It’s nice to be a woman right now. Every time we turn on the television or open up the computer, someone’s telling us how important we are to the political process, and how we must take charge of our own destiny and vote for the man who will best listen to us, not distort what we say, and look out for our interests. It’s great to be in such a position of power. It might, in fact, make some of us feel as important as, say, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the most powerful female politician in the state. I mean, what she does and what she says matters, right?
Except, apparently, when it doesn’t, and except when a certain man decides that it doesn’t. I’m talking about Sen. Mark Begich’s staunch refusal to discontinue using a picture of him and Murkowski for campaign purposes. Murkowski’s office even sent a legal order and he still refused. When GOP challenger Dan Sullivan asked about it at a forum, Begich said that Murkowski “shouldn’t be ashamed” that the two of them work so well together and besides that, the only reason she wanted it taken down is because “she didn’t like the photo.”
Murkowski called the comments “belittling.” To the camera, she said, “No means no.” In an interview with me later, she called the comments sexist. ‘I’m not some prom queen who’s worried about the way she looks,” she said.
Murkowski has repeatedly said that in fact, she and Begich don’t work well as a team, and anybody who has watched closely the way their offices work together over the years can attest to this fact. They might vote together 80 percent of the time, but as Begich is quick to point out when he’s defending his record of only getting one bill passed during his tenure to name a federal courthouse, legislation is only a small part of what’s done in D.C. The vast majority of time spent representing Alaska is working with all those federal agencies that have so much control over Alaska’s lands and its economic future. And this is where they’re pulled in opposite directions.They have to be. For better and for worse for Alaska, they’re in different parties, and belong to different tribes. Murkowski wants someone in her tribe. She wants a new partner. Last I heard she gets to decide what’s working and what isn’t, not him.
I’ve always admired Begich’s seemingly unequivocal support for women and for women’s issues. (That, however, began to wane some when I heard how involved he was in putting Bill Walker, a pro-life Republican candidate, on top of the Democratic-Party endorsed governor’s ticket, kicking downstream two widely known pro-choice candidates.)
But Begich’s recent comments about Murkowski are more than a little disturbing. Within them are the misogynistic seeds that have done women, including this one and nearly everyone I know, great harm throughout the ages: You shouldn’t be ashamed. We work well together. I know you better than you know yourself.
Let me be clear: To the Republicans who have been appalled that more hasn’t been made of Begich’s comments: You all are skating on thin ice here.
Much of the GOP’s stance on women’s issues is unacceptable, and I take particular exception to the way that Republicans generally, and GOP Senate candidate Dan Sullivan in particular, praised the Supreme Court’s decision to give certain companies permission not to cover certain types of birth control. The potential consequences around that decision are huge. There has been no greater economic driver for women than the ability to control their own reproduction. Women have advanced by leaps and bounds since the 1960s, when birth control became widely available. That Sullivan and others don’t seem to fully grasp how profound that Supreme Court decision was for women is astounding.
However, it’s arguably more disturbing when men give lip service to our causes, and then undermine us and take away our agency in less overtly political, but arguably more demeaning and insidious ways: by telling us how we feel, by saying that we like something, when we don’t.
We’ve heard a lot about how Sullivan might treat women if he gets to be a U.S. Senator. But we haven’t heard much about how Begich treats the real women, or woman, right in front of him, right now.
Contact Amanda Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org