The Bitch Tap

Lindsay Beyerstein

Mayoral candidate and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (pictured here at a September 2011 meeting of the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership), says she knows when to 'open up the bitch tap.'

The web is buzzing about Monday’s New York Times profile of Democratic mayoral frontrunner Christine Quinn, which depicts the City Council Speaker as a bare-knuckle political brawler and an old-fashioned scream[er].”

Some readers found the profile sexist. This story would never have been written if Christine Quinn was a man,” Tweeted Rosie Grey of Buzzfeed.

Actually, it probably would have been. In 2008, the Times did a profile of Bloomberg that seemed to have been cut with the same cookie cutter as the Quinn piece. The gist was that the mayor was even-tempered in public and a bully behind closed doors: 

Titled As Term Wanes, Bloomberg’s Temper Boils Up,” the article read:

Mr. Bloomberg is often a man of quaint politeness in public. But in recent days, as he has endured setbacks on projects crucial to his legacy, another Michael Bloomberg has spilled into view: short-tempered, scolding, even petulant.

[…]

But he is also demanding and prone to outbursts of angry hyperbole, according to current and former associates, most of whom would speak only anonymously for fear of offending the mayor. They described a suddenly red-faced man who, in full view of others in the bullpen, the open workspace at City Hall, might scream, You’re destroying my administration!” at an aide over a slip-up, or unleash a profanity-laced question about why he had botched a step in a project.

Rudy Giuliani’s temper was so notorious he made headlines when he tried to be polite.

I thought the Quinn profile was refreshingly egalitarian. The reporters allowed Quinn to cast herself as an old school ward heeler who’s not afraid to bust some heads to get things done. That’s a familiar role for male politicians in New York. It’s interesting to see Quinn openly casting herself in the same mold. The great thing is, the Times let her do it.

I make a conscious decision about when I’m gonna, you know, open up the bitch tap and let the water run. It can be really effective when I need it to,” Quinn is quoted as saying.

At least they didn’t try to pain Quinn as mentally unstable, or worse, as a prima donna. These are classic sexist tropes that media use to undercut women’s power and enforce a double standard where aggressiveness is proof of toughness for men and proof of delusion for women. Men are allowed to get angry without automatically calling their sanity into question. The prima donna trope is even worse because it’s another way of asking: Who does she think she is?” Which, in turn, suggests that the woman isn’t entitled to wield the powers of her office.

History has taught us that being a hot-headed bully is no barrier to being mayor of New York City. Voters can decide for themselves whether they want to continue the tradition with Quinn.

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Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.
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