Sex and gender at work, in bed, and on the street

Krystal Ball claims victory over 'sexist' Santa photos

November 4, 2010 - 04:30 PM
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Former Va. Congressional candidate Krystal Ball (Facebook)

In the race for Virginia's 1st congressional district, Democratic challenger Krystal Ball lost to incumbent Rob Wittman, bad. But in the battle over the leaked photographs of Ball wearing a sexualized Santa costume, Ball is claiming a victory.

The highly-publicized photographs of Ball—which showed her playing around at a post-college costume party with a dildo-nosed Rudolph the Reindeer in tow—"ended up being a positive in our race," Ball said today in a conference call with the Women's Campaign Forum.

Just how positive was the photo leak? To find out, Ball conducted a poll among voters in her District about a week and a half after the photographs hit the Internet. The poll asked if voters had "heard something about Krystal Ball in the past month," and if the information gave them a positive, negative, or neutral impression of the candidate.

In the wake of generalized media hand-wringing over the "sexy" photo "scandal," 78 percent of people who had heard anything about Ball "said that it either gave them either a neutral or an improved image of me," Ball says.

Ball credits Women's Campaign Forum president Siobhan "Sam" Bennett with the turnaround. Bennett was Ball's first call after the photos dropped. "Without hesitation, she told me, 'You've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to be ashamed of, and you have to go out, confront this thing head-on, and call it what it is, which is sexism,'" Ball says.

Ball did that, and her campaign "was able to frame the entire narrative about these pictures," Ball says. "There’s no question that we have a very powerful tool here."

Addressing sexism didn't end up helping Ball much in her Congressional race (she garnered only 35 percent of the vote). But Ball's hoping the exercise helps other aspiring politicians of the Facebook generation who've got some sexy Santas in their closets."If a young woman out there has some stupid photos that she does not want plastered over the Internet, I want her to know that it's OK," Ball says. "You can still run and do it with dignity and honor, and you can still win. It shouldn’t be a barrier to running for office."

According to Women's Campaign Forum research, a woman's chances of winning a political race are equal to a man's. But women are far less likely to actually run for office, partly because they perceive the playing field to be insurmountably sexist. (See: That whole Krystal Ball photo scandal thing). Women may be just as likely to win as men are, but their victories remain harder-won. Critics still spin campaign issues out of their hemlines, their childlessness, and their pubic hair. Ball's secondary words of advice: "Be careful what you do in front of the camera."

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