Calling Alison Lundergan Grimes an "Empty Dress" Isn't Sexist

Calling Alison Lundergan Grimes an "empty dress" isn't sexist.

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Kentucky Secretary of State and Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Alison Lundergan Grimes, talks to reporters after addressing the Kentucky County Judge Executive Association and the Kentucky Magistrates and Commissioners Association Joint Convention Thursday, July 18, 2013 , in Louisville, Ky. Grimes is running against Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

So a National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman has referred to Kentucky Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes as an "empty dress." It's insulting, to be sure. But is it sexist?

The NRSC's Democratic counterpart thinks so, and is using the statement to raise money on behalf of Grimes, who appears to be shaping up as a fairly serious challenge to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, told Politico that "I don't understand these men in the Republican party. It seems almost impossible for them to open their mouths without insulting women."

Well, point taken, in general. There surely have been some offensive or just tone-deaf comments made to or about women by various Republican men. McCaskill ended up being a beneficiary of one of the more idiotic displays of sexism, when her opponent, Todd Akin, said women don't get pregnant fromm "legitimate rape."

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

But the term "empty dress" does not rise remotely to the "legitimate rape" level. And even the other comments of the NRSC spokesman, Brad Dayspring, do not rise to that level, at least not on a gender-related basis.

Yes, he insulted her intelligence and likened her to a college freshman who doesn't know what she is talking about. That's petty and a bit adolescent, but hardly limited to the GOP. Both parties' campaign committees routinely send emails accusing the opponent of bad judgment or character in the most hyped-up terms. It's become sort of a rhetorical arms war, with each side becoming more cutting in its comments – to the point where the words don't mean anything anymore.

The only word Dayspring used that might remotely be considered a subtle gender jab is "babble." That's right up there with "hysterical," "giggling" and other words that somehow only get used to describe women. But "empty dress?" The crime here is not that the phrase is sexist. It's that it's a missed attempt at a cute counterpart to "empty suit." Dayspring could have called her an "empty suit" (never mind that despite anyone's views of her politics, Grimes has hardly come across as unintelligent or ill-informed).

There's a lot of sexism out there, some of it brazen and some of it more subtle. Let's focus on the ones that matter.

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