The 2012 Presidential election is still far, far away, but I have already tired of the coverage. I woke this morning to some talking heads debating whether mentioning that Michele Bachmann had migraines was sexist.
Wow! Is this really what we should be discussing? Is it sexist to discuss her medical conditions? This is a tricky area. Quicksand is all around. I don’t think that the fact that she suffers from migraines is sexist, although the reasons that it has been brought up, or how it is covered may very well be sexist.
I’ve had migraines before that have sent me to the hospital, once even resulting in a 2-day stay. I remember the neurologist stating: You didn’t have a stroke, and you likely don’t have a brain tumor, but we need to do some more tests… as I struggled to focus on only one of the three images of her that were waivering in front of me like heat waves rising from asphalt, as I sat in a dark room with noisy, liquid light pouring in from the hallway. If only they could turn the sound off, I thought, I might be able to focus….
I’ve had headaches strike with such sudden anger that I wasn’t sure when I arrived at home if it were really the place that I lived; once, upon leaving my office at the onset of a migraine, I had someone write down directions so that I could find my way home as I couldn’t remember the names of any of the streets. Other times, I couldn’t look at a traffic light to tell whether it was green or red and realized that I shouldn’t have been behind the wheel. There have been episodes where I thought my teeth would fall out if I spoke. Times when my brain was so attuned to the slightest sound that I was certain that I was feeling the vibrations of filaments in the light bulbs, each soundwave auguring further into my head.
I hope that this give some insight to one who as never experienced a migraine, and yet, I feel as if I fall far short of describing how excruciating the migraine experience can be. This is not a headache that two aspirin will make better so that you can continue on with your day as the annoying pressure between your ears subsides. If you think that you may have a migraine but, like a trooper, you played through the pain, you’ve only had a headache.
I’ve never made it through a day of work with a migraine and I’ve had less important decisions to make than the President. So, do I think that migraines are a reason to disqualify one from being president? Well, that depends.
If one has an occasional migraine — some people have them years apart — then they probably are not an issue. However, if they are weekly — as the original article citing an unnamed source claimed — then they are an issue. I may think that Michele Bachman is the greatest thing since sliced bread, or I may think that she is bat-shit crazy, but that has no bearing on her migraines. The extent of her migraines — triggers, duration, frequency, and even treatment — are things that need to be made public if she continues in the primary. To a voter, those should have some bearing determining her fitness to be president. They may not be disqualifying, nor should they be the only criteria, but they should be considered.
Certainly there are still a lot of sexist attitudes towards women running for office in the US. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin both were subjected to sexist remarks, reporting, and judgements in the 2008 campaigning, for things that never would have been considered newsworthy for a male candidate. Any article that implies that migraines are evidence that women are disqualified because they have hormones, certainly needs to be questioned about the biases within the reporting. An occasional migraine does not guarantee that a person cannot perform a certain task, but if frequent, or requiring treatment that would render the person unable to make judgements throughout the day (or night — remember that 3am call criteria from 2008?), then they are certainly an issue and any candidate should disclose such issues and how the disease is managed.
Is the reporting of her migraines sexist? I don’t think so. Could individual news article about this subject be sexist? Certainly. As with any other news article, it is up to the reader to employ his/her crap detector and critically read about the issue. Sloppy reporting and minimal information from a candidate should not excuse the issue, nor should it be the end of a campaign. While an individual report may reflect the biases of the journalist and his organization, it doesn’t mean that the information is not newsworthy and subject to critical debate.