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By Sue Owen March 29, 2012

Michelle Malkin says Gloria Steinem once called Kay Bailey Hutchison a ‘female impersonator’

As right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh took flak for terming law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" over her claim that contraceptives can cost $3,000 a year, another pundit argued that conservative women are frequently targets of liberal vitriol.

Syndicated writer and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin listed such epithets in her March 7, 2012 column, including a Texas example: "It was feminist godmother Gloria Steinem who called Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison a ‘female impersonator.’ "

Did women’s rights icon Steinem really belittle the femininity of Texas’ first female U.S. senator?

Yes. The comment made national news in 1993 as Hutchison, then state treasurer, ran for U.S. Senate in a special election runoff against interim Democratic appointee Bob Krueger. Hutchison won the seat and has held it ever since; she is expected to retire from Congress in January 2013.

USA Today, Time and NPR all ran 1993 news stories or opinion pieces describing gender-based attacks on Hutchison that included the "female impersonator" comment from Steinem.

A June 25, 1993, opinion column in the Orange County Register gives this fuller version of the quotation: "a female impersonator … someone who looks like us but thinks like them."

The longer quotation helped us pin down a probable date for Steinem’s remark, and Dallas Morning News senior political writer Wayne Slater searched his paper’s archives and sent us a May 23, 1993, news story that reads, in part: "Ms. Steinem, the founder of Ms. magazine, attacked Ms. Hutchison's stands on abortion and family-leave policies during a visit Friday in Dallas on behalf of Mr. Krueger. Ms. Steinem called Ms. Hutchison ‘a female impersonator.' "

A May 22, 1993, Austin American-Statesman news story gives context for the "impersonator" remark: "Steinem said she was endorsing Krueger because of his support for abortion rights. She said Hutchison ‘has vacillated between a pro-choice and an anti-choice position for the last three years, after having been solidly anti-choice for 20 years.’

"Hutchison has said she favors abortion rights but would allow states to impose some restrictions, such as requiring minors to get parental consent."

National news outlets picked up on the irony of a feminist saying that a female politician’s views disqualified her from being a real woman. Time magazine used the quotation to start its June 14, 1993, story on Hutchison’s win:

"Gloria Steinem flew to Texas all the way from New York City to call Senate candidate Kay Bailey Hutchison a ‘female impersonator.’ Actress Annie Potts of ‘Designing Women’ pooh-poohed the Republican's vague stance on abortion rights, saying, ‘She's just the same old thing in a skirt.’ Columnist Molly Ivins hung the epithet ‘Breck girl’ on her, comparing the way the candidate tossed her blond hair to the slow-motion antics of models in the shampoo commercial. But Hutchison, the Texas state treasurer, survived those and many other attacks."

For decades, Steinem has used the term "female impersonator" to describe women, including herself, who she said stopped being authentically female as they fit themselves into patriarchal society. She reportedly quipped in 1973, about men dressing as women, "I don’t mind drag -- women have been female impersonators for years." In a December 10, 1989, Los Angeles Times feature story, she said, "I was trained to be a female impersonator, to giggle and laugh, and to say, 'How clever of you to know what time it is.' " In her 1992 book, "Revolution From Within," she used the term to describe pre-teen girls forced into false role-playing as they move into adolescence.

Malkin cited Steinem’s use of the term against Hutchison to rebut claims that attacks on conservative women come from extremists or entertainers rather than mainstream liberals. Malkin also pointed to comments from a National Organization for Women leader, MSNBC TV hosts and an Al Gore political consultant, among others.

Our ruling

Steinem referred to Hutchison as a female impersonator. Malkin’s statement rates True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Creators Syndicate column by Michelle Malkin, "The War on Conservative Women," March 7, 2012

USA Today news story, "Texas' Hutchinson a battler and survivor," June 11, 1993

Time magazine news story, "Hasta La Vista, Bobby," June 14, 1993

National Public Radio news story, "Republicans Gain One More Senate Seat From Texas," June 7, 1993

Orange County Register column by Eldon Griffiths, "Oranges and Lemons: Two women step to center stage in politics," June 25, 1993

Dallas Morning News news story, "Bentsen, Krueger on tour; Hutchison in Dallas," May 23, 1993

Austin American-Statesman news story, "Hutchison, Krueger call on celebrities for campaign help," May 22, 1993

"Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety," by Marjorie Garber, published in 1991

The Sunday Oregonian news analysis, "Why did feminists oppose Hutchison?," June 13, 1993

Los Angeles Times feature story, "Steinem’s New ‘Marilyn’ looks at vulnerability," December 10, 1986

Toronto Star feature story, "Gloria Steinem focuses on next generation," June 6, 1992

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Michelle Malkin says Gloria Steinem once called Kay Bailey Hutchison a ‘female impersonator’

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