The record number of Republican women running for statewide offices this year was an encouraging historical development, marking an important diversification in politics. The Democratic party had long driven the growth of females in elected office, and an influx of GOP women—particularly conservative Republican women—is an important advancement.
So why did Sharron Angle have to ruin it?
"Man up, Harry Reid. You need to understand that we have a problem with Social Security," Angle, the GOP nominee for Senate in Nevada, told the embattled Democratic Senate Majority Leader at Thursday night's debate.
Social Security is indeed a critical issue, arguably more so to women, who are statistically likely to live longer. But why would it take a man to understand that? And when did "man up" become accepted debate language, instead of the inherent insult to women that it is?
Used in snarky political attacks, "man up" is generally meant to imply that the male in question is somehow weak or spineless, a definition that suggests women are, well, weak and spineless. Those are not the characterizations that come to mind when one thinks of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Olympia Snowe or even, for that matter, Angle, who hardly showcased her softer side in the debate.
Outside the political arena, "man up" gets a bit murkier. It's the name of a "male enhancer" sold on the Internet. It was the title of a San Francisco event described by organizers as "an intimate three-day retail showcase that aims to unite the fragmented San Francisco men's retail market through a unique combination of merchandise, art, furniture, alcohol and education." It's also the name of a global campaign to stop violence against women and girls. While the goal is admirable, the moniker is almost as offensive as Angle's comment. Refraining from domestic violence doesn't make you a man. It just makes you not a criminal.
One of the reasons Republican female candidates were more successful this year in winning their primaries is that they are more conservative; earlier female GOP contenders were often more moderate, which might have made them stronger general election candidates in some states and districts, but which made it harder for them to win their primaries. The ideological diversification is a positive development, showing that women (while the strong majority of Democratic voters) aren't by definition left-leaning. And they don't have to "man up" to compete.