Lest anyone confuse it for a halfway respectable news outlet, or indeed a news outlet at all, Fox News stepped in it again Thursday as Bill O’Reilly tackled the subject of a woman in the Oval Office. O’Reilly, who was following up on Michele Bachmann’s ludicrous claim last week that Americans aren’t ready for a female president, asked his guests to tell him what inevitable drawbacks there would be to having a female president.
“There’s gotta be some downside to having a woman president, right?,” O’Reilly, a noted expert on women, asked his two female guests on Thursday. “Something! Something that may not fit with that office. Correct?”
“I’m gonna say no, Bill,” panelist Kirsten Powers replied drolly.
It would be one thing if O’Reilly had asked his guests whether or not there would be any downside to having a female president. That would’ve been a crude and offensive question, but at least it would have left a bit of room for discussion on the nature of the question’s idiocy. But to just charge out of the gate and presume that a woman would, by virtue of being female, make for an inferior head of state is, well, not journalism. It’s shouting an assumption at people and demanding that they confirm it for you.
O’Reilly quickly adds the caveat there are downsides to men being president, too:
Men are men, and women are women, and there’s a difference. Okay? There’s a difference between the genders. Now, men...uhhh...they’re tied up, a lot of them, in a macho image, and that kind of thing. They act like, ‘You’re not gonna push me around.’ That could be a deficit. They’re not as, kind of, open to, uhh, sensitive discussion, maybe, as a woman.
Okay, so the problem here is gender normativity. But notice how confident O’Reilly is in the beginning of his segment when he speaks of the inevitable drawbacks to having a woman in the White House, and compare that with how he struggles to define the corollary on the male side. It’s genuinely difficult for him to figure out what downsides there could possibly be to having a male president, and even when he names them, his speech is peppered with qualifications and uncertainty. But a woman? There must be some downside! There just has to be!
At the end, O’Reilly asserts that “there haven’t been that many strong women leaders throughout history, displaying both a willful ignorance of history and a seething contempt for his panelist’s intelligence, as well as that of his viewers.