Michael Ryan

Why are GOP women like this Kansas congressional candidate still judged by looks?

It’s the backhanded compliment that backfired big-time.

A Kansas City-area liberal took to Twitter to disparage Kansas congressional candidate Sara Hart Weir for, oddly enough, being attractive. And all it did was make her look better.

“Do you think it’s a coincidence Kansas Republicans are recruiting attractive young women to run for office?” Leawood progressive Elizabeth Arnold asked in a series of tweets last week. “They learned it works in local and state school board races and #ksleg races, so they’re sticking with a winning strategy.”

It turns out that getting attacked for one’s looks may be its own winning strategy. At long last. Indeed, the offending tweet only served to elevate Weir’s nascent effort to unseat Rep. Sharice Davids, the first-term Democrat serving Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District. The aesthetic assessment prompted national coverage, including a spot for Weir on “Fox and Friends” Monday morning on Fox News.

Weir’s campaign reports seeing increased online searches, hits and donations as a result.

Most of us likely thought, or hoped, that American political discourse was way beyond objectifying women candidates and officeholders. But apparently, conservative women are still fair game.

Last year, editorial cartoonist Jeff Danziger apologized for body shaming then-White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in a cartoon that ended up being pulled. A year before, columnist David Horsey opined that Sanders resembled a “slightly chunky soccer mom who organizes snacks for the kids’ games,” as opposed to the “arm candy” and “Barbie dolls in short, tight skirts” he envisioned for the Trump administration.

“Did you know the First Lady works by the hour?” an independent U.S. House candidate in Oregon tweeted about Melania Trump last summer, adding the hashtags “#thinkdirty” and “#hoebag.” He’d also previously tweeted, “#NikkiHaley very hot.”

The Republican Party gets criticized when it doesn’t put forth great numbers of female candidates. “Banner Year for Female Candidates Doesn’t Extend to Republican Women,” a New York Times headline blared after last year’s election. Now the GOP is cynically putting up attractive women. You can’t win.

If there’s a double standard for women in politics, there’s a quadruple standard for conservative women. As Independent Women’s Forum chairman Heather Higgins notes, liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had two movies made about her in 2018 alone — two more than were ever made about the first female U.S. Supreme Court justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan.

Getting zinged for being attractive, though, is an odd new take on an old problem: judging serious people, overwhelmingly women, by their appearance.

Let there be no mistake. Sara Hart Weir is much more than a pretty face. She’s a serious and accomplished woman.

While maintaining in a phone interview that she sees the tweet in question as an affront to all women, she repeatedly apologized for being “wonky” while diverting the discussion to her work as CEO of the National Down Syndrome Society. Her accomplishments include having a role in protecting the rights of those with disabilities and helping ensure people with Down Syndrome can sock money away without taking away from their meager Medicaid benefits.

If she were on the other side of the ideological spectrum, Weir would undoubtedly be hailed as a heroine rather than be hit for her looks.

“This isn’t a beauty pageant,” Weir wisely says.

For her part, Rep. Davids has been the victim of much more acerbic attacks for her heritage, sexual orientation and more — and her office disavows any connection to the tweet attacking Weir. So noted.

Still, it would be helpful if folks of all political stripes banded together to finally put an end to the objectification of women in politics.

For appearances, at least.

The Star’s Michael Ryan, a Kansas City native, is an award-winning editorial writer and columnist and a veteran reporter, having covered law enforcement, courts, politics and more. His opinion writing has led him to conclude that freedom, civics, civility and individual responsibility are the most important issues of the day.
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