the first time women leaders have encountered outrageous sexism.  But to prevent future sexism of this magnitude, hold your society to a higher standard and report the public sexism you encounter to our Sexism Watch.  Because, while I admire my generation’s optimism, we cannot ignore the longstanding sexism our society has inherited.  If we ever wish to reach that egalitarian society we imagine, we must first recognize that there's still plenty left to do.