Republican blogger and pundit Meghan McCain revealed this weekend that she has been in therapy to deal with harassment she endured after tweeting a photo of herself in a tank top back in 2009. “The internet has this very weird — especially people in politics — has this very weird reaction to my body. I’m not super skinny, I have large breasts. I know, they’re real. I can’t do anything about it, and, like, the Internet just has this really weird reaction to my body,” McCain tells Meghan Casserly of Forbes at SXSW this weekend. “I’ve been in therapy because of it.”
Even before “Boobgate,” McCain took persistent flack for her curvy, size 10 body. (Take a look at the vile things said about her and her body on this right-wing website, if you can stand it.) McCain’s choice to tweet the photo was dumb, to be sure: It shows her holding up a biography of Andy Warhol, but the book is barely noticeable compared to her prominent decolletage and sexy half-smile. The post ignited a firestorm, which she responded to in a Daily Beast column pointedly titled “Don’t Call Me A Slut.”
McCain tells Casserly in the video that she only saw the now-infamous photo on a small screen before sending it out, and didn’t realize the impression it would make. But whether or not McCain should have given the photo a second look before tweeting it, the fact remains that male professionals in DC simply aren’t treated the same way that McCain consistently is by the public and the media. When Arizona Republican congressman Jeff Flake submitted photos of himself shirtless on a deserted island (yes, really) to the Washington Post, he was hailed as a rugged hottie. President Obama‘s shirtless beach photos practically helped win him the election.
Like it or not, the presence of breasts can make a casual photo read as sexual. And the presence of sexism can make a revealing photo of a professional woman seem slutty and shame-worthy, while an equally revealing photo of a professional man is just fun.
I wonder if McCain’s fellow pundits James Carville or Rush Limbaugh — both of whom I would tactfully call “not conventionally attractive” — have ever been so relentlessly hounded about their appearances that they have to go into therapy. And if this kind of abusive body criticism is just part of the deal when a woman becomes a pundit, then why do we still wonder about the ongoing lack of young female voices in political commentary?