Conservative Hotties and Gender Hypocrisy: Why It's Hard to Have It Both Ways

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter is No. 13 on Right Wing News's list of the "20 Hottest Conservative Women in New Media." (Mark Mainz / Getty Images)

Oh, look, it's the "20 Hottest Conservative Women in New Media (2010 Edition)" over at Right Wing News. Last year's edition, RWN says, was one of the most popular items on the site, so they decided to do it again—this time with a panel of conservative commentators (and, duh, all male) as judges, including Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit and Jonah Goldberg of the National Review.

The list features pictures of the 20 bloggers and media personalities whom the judges winnowed from a field of 50 (Spoiler alert: Michelle Malkin is No. 19; Ann Coulter is No. 13; Hannah Giles of ACORN sting fame comes in at No. 5). The judges didn't indicate what their criteria was, but if there was any consideration besides aesthetics—say, the quality of the subjects' ideas—it isn't mentioned.

The top 20 includes bloggers, radio hosts, and syndicated columnists (and not a lot of nonwhite faces). Some of the photos appear to be official press shots or were pulled from the commentators' blogs. Others, however, look disconcertingly like they were pulled from the subjects' Facebook pages, chosen for maximum hotness. Those pages may be fair game, but it's misleading for Right Wing News to pull candids from parties—especially when some of the subjects have sensible, businesslike images posted as their public image on their blogs.

It's hard to know where to start here. The whole thing feels pretty gross, but a little casual objectification in search of clicks is fine, right? No harm, no foul? (Goldberg tries to play it both ways, saying that his "shame spiral is bottomless.")

Well, no. It's great that there's such a vibrant female presence in the conservative commentariat—Coulter and Malkin in particular have a stature that's equaled only by the likes of Rush Limbaugh—but by any sensible standard, it's clear-cut sexism: women trying to compete on the same intellectual playing field as the men being ranked for how sexy they look in their online profile, not how scathingly they dissect Obamacare.

But let's say you don't buy the idea that this is objectification. Come on, you say, anyone who calls her blog Snark and Boobs knows she's trading on sex appeal. And it's possible for men to both value a woman's political criticism and find her attractive. (It's also important to note that RWN also published a list of the 15 hottest new media guys on the right last year.)

But the right walks a narrow line when it comes to ogling women. In conservative circles, it's more acceptable for women to be praised for both their brains and their beauty. But if that praise turns to criticism, looks becomes off limits, and critics are condemned (rightly so) for sexism. (See: those staunch defenders of women who railed against NEWSWEEK's cover image of Sarah Palin in running shorts; they're silent on the top-20 list.)

What about National Review contributor Kathryn Jean Lopez? Sure, Lopez has a rather bumpy track record when it comes to, uh, "traditional" feminism. She did suggest that women's liberation was responsible for domestic abuse, and said Pope Benedict was a strong feminist.

But K-Lo has also blasted pornography for "quietly tearing at the time, efficiency, and souls of young men, families, and workplaces today" (porn being a contentious issue throughout feminism) and has complained about the salacious content of—well, of NEWSWEEK's site, actually.

So, let's see what Lopez has to say to Goldberg:

Snark and Boobs? The things you learn ... I suspect you didn't enlist an AEI intern for this assignment, but covered it yourself.

Sigh. Maybe next time? It's fine to score political points on gender issues (we'll save the "gender issues are not just political footballs" speech for later). Liberals have long played that game, and conservatives who find the left falling short on equality can—and indeed should—make a fuss about it. But if you're going to play the game, you have to play every inning. (That's true of both sides.) The failure of the right-wing "values" crowd to decry contests like this is bad for them—it undermines their standing to comment on gender—and, most important, bad for women.