W is for women?


Rebecca Traister
August 31, 2004 3:53AM (UTC)

In an answer to feminist protests going on in New York this week, a group of 900 Republican women gathered on Monday at the Waldorf Astoria to hear about why women should rally behind George W. Bush. The "W Stands for Women" event featured an all-star lineup of Bush-Cheney chicas: the Bush twins, Jenna and Barbara, who sat silently onstage; the presidents sister, Doro Bush Koch, and mother, 76-year-old former first lady Barbara Bush; and Dick Cheneys wife, Lynne, and daughter Liz. Their approach -- seducing desirable female voters with images of the president and vice president as good-hearted, henpecked husbands and fathers whipped into shrugging submission by their estrogen-heavy clans -- was the kind of thing that might make Gloria Steinem gag. But it worked with this undeniably large gathering of women, who were rowdily relishing their electoral heft.

The crowd, mostly female and mostly over 40, cheered "Four more years! Four more years!" before anyone took the stage. There were a handful of women of color, and at least one Muslim woman with her head covered.

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Koch was the first to speak, explaining that her brother has been successful as president in part because "he has surrounded himself with so many strong women." Koch made special note of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and advisor Karen Hughes, and went on to say that "with Laura and the girls hes surrounded by strong women at home." The twins, seated onstage, smiled sheepishly and gave little waves. When Koch mentioned the first lady, who was not there, the crowd went nuts, chanting "Lau-Ra! Lau-Ra!"

But that was nothing compared to the standing ovation they gave when Doro introduced her mother, Barbara. Dressed in a black suit, her hair shiny-white, the presidents mother began with the tale of how shed asked her husband, former President Bush, to the event, but that "a room full of women makes him very nervous." Then she quoted Bill Cosby, wondering whether the comedian could have been right when he advised men that, "Women dont want to hear what you think; they want to hear what they think in a deeper voice." File this comment under Jokes You Will Never Hear at a Feminist Majority Meeting.

The Bush matriarch also touched on widespread criticism of her sons first term, claiming that she avoids television these days. "You know how hard it is when people say mean things about people you love," said Barbara. "But imagine that these terrible untrue things are being said on national television when everyone can hear. Sometimes I just want to give these people a piece of my mind!" But, she said, aping comedian Dana Carvey, "As my husband would say, Wouldnt be prudent!'" Barbara ended by sounding the same note her daughter had: "This is a good man," she said of her son.

Vice presidential daughter Liz Cheney -- not the gay one -- introduced her mother, Lynne, who was dressed in a blood-red suit. Lynne Cheneys speech was heavy on "turning back the forces of terror" and also struck the mensch gong. "It is such a comfort to all of us that we have these two good men so solid, so stable, so strong, to lead the country."

It seemed the argument that Bush and Cheney are stand-up guys was exactly the right tack to take with this crowd. Janice Gilley, a 38-year-old first-time delegate from Pensacola, Fla., who told Salon that "women are on the cusp of becoming the single driving force behind presidential campaigns," said they should throw their lot behind the Republicans because "Miss Cheney said it right; women like to follow strong leaders."

Salon asked Gilley if she connected this desire to the supposition that women also liked to mate with strong men. "Absolutely," she said. "A womans Wimp-Meter goes off just as strong as a womans Strong-Man Meter." So John Kerry sets off a Wimp-Meter? "For me personally, yeah," said Gilley. "But then you have to think about where Im from. In the South, we like men. So Im being sexist."

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Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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