This may not be politically correct, but it’s politically intriguing: Increasingly on television, the more conservative women are in their views, the more liberal they are in flaunting their sexuality.
Television favors attractive people, both women and men, regardless of their politics - that’s a given. But when it comes to female hosts and commentators, there is an unmistakable difference between the way conservatives dress and are shown on camera as compared to their liberal counterparts.
The numerous examples include Kimberly Guilfoyle, the severely made-up, short-skirted analyst on Fox News Channel, and Andrea Tantaros, her equally provocative co-host on the political talk show “The Five.” When MSNBC launched a competing program called “The Cycle” a few weeks ago, it hired as its lone conservative S. E. Cupp, the articulate Cornell graduate who, in her previous role at Fox, was known for delivering commentaries with her legs propped salaciously on the anchor desk.
The issue isn’t brains or beauty. Most of cable-TV’s women, across the political spectrum, have plenty of both. It’s about style, image and, make no mistake about it, deliberate packaging decisions by TV producers.
Sarah Palin helped create the model, and Fox News has been largely responsible for advancing it. To some viewers it creates an apparent contradiction between on-screen imagery and basic conservative social standards.
Cupp blames the media establishment for making females’ appearance an issue. “The liberal media always has a difficult time dealing with pretty, conservative women,” she said, prior to joining MSNBC. “They just don’t know what to make of it.”
But what is it about the conservative audience that seems to prefer its female commentators dressed like they’re headed to a cocktail party, while progressive viewers favor more subdued business attire? What are producers really aiming for when they calculatingly place Guilfoyle and Cupp in what studio crews call the “leg chair,” insuring that viewers can ogle them from head to toe?
In the prescient political drama “The West Wing” Emily Proctor played an overtly sexy Republican lawyer, working among generally plain-Jane Democrats in Jed Bartlet’s White House. “I don’t think whatever sexuality I have diminishes my power,” Ainsley Hayes tells female colleagues. “I think it enhances it.” The phenomenon is known as “lipstick feminism” and “stiletto feminism.”
Whatever you call it, it’s on display across the dial. There’s Elizabeth Hasselbeck, the conservative with cover-girl looks on “The View,” and Ann Coulter, the commentator who isn’t particularly modest in promoting her opinion or appearance.
The flashy style preference among conservative women is a recurrent topic on Internet blogs. Lori Ziganto, once named one of the “20 Hottest Conservative Women in New Media,” writes: “we embrace all aspects of our gender. As such, we have no problem looking pretty whilst vivisecting you verbally in an argument.”
The televangelist Rev. Jim Osborne blogs: “I have noticed that Conservative/Republican women all seem to be very attractive while the Liberal/Democrat types are just God awful ugly. Why is that?” Osborne’s theory: “Ugly women are angry at God for creating them that way, so they choose to rebel against God and embrace atheism and liberalism. The converse is true for attractive women.”
Apparently the issue of style and appearance has become as contentious in social media - including cable - as politics itself. Osborne’s ridiculous invective aside, women on TV seem divided on the very definition of feminism. Conservatives almost dare viewers to take them any less seriously because of their flashy appearance, while progressives see the superficial matter of style as a distraction.
Producers tend to favor whatever attracts viewers, and sexy commentators do attract a fringe audience, largely male, that tunes in for the visual stimulation. Conservatives are able to take advantage of this bonus because their core audience doesn’t find it objectionable; liberals would appreciate the bonus but correctly assume that a majority of viewers would reject it.
Conservative women on TV - at least those willing to play along - are able to have their cheesecake without eating their words too.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.
This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.