Press "Enter" to skip to content

Ladylike Politics: McCaskill’s memoir highlights what it means to be a lady today


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — At a time when two members of the General Assembly in Missouri’s Capitol resigned over allegations of sexual harassment, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill’s book Plenty Ladylike, published by Simon & Schuster, brings to surface the reality of sexism in American politics. The memoir follows the career choices of McCaskill that showcase the evolution of women in the political arena. From her win in a speech contest, where she originally decided to become the first female governor of Missouri, to her second successful U.S. Senate race, the senator has been called many names: “motor-mouth McCaskill,” “cheap hooker,” and a Barack Obama “sycophant.” In her own words, the senator from Rolla writes about the new generation of women in politics who have given a new meaning to be “ladylike:” women “speaking out, being strong, taking risks and charge, and changing the world.”

The initial road to Jefferson City and, consequently, to Washington was not likely for McCaskill. A door was slammed in her face when she knocked on the door of a man who derided her campaign efforts to become a state representative in the Missouri House. After she won that race to sit on her first political office, McCaskill has not stopped in finding ways to win against male counterparts and doubters. She recalls “moments of being very uncomfortable as a young woman surrounded by lots of men” during her internship in the Missouri Capitol as a student at the University of Missouri. Sexual assault cases reported to her office at the Missouri Courts of Appeals began to impact her view of her workplace.

There are times when she is caught using hefty descriptions to explain her opinion of sexual misconduct and her fixation on denoting such actors of crime.

“Every man is beginning to look like he’s a creep that’s committed some horrific sexual assault,” McCaskill says in the book.

She would be highly motivated to put as many offenders into their rightful places for assault and fraud charges later on in her career as county prosecutor, State Auditor and U.S. senator in charge of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. What began as a story of a discriminated woman surviving in a world of unforgiving men detours in the book for a turnover of power; McCaskill is seen as a powerhouse in state politics and starts to be considered as the front runner for the Democratic Party in races for state elections.

Back when the senator was hesitant to confront her bosses and co-workers because of her inexperience, she gained a lot of confidence from her mother who served on the Columbia City Council in the past. At times, it seems as if the senator’s mother, Betty Anne McCaskill, acted as the collected and experienced advisor in McCaskill’s camp. McCaskill lost to Matt Blunt in the 2004 gubernatorial election by almost three percent. She revisits the devastating blow that came amidst her successful record of election runs, and she cites underestimating her opponent and not expansively understanding voter populations in Missouri as the reasons for her defeat. The independent voters scattered among the rural communities of Missouri didn’t get the attention from McCaskill and her campaign team during the election that they needed, and it had cost them the election. Betty Anne McCaskill reminded her daughter that making time for “elevator operators, the clerks at the desks in courthouses, the waitresses at stops” and everyone else was just as important as making visits to scheduled campaign stops.

During that time, McCaskill realizes that “being the more experienced person may not be as important as being the more likable one,” she states in the book. With her confidence stemming from her experiences of convincing football players and cheerleaders in order to be crowned the homecoming queen to beating out experienced incumbents for offices, McCaskill relied on her progress as a woman of power to reach for her definitive objective of one day occupying the Office of the Governor in Jefferson City. The journey from a 28 year-old running for a seat in the Missouri House to a U.S. senator seemed like a constant roller-coaster ride that didn’t know how to stop.

Her bolder risks and strategic approaches seems to reach its climax when she faced against a field of GOP candidates for the U.S. senate seat in 2012 that offers her an alternative route to victory. In order to avoid facing off with a candidate who she thought would have a better chance against her, McCaskill and her campaign team starts to push publicity for GOP candidate Todd Akin who would ultimately be undone by his infamous “legitimate rape” comment.

The senator mentions inside the book several times that she needs to remind herself to keep grounded at times. Time with her children and mother brings her back to earth when she is “too serious” about her job. She talks about the U.S. senate when it was “a male preserve” dominated by the “good old boys’ club” to when the women only bathroom was not big enough to accommodate the number of incoming women senators. The times have changed and the behavior towards women in politics have changed along with it; but, some components of McCaskill and her politics seems to stick throughout the years. She remains tough, progressive, stylish and, most noticeably, ladylike.