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SO I follow Meghan McCain on Twitter. I’m not even going to pretend to apologize for it, because although I disagree with her on some critical issues -- and sure, she’s a Republican --- in general I think she’s pretty great, and I base this on her incredibly even-handed responses to the massive waves of abuse hurled at her over the years.
For example: Last year, when McCain did a skin cancer PSA that featured her (apparently) topless, Glenn Beck responded by calling her fat and pretend-barfing at the idea of her fully naked. I know, Glenn Beck is a real class act.
McCain responded, however, not by knee-jerkily defending her not-fatness as most ladies would, but instead by reiterating the importance of skin cancer prevention and by basically shaming Beck for contributing to a sexist culture that puts too much emphasis on women’s appearance. It was just lovely.
This weekend, I noticed McCain’s Twitter feed was filled with a wide variety of retweeted abuse -- a lot of it involving her alleged fatness and/or her boobs -- being leveled at her. Evidently this came about following an appearance on Al Sharpton’s MSNBC show in which McCain spoke a little bit about extremism within the Republican party.
Naturally, the Internet heard about it and got to work. Within hours, McCain was being shredded all over the conservative blogosphere. McCain used her Daily Beast column to respond in her characteristically thoughtful way:
Instead of ignoring the hate projected at me, I elected to retweet some of the most vile responses. I wanted to show people what happens to me when I go on TV and voice my opinion. The Internet trolls weren’t interested in having a discussion about my opinion; they just wanted to eviscerate me. Here’s a watered-down version of some of the most hateful comments:
I am fat pig. I am ugly. I am disgusting. I am an embarrassment to my family, and they should be ashamed of me. I am an anti-American extremist. I am a clueless whore. I should drink a bottle of alcohol and pills and kill myself.
That’s only a small sampling, but you get the idea. You would think that by now, having gone through a presidential election with my father in 2008, I would be numb to this kind of name-calling. But I’m not. It hurts, it rattles me, it (understandably) concerns my mother, and it keeps me up at night.
Constantly finding oneself on the receiving end of this kind of anonymous abuse, especially abuse that is explicitly sexual in nature, would upset anyone -- and I think McCain doesn’t give herself enough credit for being able to function at a pretty high level in spite of it.
Of course, some might argue that she deserves these attacks for continuing to stake her claim as a self-described moderate in the increasingly extreme Republican party. And a string of posts on Mediaite about this dust-up have suggested and that the real bully is McCain herself. (DUN DUN DUNNNNN!!!)
Nevertheless, bashing a woman’s appearance because you disagree with her politics is simply not something thoughtful, intelligent humans ought to do. If McCain’s politics are a problem, isn’t that enough? Why does anyone have to try to make her feel ugly and unsafe as well? (Don’t answer that.)
No woman deserves to be attacked in this way, to have Twitter guessing at the weight of her individual boobs (300lbs seems to be a popular number), no matter her beliefs. I don’t care who she is. I would also argue against appearance-based sexist attacks on Ann Coulter or Laura Ingraham, as reprehensible as I find their ideas and values.
Shrugging and accepting these attacks only against people with whom I ideologically disagree still sets up an environment in which these attacks are OK under the “right” circumstances -- and they are never OK. If we ever want women to be taken seriously in the political sphere, such comments have to become unspeakable, no matter the politics, no matter the boobs.