Periodically, I see folks in the mainstream media discover the existence of mean female rednecks, standing beside their bigoted brothers with the same look of incomprehension and rage on their faces, and I'm always surprised that anyone could be surprised by this. Growing up in the thick of redneck country, I well knew that the only thing meaner than a right-wing male ignoramous is his wife, standing beside him glowing with the joy of finding a politically feasible excuse to act with the anger and viciousness usually reserved for men. So I wasn't the slightest bit surprised to see the report showing that half of the Tea Partiers are female . Women have always kept up with men in the conservative movement, and, as Politico argues, they can outshine the men as well.
History alone should remind us of thise fact. Women stood right alongside the men when it came to harassing civil rights activists . Women have often been the shock troops in the anti-choice movement. Defense attorneys for accused rapists try to stack the jury with women, who are often eager to hear what a horrible slut the victim was (and how much better they are in comparison). Female conservative students at Dartmouth joined in with the men in destroying anti-apartheid protest art in the '80s . There's nothing about being female that prevents someone from becoming a reactionary.
None of this is to deny that angry white women in conservative environments don't face a great deal of oppression because they're women. On the contrary, they tend to face way more of the slings and arrows flung at women. They're way more likely to have to cook dinner and then to clean up everything while their husbands slink to the living room to watch the game, and they're way more likely to have to smile and bring him a beer while they do it. Many women in this world never seem to sit down at home, and, just as bad, they never seem to get up at work, because they face so much sexism that they really do have to work twice as hard to be seen as half as good. Women in this world accept a lot of shame for their sexuality and have to put up with way more jokes about how women are feeble-minded from their male relatives. So, definitely, they're bullied.
But as much as we'd like to believe that the bullied automatically have more sympathy for others who are bullied, we have all seen the ugly reality of the bullied person finding someone smaller to pick on. Responding to sexism by becoming a feminist and separating from your community doesn't seem feasible to many women, so instead they try to compete with the men in the arena of being hateful toward racial minorities, the poor, and women who don't conform to strict gender roles. Some of the meanest misogynists I've met have been female; they seem to think by hating on other women, they'll get an exception for themselves as one of the good ones. You'd think a stay-at-home mother in conservative country would see what she has in common with a woman who needs public assistance to get by, but often the reaction instead is to gloat about being superior and to deny any connection whatsoever with the unworthy unmarrieds.
Sexism means women have less, not more, space to dissent from the prevailing opinions in their community. Since women are judged more, gossiped about more, and considered easier targets by the bullies in their community, they have all the more reason to conform to right-wing standards. There's a strong incentive for conservative women to un-sex themselves, Lady Macbeth-style. Borrowing some of the social esteem that men enjoy by outdoing the men in paranoid, hateful right-wing rhetoric is an easy path to glory for many conservative women. Witness the career trajectory of Sarah Palin if you have a moment's doubt about that.
Photograph of couple by Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images.