The Body Politic: This campaign needs more women and less gynecology

Virginia Heffernan is the national correspondent for Yahoo! News, covering culture and politics from a digital perspective. She wrote extensively on Internet culture during her eight years as a staff writer for The New York Times, and she has also worked at Harper’s, the New Yorker and Slate. Her book, “Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet,” is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.

Actual women—instead of phony gynecological issues—pervaded the last election. Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Elizabeth Edwards, Michelle Obama, Katie Couric and even Tina Fey can each credibly be said to have changed the outcome of the 2008 presidential election, as Rebecca Traister documented in her rollicking chronicle of that race, Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women.

And those were just the women at the podiums. In Traister's account, each campaign hired women aplenty on the understanding that they could help their candidates, in one way or another, to attract voters. Got that? Women didn't come around to discuss obscure lady matters, but to help campaigns win votes.

Yet this time around, genuine women have disappeared, in favor of sex talk smuggled under the rubric of "values." The conversation recalls nothing so much as the days when the nightly news shows couldn't stop running pseudo-health segments that featured male reporters fondling silicon breast implants. They'd cluck over their hazards and fondle away at the translucent synthetic protoplasms. Today's fondlers of ultrasound wands seem no less prurient.

It's time we sidelined the fine points of obstetrics from public discourse in an election year. Just as girlie magazines are marketed to male readers, public discourse that features women's body parts should be clearly labeled—as Playboy used to be—"Entertainment for Men."

Transvaginal probes? Entertainment for Men. Interstate abortions? Entertainment for Men.

[Related: Obama rings up Limbaugh’s 'slut,' Georgetown's Sandra Fluke]

Single-sex entertainment is just fine, as far as it goes. But "transvaginal" anything and "interstate abortions"—no matter what side you're on—don't count as social issues. This stuff is arcana, and the rhetoric associated with these topics is third-order porn, and an occasion for (mostly) male commentators, politicians and satirists—and I mean you lefties too, Jon Stewart and Garry Trudeau!—to perseverate on gynecology in a weird O.C.D. way.

It's creepy.

Really, the zeal with which male politicians of all stripes make politics sexual is disconcerting. Last week Barack Obama placed a personal call to console Sandra Fluke, asking the law student and advocate of birth-control subsidies if she were "OK" in the days since Rush Limbaugh incoherently deemed her platform akin to sexual promiscuity. Limbaugh had likened Fluke to people who are paid for sex, and likened taxpayers to her pimps, or some bunk like that; Obama aimed to redeem a 30-year-old woman by comparing her to his daughters, ages 10 and 13, who evidently need his protection from bad men who use bad words.

Didn't this seem strange? It drove what should have been a non-erotic conversation—about health and money!—back into the key of sexual melodrama, with Dudley Do-Right Obama saving Maiden Fluke from Rake Rush.

The way Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney wax gynecological is weirder still. And, come on, Ron Paul is an actual gynecologist. They all get right into it, gunning to destroy Planned Parenthood and casually discussing "rape and incest"—limit-case exceptions to an abortion ban that doesn't exist—as if these far-fetched scenarios served any polemical purpose except to name-check sexual trauma.

Fortunately, women treat these fake-clinical spiels as neither appalling nor exciting, like Playboy itself. Maybe that's because those of us who have annual physicals don't relish the notion of rehearsing the particulars of the ultrasound—or the speculum, for that matter. The topic's cashed even for humor.

Nor do women seem to be engaged in the psychedelic philosophical seminar, led by master logician Limbaugh, of whether employer-provided birth control is tantamount to whoredom. Instead, according to a Bloomberg poll published Wednesday, some 77 percent of women don't believe that birth control is a fit subject for any kind of political debate. Is birth control a talking point for sluts and prostitutes? Or for good patriotic women in public life? Neither! As a political topic, it's a non-starter.

It's no surprise that Terry O'Neill, of the National Organization of Women, wants politicians to "get out and stay out of women's wombs," but she should retire her incendiary anatomical language, too. It's just not what voters care about. Exit polls in the primaries suggest that Republican women tune out when male candidates start yapping about uteruses and cervices. As Kate Phillips and Allison Kopicki put it Tuesday in the New York Times, "All of the talk about birth control and abortion laws seems to have had little effect on the ways women are voting for the two leading Republican candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum."

New idea: no more examining-table politics—not transvaginal, transtesticular, or any other kind. Four years ago, with the exception of a brief discussion of Sarah Palin's reproductive decisions, the campaigns steered clear of fake-clinical gibberish. Perhaps we're less eager to talk gynecological smack when there are real women around.

  • Police charge man, 19, in Heartbleed privacy breach at Canada Revenue Agency
    Police charge man, 19, in Heartbleed privacy breach at Canada Revenue Agency

    OTTAWA - Police have charged a 19-year-old man from London, Ont., in connection with the loss of taxpayer data from the Canada Revenue Agency website. Stephen Arthuro Solis-Reyes was arrested at his residence Tuesday and is charged with unauthorized use of a computer and mischief in relation to data, the RCMP said Wednesday. The agency was forced to shut down its publicly accessible website Friday as the world learned about the Heartbleed computer bug, a previously undiscovered global Internet security vulnerability. The loss was detected Friday, but the agency delayed telling Canadians about it at the request of the RCMP.

  • Girl texting while driving hits cyclist, says “I just don’t care”
    Girl texting while driving hits cyclist, says “I just don’t care”

    Texting while driving is so totally wrong. But according to 21-year-old Kimberly Davis, it’s totally not her fault. Davis, who according to phone records was texting with seven different people while driving her vehicle through Koroit, Australia, slammed into a … Continue reading →

  • BlackBerry's meltdown sparks start-up boom in Canada's Silicon Valley
    BlackBerry's meltdown sparks start-up boom in Canada's Silicon Valley

    By Sayantani Ghosh, Ashutosh Pandey and Euan Rocha (Reuters) - The troubles at BlackBerry Ltd, which fired more than half its staff and lost more than 90 percent of its market value as consumers shunned its smart phones, might have spelled disaster for the company's hometown of Waterloo, Ontario. More than 450 start-ups opened for business in the twin cities of Waterloo and Kitchener last year, more than four times the number begun in 2009, according to Communitech, a local company that advises them. Often, the new companies are being founded by former BlackBerry employees chasing their entrepreneurial ambitions in a community that's Canada's answer to technology hubs in California and elsewhere. "For those who are trying to get a new tech business off the ground, get it funded, and not get lost in the shadow of Silicon Valley, Waterloo can be the best place to get your company on the map," said Sean McCabe, vice-president of engineering at drone manufacturer Aeryon Labs Inc in Waterloo.

  • Heartbleed bug: Revenue Canada knew about stolen SINs last Friday
    Heartbleed bug: Revenue Canada knew about stolen SINs last Friday

    The Canada Revenue Agency knew last Friday that hundreds of Canadians had their social insurance numbers stolen from its website because of the Heartbleed security bug but waited until today to make it public.

  • New 'Banksy' set to double the price of England house and 'put Cheltenham on the tourist map'
    New 'Banksy' set to double the price of England house and 'put Cheltenham on the tourist map'

    A mum-of-five woke up to find her home had more than doubled in value overnight — after artist Banksy sprayed a £500,000 ($917,970) mural on her wall. Stunned Karen Smith, 48, heard voices outside in the early hours but thought nothing of it until she spotted men loading huge screens into a van in the morning.

  • Study shows men become grumpiest at age 70
    Study shows men become grumpiest at age 70

    It seems the phrase “grumpy old men” has some truth to it. According to a recently released report, the age when grumpiness kicks in for men is approximately age 70. Researchers believe that from the age of about 50 onward, … Continue reading →

  • Heartbleed web comic offers the most straightforward explanation of the bug
    Heartbleed web comic offers the most straightforward explanation of the bug

    By now you've surely seen dozens of news reports about the Heartbleed bug. The viral threat has led to the shutdown of several Canadian government websites, the need to reset dozens of passwords, and even the paranoia that you may … Continue reading →

  • Trying to shed its vanilla reputation, Toyota gives the Camry a top-to-bottom makeover
    Trying to shed its vanilla reputation, Toyota gives the Camry a top-to-bottom makeover

    NEW YORK, N.Y. - Shaken by the advances of newer, sportier rivals, the Toyota Camry is trying to shed its vanilla reputation.

Follow Yahoo! News