Cain’s Woman Problem

Herman Cain is being bombarded with allegations of sexual harassment dating from his time as head of the National Restaurant Association. Of course, he says that these allegations are ‘unfounded’ attempts at ‘character assassination’. Whether true or not, it was probably not politically expedient for him to make what was inevitably going to be construed as a sexist remark. He must have missed the public reaction to David Cameron when he told a female member of the House to ‘calm down, dear.’ Following numerous complaints from the public being forwarded to BBC’s Daily Politics expressing disgust at the Prime Minister’s choice of language towards Angela Eagle, Cameron was left with no choice but to apologise. Herman Cain’s choice of phrase has been deemed equally sexist as he called House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi ‘Princess Nancy’ while criticizing her failure to bring up bill HR 3000 (Tom Price’s health care legislation) while she was speaker of the House. In response to a question about what he would do about health care reform if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, Cain commented:

“Legislation has already been written – HR 3000. In the previous Congress, it was HR 3400… We didn’t hear about it in the previous Congress because Princess Nancy sent to it committee and it stayed there. It never came out. HR 3000 allows the decisions to be with the doctors and patients, not with the bureaucrat in Washington, D.C.”

While the immediate audience chuckled at his answer to the question, in retrospect it might not have been poor judgment to refer to Pelosi in such a condescending way given that he is currently facing so many allegations of sexual harassment from different women. Former Bush administration spokesperson Dana Perino went on Twitter following the debate to defend Pelosi, tweeting:

“Ay yi yi, former Speaker Pelosi called a princess in the debate? Not fair. We may disagree on policy, but she earned the Speaker title.”

Of course, any male candidate calling Pelosi a ‘princess’ would have been blasted for being sexist but with the ongoing sexual harassment controversy surrounding Cain, his comment is particularly loaded. Granted, the comment probably reveals more about Cain’s personal opinion of Pelosi than it does his general view on women. However, something about his ‘princess’ remark seems to have rubbed women up the wrong way, if Perino’s response is anything to go by. The female vote is an important one, which makes his comment all the more charged.

Cain has apologized for the comment so obviously he is aware of the precariousness of his position. However, it would seem as if he might have been a little unaware about how serious the allegations against him are if he did not see how inappropriate the title ‘princess’ would appear to be to many.

In the aftermath, speaking to CNBC, Herman Cain acknowledged that the title ‘Princess Nancy’ was problematic. When asked about the comment, Cain said: “That was a statement that I probably should not have made.” He explained that his criticism of Pelosi was based on her support for President Barack Obama’s health care reform, and her ability to hold the votes supporting it in the House.

The apology now is a political move: the attention the title is being given now is a political move, too, for this is not the first time Cain has referred to Pelosi as a princess. In fact, on his Atlanta radio talk show, he referred to her that way all the time: it was a running joke. The stakes are higher now as he stands for Presidential candidacy.

Maureen Olsen, president of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women has commented:

“The people I have talked to have been, I’d say, disturbed by the allegations… Mainly by the number of allegations. If it was one person, it would have been different. But since it’s so many, it does seem to show a pattern, making people more cautious toward Mr. Cain’s campaign.”

According to a survey led by the Pew Research Centre for the People and the Press, 39 per cent of Americans believe the sexual harassment allegations against Cain are true. Jeanita McNulty, president-elect of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women, has taken a more rational approach to the incident. When asked what she thought of the ‘Princess remaek, she commented:

“It certainly wasn’t the best choice of words… But personally, I’m more concerned about his lack of foreign policy experience.”

Betty Poe, president of the South Carolina Federation of Republican Women, voiced a similar sentiment:

“I don’t think there has been enough evidence yet to prove that the allegations are true, and until I see that, I’m going to reserve judgment.”

While there is little room for sexism in politics, I fail to see the import of Cain’s little faux pas. The only person he is really hurting is himself by adding fuel to the fire of scandal that already surrounds him; scandal that only exists because sex has become ridiculously central to politics. Cain’s comment is hardly worse than Pelosi’s dubbing of Cain and the Tea Party people ‘Astroturf’ (which he was quick to remind the press). He has a point, though; insults are hurled in the political arena all the time. Why should the word ‘princess’ stir up such a fuss? There really are more important issues for the American media to busy themselves with.



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Categories: Gender issues, Politics, Law

Author:Mary-Ellen L

Lives at Lecturer in Literature and Philosophy, Poet and Professional Cynic.

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