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In Defense of Meghan McCain

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Let's talk about breasts. After all, it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But the real reason I want to talk about breasts is Meghan McCain.

To recap, last Sunday McCain appeared on Christiane Amanpour's show on ABC, where she challenged Christine O'Donnell's fitness to be a U.S. senator. And it wasn't just because of the TV ad where O'Donnell unwittingly proved the point McCain was making by declaring: I am not a witch...I am you. Or her bizarre views on masturbation and abstinence. McCain said that many in her generation see the 41-year-old Sarah Palin wannabe as a nutjob.

She then added:

I speak as a 26-year-old woman. And my problem is that, no matter what, Christine O'Donnell is making a mockery of running for public office. She has no real history, no real success in any kind of business. And what that sends to my generation is, one day, you can just wake up and run for Senate, no matter how [much] experience you have.

Never mind that McCain is a moderate Republican. Never mind that what she said was entirely reasonable compared to a Senate candidate who believes that teaching creationism in the public schools is perfectly legal. Faster than you can shout "we want our government back!" the new conservative boys' club started trashing her.

On Michelle Malkin's blog, a blogger named Doug Powers posted a photo of McCain wearing a skimpy tank top and waving a copy of Andy Warhol's biography. A year ago McCain caused a tizzy when she uploaded the photo to her Twitter page. If you ask me, the image was far less racy than anything you'd see on a Victoria's Secret commercial or an episode of the Kardashians. Still, the fake outrage was so intense that McCain eventually apologized and removed the photo.

No matter. Here's what Powers wrote: Disregard the above photo. I'm only putting it there to remind myself to check my tire pressure later this afternoon.

Conservative blogger Dan Riehl referred to her as Meggie 'Big Mac' McCain, and then declared this self-indulgent set of mega-breasts doesn't belong anywhere a TV studio commenting on anything.

If you think that was hilarious, you will really love this comment that Jeff Poor, who writes for something called the Media Research Center's Business & Media Institute, retweeted from a conservative blogger: I swear, if Meghan McCain gets any dumber she'll be drooling on her boobs. Poor, whose surname seems just right, then added: Haha.

On Rachel Maddow's show the other night, McCain said she has gotten used to such sexist attacks and feels good about her body. I'm glad. As it happens, I too have large breasts so I take these attacks personally. Don't get me wrong, I like my breasts. Still, there were years in my teens and twenties when I felt utterly self-conscious and embarrassed about them. Oh, to be an A cup or a B cup! I would cry, envying women whose chests did not attract stares and lewd remarks wherever they went.

What I did not realize then is that many women are unhappy with their breasts, no matter what their size. Otherwise why would countless women spend thousands of dollars to undergo breast enhancement surgery? (Now there's a euphemism for you.) Because men are obsessed with breasts. That's why. Did you know there are at least 138 slang words for breasts? I didn't either until in the interest of writing this post I did a Google search.

Here are some terms I wasn't even aware of: funbags, devils' dumplings, milk wagons, sweater cans. My favorite is Thelma and Louise. (Though Winnebagos was a close second.) As for Thelma and Louise, only a man who's very insecure would take two iconic feminist movie heroines and reduce them to a pair of breasts.

Which brings me back to Christine O'Donnell, and McCain's doubts about her ability to be a U.S. senator. I think she might have a point. For example, during the second debate, O'Donnell challenged Democrat Chris Coons when he asserted that the First Amendment dictates the separation of church and state. Really? O'Donnell kept repeating incredulously. At which point the audience started laughing. But rather than realize that they were laughing at her, the clueless O'Donnell just kept talking. And boy can she talk a blue streak!

I'm all for more women running for office. God knows, we need more women in Congress. But when did it become acceptable for female candidates not to be smart? Or accomplished? Or able to think? When did ignorance and failure and a penchant for being glib and talking nonsense not only become OK, but admirable?

This is what Meghan McCain was getting at. And I applaud her for speaking out about it, and then for taking the heat. Not even Karl Rove, after initially trashing O'Donnell, had the courage to stand up to the tea partiers and the GOP. The reason the right-wing hates Nancy Pelosi so much is not because she's an unapologetic San Francisco liberal and Speaker of the House. That's just their excuse. The reason they hate her is because she's fearless, savvy and smart. And if there's anything conservative men find threatening, it's a smart woman in charge. Especially one like Pelosi, who doesn't care a whit what right-wingers think of her.

This is why they resort to attacking women's bodies. Calling them fat. Calling them ugly. Emphasizing their breasts. Because it's easy, and it's mean. And they know how vulnerable women are to this kind of personal shaming. Hillary got the worst of it, and now she's one of the most powerful and admired women in the world. So occasionally there's justice.

But it's not only men who try to bully women like McCain into silence. One female conservative blogger tweeted about her: You know why Meghan McCain's physical appearance is still a topic of conversation? Because she won't shut up about it.

And why should she? It's a free country. Isn't that what the tea partiers are always shouting about? Free speech? But the point I want to make is we clearly have a long way to go before women in public life get the respect they deserve. Before going after a woman's body or her looks as a way to retaliate against her for being smart and opinionated is just no longer acceptable.

In the meantime, let's talk about breasts. And be sure to get a mammogram.