Suzanne Fields

Rep. Michele Bachmann, founder of the tea party caucus in the new Congress, gave more than a response to President Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday night. We got a look at the new political woman in Washington.

Some of the old Republican bulls looked like they were suffering a bad bout of indigestion. She's treading on old toes. She acquitted herself with poise and power, and that's what's scary to the party establishment.

When Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann got together during the midterm election campaigns, they were dismissed by certain politicians and pundits as "Thelma and Louise," as real-life stand-ins for the two innocent housewives whose bucolic romp across America became a killing spree. But there's more than just Bachmann in the new wave of tough women in town.

"This new generation of conservative politicas -- having caught, skinned and eviscerated liberal feminism as if it were one of Palin's Alaskan salmon -- is transforming the very meaning of a women's movement," observes Kay S. Hymowitz in City magazine. Her point is that men and women, liberals and even some conservatives, have fallen into panic mode at the arrival of tea party women.

The male politicians long for the more modest ladies, led by Phyllis Schlafly, who defeated the Equal Rights Amendment but did it the old-fashioned feminine way, presenting homemade jelly and jam to state legislators.

Not so long ago, Hillary Clinton was the Lady MacBeth in the nightmares of men who were afraid she was on her way back to the White House. The men relaxed when it became clear that she was only on her way to Foggy Bottom to become secretary of state. She looked matronly and sedate this week, a comfortable dowager in royal blue, a regular member of the old boys club, as she listened to President Obama from a front-row seat. Almost nobody remembers how she was once ridiculed as having to wear pink to look feminine.

Although Hillary was attacked as "uppity," for having climbed to power as a "wife of," such accusations are mild by the new standards. More tempting female targets have replaced her. Palin's conservative philosophy is as legitimately criticized as Hillary's liberal agenda once was, but her critics nevertheless attack by innuendo, taking aim (pardon the expression) with appeals to anachronistic female stereotypes.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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