Arlen Specter Gives Grateful Nation a Needed Lesson in Ladylike Behavior

What Women Really Think
Jan. 22 2010 7:31 AM

Arlen Specter Gives Grateful Nation a Needed Lesson in Ladylike Behavior


Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann was doing a decent job of laying down Republican talking points on a Philidephia radio show. (What did she vote for? She voted for "prosperity.") Sen. Arlen Specter, her sparring partner, felt stepped on. There are a lot of things one might think to say in such a situation; perhaps "let me speak," or "don't interrupt," or "I voted for destitution." Specter decided on: "Act like a lady." He thought this advice so apposite he gave it twice:

Specter: Now wait a minute. I'll stop and you can talk. I'll treat you like a lady. So act like one.

Bachmann: I am a lady.

A bit later:

Specter: She said 'I voted for prosperity.' Well prosperity wasn’t a ... a bill.

Bachmann: Well, why don’t we make it a bill.

Specter: Now wait a minute, don't interrupt me. I didn't interrupt you. Act like a lady.

Bachmann: I think I am a lady.

Host: I think she is Senator.

Specter: I think she is too, that's why I'm treating her like one.

The transcription doesn't do justice to the weirdness of the exchange, since on air Specter actually sounds like Bachmann's gravelly voiced grandfather. But this dialogue brings up some interesting semantic issues. What does it mean to "act like a lady?" Apparently it means to be quiet. And what does it mean to "treat someone like a lady," as Specter insists he is doing? It would seem to mean to remind said person to "act like a lady" with some frequency. This is not a promising set of norms for political debate. Also fascinating is the way Bachmann seems to lose faith in her own lady-ness. First she says she is a lady, then she thinks she is a lady? That's the kind of confusion you get when you let women attend congressional hearings rather than finishing school. Figure it out, Michele.

Photograph of Michele Bachmann by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Kerry Howley's work has appeared in the Paris Review, Bookforum, and the New York Times Magazine. She is currently finishing a book about consensual violence, ecstatic experience, and the body.



Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 6:22 PM Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.