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?

Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman.
Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman.

California primary voting is still ongoing, but early polls are predicting a woman-friendly victory. Or is it, in fact, woman-friendly? Meg Whitman, the former head of eBay, is predicted to win her primary for the governor's race. Carly Fiorina, the ex-CEO of Hewlett-Packard, is predicted to win her primary and become a nominee for Senate. Both are Republican businesswomen. Whitman is expected to spend the most money ever in a gubernatorial primary. Fiorina will run against another woman, Democrat Barbara Boxer, and they have already started to fight.

If this is some kind of Year of the Woman, it is not unfolding in the expected way. Some are calling it the Year of the Republican Woman in California, and some are calling it the year of the "mama grizzly," referring to a certain type of ferocious conservative mom who loves Sarah Palin and everyone Palin loves (in this case, Fiorina). Aside from being female, the women in question are behaving in a not-entirely-pathbreaking way. Whitman has succumbed to the worst politician's habit, spending tens of millions of her own money. Fiorina, in battling a reliable feminist icon, has played up some old homemaker stereotypes to endear herself to her new Tea Party fans. In the upcoming race, Fiorina and Boxer are likely to battle viciously over every important issue, as John Dickerson points out: "abortion, gun control, offshore drilling, immigration, and Sarah Palin."

Advertisement

For those who conceived of the forward march as something like a clean victory for Hillary Clinton, this latest development presents some confusing dilemmas: Do you still cheer if the ceiling is crashed by two conservative businesswomen? What if those women behave exactly like all the men do in politics? And finally, does an insult to a woman politician still count as sexist if it comes from another woman?

Fiorina presents a particularly confusing profile. She started out as a secretary and then became the CEO of "by far the most prominent American company that a woman had — or, to this day, has — ever run," as the New York Times put it. She has called on her feminist credentials in the past, recalling in her memoir, Tough Choices, how she once accompanied the high-powered men in her office to a business meeting in a strip club in order to demonstrate that she could play anywhere with the big boys. A recent breast cancer survivor, Fiorina has also walked in several cancer-related fundraisers like Race for the Cure—telling boob jokes to the New York Times and emotionally recalling her treatment and how it prepared her to run for office. It's hard to claim that she did not do her part to advance the image of powerful women in America.

Boxer, on the other hand, won her feminist credentials in the traditional public service way. She has long advocated for women and children, worked to protect abortion rights and clinic access, emphasized the need for more women on the Supreme Court, and in 2004 received more votes than any Senate candidate in U.S. history—male or female.

One can imagine that in some awards dinner for American women in leadership, they would both share the stage and shake hands. But in this political race they are enemies. Like Whitman, Fiorina began billing herself as a would-be "CEO of California," and insisting that Boxer's "policies are part of what's driving this state into bankruptcy." Boxer, on the other hand, has begun mocking Fiorina for equating worrying about climate change to fretting over "the weather."

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?