Renee Ellmers, Clay Aiken's Opponent, Just Made Some Seriously Sexist Comments

We all kept a suspicious eye on May's North Carolina primaries, wondering if former American Idol runner-up and aspiring politician Clay Aiken was for real. And indeed he was — Aiken won the Democratic nomination and the right to face-off against incumbent GOP Rep. Renee Ellmers come the 2014 midterms in November. Now, perhaps it's the Republicans who should be wondering if their candidate is for real, because she isn't helping her own cause — Ellmers suggested male colleagues "bring it down to a woman's level" during a recent panel on women and the GOP, just one part of remarks she made which have stirred controversy and accusations of sexism.

For her part, Ellmers has a very different perspective on this — her critics are the real sexists, as she explained in a response to ThinkProgress. She argued that her comments were taken out of context, misused by people who "take my words and redefine them to imply that women need to be addressed at a lower level."

She also blamed the kerfuffle on Schow, who she accused of "gotcha" journalism. As for whether that criticism holds water, well, that's kind of up to individual interpretation. But here's what she did say, and what Schow quoted:

Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level. Many of my male colleagues, when they go to the House floor, you know, they’ve got some pie chart or graph behind them and they’re talking about trillions of dollars and how, you know, the debt is awful and, you know, we all agree with that. ... We need our male colleagues to understand that if you can bring it down to a woman’s level and what everything that she is balancing in her life — that’s the way to go.

So, to break it all down:

  • Men "tend" to talk about things "on a much higher level." Not just higher, but much higher. Much higher than whom?
  • The men of the House of Representatives bring around pie charts and graphs to explain about spending and debt, and "we all" (by which she seems to mean Republican women) agree. The clear implication is that this is the "higher level" she speaks of — graphs and pie charts, which aren't exactly exclusive to maleness.
  • Her male colleagues need to start bring things "down to a woman's level." She's clearly contrasting this against that "higher level" of facts, figures, and colored-in slices of circle she mentioned.
  • If the unique way to speak on a "woman's level" demands consideration of "everything that she is balancing in her life," that does presume that women inherently or innately have to "balance" more than men, a reinforcing of well-worn and deeply problematic stereotype about gender roles.
  • In defending herself after the fact, Ellmers called Schow, a writer for the conservative Washington Examiner and herself a Republican, a "liberal woman writer," which kind of underscores the problem. Because Schow is a woman, and seemed dubious of Ellmers' tact, she instantly becomes a "liberal," because what kind of conservative woman would object?
Brad Barket/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

So, is Ellmers correct? Was she spouting sexism, or is it actually all of us, warping her words? I'll leave that for you to decide (check out her full remarks, which Schow tweeted out above). But this much seems clear — if you're worried about "gotcha" journalism, you probably shouldn't offer such good chances for people to getcha.