Is the Michele Bachmann migraine story sexist?

The Daily Caller sparks an outcry with a report on the presidential candidate's supposed 'debilitating' headache problem

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) in New Hampshire in May: A Daily Caller story about the presidential candidate's supposed migraine problems has provoked an outcry, even among some Bachmann cr
(Image credit: Rick Friedman/CORBIS)

With her meteoric rise in the GOP presidential polls, the spotlight continues to shine on all facets of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn). On Tuesday, a story at The Daily Caller harshly illuminates the presidential hopeful's supposed migraine problem. "The Minnesota Republican frequently suffers from stress-induced medical episodes that she has characterized as severe headaches," writes Jonathan Strong. "To staff, Bachmann has implausibly blamed the headaches on uncomfortable high-heel shoes, but those who have worked closely with her cite stress, a busy schedule, and anything going badly for Bachmann as causes." The article quotes both anonymous and named former staffers, and notes that the congresswoman takes a "significant amount of medication" to manage her "debilitating headache episodes." Is this a sexist smear?

No. Migraines could affect her ability to govern: "If Bachmann really does have debilitating migraines that put her out of commission for days at a time, that's relevant, gender-neutral information," says Jessica Grose at Slate. While I can understand why some commentators might think this is biased, it really isn't. Let's remember the uproar over John McCain's health in 2008. "It's possible that the Caller article was just a bunch of disaffected former Bachmann cronies dissing their former boss," but it's also possible that this is information that voters need to know.

"Reporting on Michele Bachmann's migraines isn't sexist"

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But there's a sexist implication here: There might be some sexism here if you read between the lines, says Noreen Malone at New York. "Migraines happen to be overwhelmingly a woman's problem, and (though Bachmann's are supposedly stress-triggered), they are often linked to both menstruation and menopause — unavoidable biological side effects of being a woman." While the story might have been the same for one of the male candidates, given the nature of migraines, it's hard not to see this "as a reminder of the cave-man argument from way back against women holding office — that they might be undone by their hormones in moments of great stress."

"Is the Daily Caller's Michele Bachmann migraine story sexist?"

Besides, you can have migraines and be president: I'm anything but a Bachmann fan, but this migraine story "is deeply ignorant and unfair," says Dana Goldstein, a contributor to The Nation and The Daily Beast, at her site. Migraines are often discussed in a sexist manner, "with the implication being that women who suffer from migraines can't handle normal levels of stress." Of course, a number of factors can trigger migraines, and many sufferers are able to manage the condition and lead productive lives. Thomas Jefferson and Ulysses Grant both had migraines, while Kennedy and FDR had chronic medical problems and "popped pills." There are plenty of reasons Bachmann shouldn't be president. Let's talk about them, not her migraines.

"I thought hell would freeze over before I defended Michele Bachmann"

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