Fiorina vs. Boxer: The best female political showdown ever.

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
June 8 2010 5:58 PM

Fiorina vs. Boxer: The Best Female Political Showdown Ever

What kind of "Year of the Woman" is this?

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Perhaps because she is anticipating strong female support for Boxer, Fiorina has gradually begun to reveal a different kind of feminine side. Less than two weeks after an Ohio Republican Party group made headlines for a newsletter urging supporters to take Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton "out of the House and put her back in the kitchen," Fiorina posed in the Wall Street Journalmagazine in her kitchen, gazing lovingly at her husband while dutifully stirring a sauce. The profile went to great lengths to stress Fiorina's embrace of girly flourishes—noting her "cropped candy-pink-colored blazer with a ruffled edge," her "velvety-red-manicured nails," her references to "old girlfriends," and her penchant for Jane Fonda's Prime Time Workout—presumably in contrast with the drab suits favored by Boxer.

Some of Fiorina's other tactics, though—particularly when she has gone after Boxer directly—are more typical of the testosterone-fueled, aggressive business world from which Fiorina emerged. Fiorina's campaign sent out an e-mail slamming Boxer for asking a brigadier general to refer to her as "Senator" during a Senate hearing. (He had been addressing her as "ma'am.") Fiorina rushed in to assure voters that she would not be the kind of woman who objected to being called ma'am: "I'm sure you'll agree that Boxer's arrogance and disrespect for our nation's military leaders is way out of line," the e-mail read. In subsequent appearances before Republican groups, she has brought up the incident, pledging that she'll answer to "ma'am," "Carly," or even "Hey, you."

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One gets the impression from Fiorina's book that she would have punched anyone in her office who called her "ma'am." And as a spokesperson for John McCain's presidential campaign, Fiorina lashed out at Saturday Night Live portrayals of Palin as "disrespectful" and "sexist." But in this race, it's clear that her best hope is to win over the mama grizzlies, so she is doing as any shrewd politician would and repackaging herself.

If Fiorina were a man appearing with his wife in the kitchen gazing adoringly, he might be considered sexist. If Boxer were a man accusing a female candidate of playing stupid, same thing. But these are two women, each a groundbreaker in her own way, fighting fair. And when we look back, this may be more the Year of the Woman than 2008 was: a year when dozens of women from all over the political spectrum behaved not all that differently from men.

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Sara Libby is managing editor of Voice of San Diego.

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