|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
talkshow "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
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
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.” She adds, “we know that if one appreciates how you
look, it doesn’t preclude them from also appreciating your mind and your
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.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.