“Empty Dress” Is As Sexist As “Empty Suit” or What I Said on MSNBC

I was disappointed I was not able to talk about Syria, particularly it how affects the immigration reform calculus. This is important because my sources in the advocacy community were not blinking at all the gloom and doom of late summer–that not enough votes exist in the House to pass reform legislation. They tell me that what the mainstream media doesn’t know are the very shhhh and intense negotiations with decision makers and the influencers that have been deployed to convince, cajole, and deliver votes.

Notice I am writing in past tense. Once the conflict is Syria escalated after the gassing of 1,400 people, a large portion of them children, President Obama is asking Congress to vote on authorization for military intervention. If immigration reform is hanging on a thread with the upcoming fiscal fights over the debt ceiling and the Tea Party movement to #DefundObamacare, then a debate over action in Syria could bump immigration off the calendar of the 113th Congress. If this happens, what’s the real and political fall out?


Bread and butter issues, such as crimes, good school, and filled pot holes. Best lessons learned not in Washington but as a local reporter. Courtesy: MSNBC

Alas, I will have to wait until (maybe?) next week. The topics for the Agenda panel on MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts show centered on hot Senate races. In New Jersey, Corey Booker is facing criticism for a recent spike in crime while he has been on the campaign trail–with or without celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Eva Longoria.

But the spat that caught my attention is in Kentucky where Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is fending off a primary challenger and a Democratic opponent. Turns out a National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) spokesperson depicts Democrat Allison Lundergan Grimes as an “empty dress” who “babbles incoherently.”

Thomas asked me the question, is this sexist?

Well, yes. And expect more of this kind of trash talk as women “lean in” and assume higher leadership roles.

Thing is, calling a man an “empty suit” is also sexist. I understand the power dynamic that changes context. There’s quite a difference between a power structure such as the NRSC with men at the decision making level calling a woman an empty dress versus, say a girl scout troop calling a man an empty suit. Yet in both instances, this word choice does little more than create a distraction from the issues, policies, and a record. In Senator McConnell’s case, more sexist than the “empty dress” the NRSC lobbed at Grimes is his repeated no votes on the Violence Against Women, the Lilly Ledbetter, and the Paycheck Fairness Acts which fellow panelist Steve Benen reports in the Maddow Blog. This is more alarming, not just to women but all Americans than the “empty dress” comment.

There’s a reason why I am a stickler on language. Politically, “empty dress” or “anchor baby” distracts but in reality, words can offend, inspire hate, and in some instances provoke violence. If you don’t believe me, ask the family of Matthew Shepard who was beat to death for being gay. Ask the loved ones of Jose Sucuzhanay who was pummeled to death for being an immigrant.

That’s why language matters.

Click below to watch the Agenda panel discussion on MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts show with Thomas, the Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly, and MSNBC’s Steve Benen which aired on September 5, 2013.

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Am I the only one that believes our whole culture–not just politics–has become potty mouth (think Miley Cyrus at the MTV VMA awards)? Can we turn back the clock?


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