Tuesday :: Jan 8, 2008

The "Taming of the Shrew" in the Sixteenth Twentieth Twenty-First Century


by eriposte

History does repeat itself, as I keep pointing out time and again. Yesterday, a reader sent me this article "First Wives Club" by Robin Gerber in the New York Post (emphasis mine, throughout this post):

Her husband was president, midway through his first term. She was his wife, but hardly a retiring first lady. She was involved in all aspects of policy and legislation, a passionate advocate for the poor.
...
The year was 1935. The strategist: Louis Howe. The First Lady: Eleanor Roosevelt.
...
As First Lady, Roosevelt took on the most contentious issues of the day. Her relentless work to end racial discrimination led the Ku Klux Klan to put a price on her head. She traveled throughout the Depression-wracked country, and harangued Cabinet members and her husband on the need for government action. We remember her as adored by multitudes, but she was also reviled for doing what a president's wife wasn't supposed to do. She was as polarizing a figure in her day as Sen. Hillary Clinton is now.
...
In her book “Living History," Clinton titled a chapter “Conversations with Eleanor," explaining the bond they had as controversial First Ladies working on issues like civil rights, child labor laws, and human rights. Clinton took comfort that Eleanor didn't let her many critics slow her down or erode her convictions.

Eleanor would be quick to remind Clinton to resist the pressure to bend to the often bruising criticism that comes her way. Some voters complain that Clinton seems cold and insincere, and that even her laugh appears phony. Eleanor was criticized for being bossy, humorless and having a cackling laugh and shrill voice. She shrugged it off, coining one of Clinton's favorite phrases, “you have to get skin as thick as a rhinoceros hide."

Like Clinton's failure to enact health-care reform when she was First Lady, Eleanor was also taken to task for policy-based failures....

[Eriposte note: If you haven't read my posts on Sen. Clinton, FDR, and experience - they are here].

This post is however not about Eleanor Roosevelt.

It's about this video - please take a minute to watch it if you have not. It shows a genuinely emotional Sen. Clinton on the campaign trail. As I discuss in this post, when the history of the Election 2008 Democratic primary campaign is written, I believe it will reflect the fact that this campaign has been substantially more about sexism and misogyny than about racism.

Let's start with Tom Watson's must-read post:

The Sexist Media Lynching of Hillary Clinton

Read Tom's entire post, then follow me below the fold.

Think Progress highlighted how the same media that venerated and eulogized the "tears" of Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush and Robert Gates reacted to Sen. Clinton's emotional response to a question on the campaign trail (emphasis mine, throughout this post):

In a piece entitled, “Can Clinton’s Emotions Get The Best Of Her?,” ABC News wrote, “Whether Clinton has appeared too emotional, too sensitive or too weak in her recent public appearances is still up for debate.”

Many in the media have been quick to compare Clinton’s emotions to former 1972 Democratic presidential candidate Ed Muskie, who was taunted as weak and unpresidential after he became emotional on the campaign trail. Fox News pundits Michelle Malkin and Bill Kristol, however, took a different tact, calling Clinton’s emotions a “calculated” moment.

Watch a compilation of the media’s coverage:
[...]
The media’s excoriation and mocking of Clinton contrast with their treatment of prominent conservative politicians who have cried in the past. Their tears, according to these pundits, are “genuine,” “poignant,” and “extraordinary”:

Jeralyn at Talk Left:

Taylor Marsh has a good post on the media's gender bias against Hillary where a show of passion or a flash of anger or forceful self-defense is deemed shrill and a laugh is deemed a cackle.

While Big Tent doesn't agree, I think Kevin Drum nails it:

Am I feeling bitter? You bet. Not because Hillary Clinton seems more likely than not to lose — I can live with that pretty easily — but because of how she's likely to lose. Because the press doesn't like her. Because any time a woman raises her voice half a decibel she instantly becomes shrill.

I'm disgusted and embarrassed by the media's treatment of Hillary Clinton. And their fawning over Barack Obama and his mantra of "change."
...
While Taylor says women everywhere get what's going on, I'm not sure that's true. Check out this e-mail I got from a a gay male observer:

I have a question that I don't see anyone talking about right now and that is the disturbing behavior I see from women toward Hillary Clinton.

I belong to other on-line forums -- Democratic forums -- and I see women referring to Hillary as "bitchy", "catty", "shrill", "ugly" and some too bad to mention. Most of these come from women supporting Obama. The idol worship and willingness to throw their gender under the bus in order to elect Obama is disturbing.

My question is, what happens when the campaign is over and women realize that they have set themselves back ....Will they be surprised?

I am a gay male and I could NEVER set aside my sexual identity to promote a candidate. Imagine if I, as a gay male, attacked a gay male as inferior because he was gay -- or used terms like fag to put him down just because I favor a non-gay candidate.

What do you think? Is it worth it to women to take two steps backward in their fervor to promote a male candidate? How will women feel when this is over?

Actually, I agree with Jeralyn. I have observed at least a few women in my lifetime who have hated, disliked or otherwise distrusted other strong progressive women. That's not a new or surprising phenomenon. Just ask Maureen Dowd, the Reigning Queen of Misogyny at the New York Times, who emerges ever so often from the filthy gangrene she inhabits to proudly exhibit her misogyny and self-hatred.

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake:

Matt Stoller and Echidne are right. Male candidates can cry and it shows their humanity; Hillary Clinton cries and she's weak and hysterical. And why shouldn't she be emotional at this point? Her male fellow candidates don't have to put up with leering, chortling, oily creeps like Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough laughing at them and disrespecting them when they're trying to run a fucking political campaign.

She is not your private bawdy joke, lads.

Oh and John Edwards? Please stop being a patronizing, sexist jerk.

And I'm sorry. Planned Parenthood and NARAL lost the right to put the "pro-choice stamp of approval" on anything when they sent out those mailers telling their members to thank Joe Lieberman for his vote to put Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court. To grant them that authority is positively ahistoric.

There is definitely a double standard going on here. If Hillary Clinton tried that old "the dog ate my Senate schedule" excuse for missing Kyl-Lieberman (when there was evidence to the contrary), there would be spew alerts everywhere.

You may disagree with her on substance. She may not be your candidate of choice. But for chrissakes, treat the woman with respect.

Update: Amanda Marcotte pulls her support from John Edwards and switches it to Obama over Edwards' remarks. (h/t rc)

Matt Stoller at Open Left:

...Several people have passed me this video of Clinton getting emotional about politics, with sneering comments.  The headline on the ABC News piece is 'Can Clinton's Emotions Get the Best of Her?When Edwards almost gets choked up and talks about how personal XYZ person is on the trail, he's just passionate.  When Clinton does it, she suddenly becomes a hysterical weak woman.

I thought her appearance was one of the sweetest, toughest, and most forthright expressions of Hillary Clinton's belief system I have ever seen.  She genuinely believes this country is lost without someone who knows how to deal with the massive problems we're facing, and she genuinely doesn't think Obama can do it.  Moreover, she looks kind of lost in the politics, unable to comprehend how her decades of hard work and compromises could be rejected by voters.  Don't they see that Obama isn't ready?  Can't they go beyond the rhetoric and look at substance?  She has gotten plenty of liberal policies done, why are the liberals voting for someone else?  Whatever you may think of Clinton, she has put her whole life into public service.

I was on the trail for three days last week, and it is incredibly tiring.  Candidates go from event to event, eating pizza, sleeping little, surrounded by press and fans and opponents in a high pressure atmosphere.  That Clinton does it, and expresses herself so sweetly in this appearance, is to her credit, even if the cynical, nasty, and misogynistic press corps doesn't get it.  She understands just how mean and unfair they are.  What she doesn't understand is that liberal politics are winning politics.

... Michael Kieschnick has more.  And Todd Gitlin is right - John Edwards is acting like a prick.

There was another incident yesterday, that Taylor Marsh has written about:

Hillary Clinton was nearly 20 minutes into her speech tonight in Salem when a man stood up with a sign that read "Iron My Shirt" and started chanting the phrase. Then a few seconds later another man stood up with the same sign and was yelling it.

"Oooh, the remnants of sexism are alive," Clinton responded. ... ..

Hecklers Want Clinton to Iron Their Shirts

[...]

But when we have the number one radio host in America still calling liberated women "feminazis." Also calling serious, professional female reporters "babettes." No woman is surprised when two jackasses stand up with a sign that insults.

So isn't it fitting that Gloria Steinem has a op-ed in the New York Times today, Women Are Never Front-Runners. Isn't that the truth.

That’s why the Iowa primary was following our historical pattern of making change. Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter). ... ..

... .. So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects “only” the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more “masculine” for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren’t too many of them); and because there is still no “right” way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what. ... ..

Women Are Never Front-Runners

[...]

So count me with Ms. Steinem. As long as there are men holding up "Iron My Shirt" signs, and men screaming from cable and wingnut radio targeting one of the most gifted women in our country, I'm backing the chick, the babe, the broad. Because as Gloria says, women in the United States are never front-runners, which applies even if her name is Clinton. To quote Michael Fauntroy: If Clinton’s coverage were half as positive as Obama’s since her rise to national prominence, then she might have the nomination locked up by now.

Steinem's article is worth reading in full. She also points out:

If the lawyer described above had been just as charismatic but named, say, Achola Obama instead of Barack Obama, her goose would have been cooked long ago. Indeed, neither she nor Hillary Clinton could have used Mr. Obama’s public style — or Bill Clinton’s either — without being considered too emotional by Washington pundits.

[...]

I’m supporting Senator Clinton because like Senator Obama she has community organizing experience, but she also has more years in the Senate, an unprecedented eight years of on-the-job training in the White House, no masculinity to prove, the potential to tap a huge reservoir of this country’s talent by her example, and now even the courage to break the no-tears rule. I’m not opposing Mr. Obama; if he’s the nominee, I’ll volunteer. Indeed, if you look at votes during their two-year overlap in the Senate, they were the same more than 90 percent of the time. Besides, to clean up the mess left by President Bush, we may need two terms of President Clinton and two of President Obama.

But what worries me is that he is seen as unifying by his race while she is seen as divisive by her sex.

What worries me is that she is accused of “playing the gender card” when citing the old boys’ club, while he is seen as unifying by citing civil rights confrontations.

What worries me is that male Iowa voters were seen as gender-free when supporting their own, while female voters were seen as biased if they did and disloyal if they didn’t.

What worries me is that reporters ignore Mr. Obama’s dependence on the old — for instance, the frequent campaign comparisons to John F. Kennedy, though Senator Edward Kennedy is supporting Senator Clinton — while not challenging the slander that her progressive policies are part of the Washington status quo.

What worries me is that some women, perhaps especially younger ones, hope to deny or escape the sexual caste system; thus Iowa women over 50 and 60, who disproportionately supported Senator Clinton, proved once again that women are the one group that grows more radical with age.

In fact the hagiography in the media about Sen. Obama's alleged-barrier breaking by winning the Democratic nomination in states with a large white population is astonishingly absurd, given the much more "polarizing" Jesse Jackson's record 23 years ago!

1984 election

In 1984, Jackson became the second African American (after Shirley Chisholm) to mount a nationwide campaign for President of the United States, running as a Democrat.

In the primaries, Jackson, who had been written off by pundits as a fringe candidate with little chance at winning the nomination, surprised many when he took third place behind Senator Gary Hart and former Vice President Walter Mondale, who eventually won the nomination. Jackson garnered 3.5 million votes and won five primaries and caucuses, including Louisiana, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, Virginia and one of two separate contests in Mississippi,[11]

As he had gained 21% of the popular vote but only 8% of delegates, he afterwards complained that he had been handicapped by party rules. While Mondale (in the words of his aides) was determined to establish a precedent with his vice presidential candidate by picking a woman or visible minority, Jackson criticized the screening process as a "p.r. parade of personalities". He also mocked Mondale, saying that Hubert Humphrey was the "last significant politician out of the St. Paul–Minneapolis" area. [12]

1988 election

Four years later, in 1988, Jackson once again offered himself as a candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. This time, his successes in the past made him a more credible candidate, and he was both better financed and better organized. Although most people did not seem to believe he had a serious chance at winning, Jackson once again exceeded expectations as he more than doubled his previous results, prompting R.W. Apple of the New York Times to call 1988 "the Year of Jackson". [13]

He captured 6.9 million votes and won 11 contests; seven primaries (Alabama, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico and Virginia) and four caucuses (Delaware, Michigan, South Carolina and Vermont).[14]. Jackson also scored March victories in Alaska's caucuses and Texas's local conventions, despite losing the Texas primary.[1] [2] Some news accounts credit him with 13 wins. [3] Briefly, after he won 55% of the vote in the Michigan Democrat caucus, he was considered the frontrunner for the nomination, as he surpassed all the other candidates in total number of pledged delegates.

In early 1988, Jackson organized a rally at the former American Motors assembly plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin, approximately two weeks after new owner Chrysler announced it would close the plant by the end of the year. In his speech, Jackson spoke out against Chrysler's decision, stating "We have to put the focus on Kenosha, Wisconsin, as the place, here and now, where we draw the line to end economic violence!" and compared the workers' fight to that of the civil rights movement in Selma, Alabama. As a result, the UAW Local 72 union voted to endorse his candidacy, even against the rules of the UAW. (Dudley 1994) However, Jackson's campaign suffered a significant setback less than two weeks later when he was defeated handily in the Wisconsin primary by Michael Dukakis. Jackson's showing among white voters in Wisconsin was significantly higher than in his 1984 run, but was also noticeably lower than pre-primary polling had indicated it would be. The discrepancy has been cited as an example of the so-called "Bradley effect".[15]

....

Not to mention, I see people commenting about whether Sen. Clinton should drop out of the race (remember Bill Clinton did not win either Iowa or New Hampshire in his first election!) even though Sen. Edwards - who was the person who had been leading in Iowa for most of last year - is not being asked to do so - he is being encouraged as he actively continues campaigning even though he is looking worse in the polls and has less money than Sen. Clinton.

John Cole at Balloon Juice said this following the incident from the NH debate where Sen. Clinton, very justifiably, raised her voice to defend her record and call out the misleading Tag-Team for ChangeTM:

“Hillary seemed to crack…”

I actually have about had it with all this crap, because I am sick and tired of defending Hillary. But if that was Hillary ‘cracking,’ or seething with anger, or whatever you want to call it (Andy states he thinks “she’s actually offended that anyone is challenging her for the Democratic nomination.”), I just don’t see it. in fact, I am beginning to think this really is a nation of wimps.

What you saw was someone making the point that there is more to change than just supporting change, and that change takes hard work. And that offends people? Seriously- change is work, and that is the point she is trying to drive home. And she has a right to be a little frustrated. What exactly has John Edwards done? Not much when he was in the Senate, if you remember the Republican talking points from the past election. What major bills does Obama have under his belt?

Quite frankly, I hate to say this, but I think what we are actually seeing is a double-standard here, and the feminists may be right. This is all about Hillary being a woman. John Edwards has been 150 times as angry the whole campaign, and has built his entire campaign around it. Howard Dean was angry, and people lapped it up. Here, Hillary isn’t really angry, just matter-of-fact and frustrated, and people are giving her shit.

I don’t want Hillary as President, but it sure looks to me like she isn’t getting a fair shake and is being subjected to a double standard. It’s bullshit.

It is interesting to me that we are talking about anti-Clinton sexism and misogyny now (not to mention the traditional media's sheer hatred for her) considering what I wrote in my very first post on the Democratic primary back in September 2007:

In fact, here are two other comments in the same comment thread that provide a classic example of what I have been discussing in this post (emphasis mine):

Gus said...

That she's extremely intelligent should be obvious. What bothers people (including me) about her is her naked ambition. She seems to be utterly unwilling to say anything that isn't scripted and focus group tested. Not that that makes her different from any other candidate. I'd vote for her.

Anonymous said...

The common criticism of Hillary Clinton: "What bothers people (including me) about her is her naked ambition."

Like most myths perpetrated over the last 14 years, Senator Clinton's naked ambition is largely a product of the Republican smear machine, and - let's be honest - male chauvinism. I mean, any woman who aspires to be a senator of New York AND, God forbid, the President of the United States can't be interested in public service. There must be ulterior motives.

Take Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example. Here's a guy loaded with ambition. Ambition literally leaks out the man's pores. Yet I don't hear anyone criticizing him for it.

HINT TO THE WISE: ALL presidential candidates are remarkably ambitious people, whether you're male or female, black or white, Republican or Democrat. Just to seriously consider running for the most powerful office in the land, not to the mention the rest of the planet, and feel that your ideas, leadership, and skills are up to the task is unquestionably ambitious by its very defintion.

When it comes to progressive women in politics, in many respects we are still in the 16th century. Shakespeare would not be proud.

P.S. Also read this post by Taylor Marsh.

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