Twenty six year-old director Lena Dunham sparked a conservative backlash Friday with her new Obama campaign ad, “Your First Time,” which plays on the idea of having sex for the first time to talk about voting for Obama in 2008.
Your first time shouldn’t be with just anybody. You want to do it with a great guy. It should be with a guy with beautiful…someone who really cares about and understands women. A guy who cares whether you get health insurance, and specifically whether you get birth control…My first time voting was amazing. It was this line in the sand. Before I was a girl, now I was a woman. I went to the polling station, pulled the curtain, I voted for Barack Obama.
The right-wing blogosphere erupted in outrage over Dunham’s coy sexualization of voting. Breitbart.com called Dunham’s video “astoundingly tasteless,” while the Right Scoop condemned it as “disgusting” and “a new low.” Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly questioned on Twitter whether it was “appropriate.” The National Review called it “cringeworthy.” Minnesota Republican Party deputy chair went so far as to say the video was proof that Obama was being advised by Satan.
But Dunham’s president-boyfriend metaphor is hardly out of the ordinary; in fact, conservatives have been harping on essentially the same theme all election season, dodging direct references to sex but sexualizing the office of the presidency and a woman’s political life. Here are the top five examples:
1. “The Breakup”
Here’s one from the Republican National Committee of a woman ‘breaking up’ with a cardboard cutout of President Obama. Among her complaints are that he’s “constantly on the golf course” and even makes a reference to Obama being seen “out with Sarah Jessica Parker and George Clooney.”
From women’s group Independent Women’s Voice, this ad portrays Obama as an unreliable boyfriend who makes empty promises to this young woman. “You can’t change him,” a friend advises before the woman complains, “Why do I always fall for guys like this?”
3. “I’m a man of steadiness and constancy”
In the Republican primary, Romney ran an ad emphasizing the longevity of his marriage as proof of his reliability, in tacit comparison to competitor Newt Gingrich’s three marriages. The video, now private on YouTube, featured Romney saying, “I think people understand that I’m a man of steadiness and constancy. I don’t think you’re gonna find anybody who has more of those attributes than I do. I’ve been married to the same woman for 25 – excuse me, I’ll get in trouble, for 42 years. I’ve been in the same church my entire life.”
4. Women won’t be ‘Turned On’ by a candidate
Conservative commentator Alex Castellanos, in his instant analysis after the second presidential debate this year, ruled that women wouldn’t have enjoyed the debate — specifically wouldn’t have been “turned on” by it — because the candidates acted too much like “high school jocks”
5. Politicians want to get in your pants
This mailer against New York State Sen. Mark Grisanti (R) uses a few different forms of sexualization. It’s meant to catch the voters’ eye by using sexual imagery, and it then connects that imagery to the politician’s own record, asking “How far will a politician go to get in your pants?” While the ad isn’t specifically aimed at women, it tries to appeal to sexual modesty in voters, while ‘slut-shaming’ a politician for his vote regarding sexual orientation.
While conservatives denounce Dunham’s ad, liberals have embraced its sexy message. New York Magazine called it an “edgy, feminist monologue about sex,” while the Nation praised it as “edgy and informed, controversial but achingly self-aware, sexually proud and affirmatively feminist.” In context, though, “Your First Time” is just the latest example of sexualized political campaigns winking at voters. This persistent tactic demonstrates how the fight for female voters has been reduced to “what women want” in campaign and media discourses.
Both Romney and Obama argue that women don’t need to be treated differently, that the same issues matter to every voter. But in sexualizing female voters, campaigns send the opposite message: That women can’t be trusted to vote based on political knowledge, but have to rely on more easily accessible short-hands, like whether the president would make a good boyfriend.