Election 2008: A Paroxysm of Sexism, Misogyny and Hate
As we head to Super Tuesday, with a very close race whose outcome is uncertain, I want to take a few minutes to talk about the deep hatred and misogyny that has been directed against Sen. Clinton, not because it is new, but because over the past 2 months it has reached a level of viciousness (among other things) that deserves more public airing. If she somehow manages to win the nomination, it would be despite heavy odds (balanced only by her name recognition, which is now running roughly equal to Sen. Obama's). As Chris Bowers said over the weekend - putting it rather mildly in my view (emphasis mine, throughout this post, unless otherwise stated):
If Clinton does win the nomination, it will be despite established media, progressive media, and conservative media, all of whom have given more favorable coverage to Obama.
Jane Hamsher mentioned this today:
I was watching MSNBC this morning and wondering how much the media thrall surrounding Barack Obama has been worth to his campaign.
Having seen Obama mania up close and personal the media didn't make it up, but the way they cover this race -- the language they use to talk about him, his charisma, his "youth movement," his momentum and his star qualilty all stand in sharp contrast to the way they pick apart every detail of Clinton.
They obsess over her in irrational and completely contradictory ways and just seem to find it unseemly that a middle aged woman won't quietly remove herself from the national stage and stop making a bunch of men under 35 uncomfortable with her very presence.
Jane links to an article that I'm going to reproduce below, but she ends her post thusly:
I apologize in advance for quoting Fish's post in its entirety but I think it deserves to be read. If Hillary Clinton does pull this thing off, she will have done so against the seemingly insurmountable weight of 16 years of being the target of misogny and hatred that have focused into a narrative that has also been appropriated by many on the so-called "left" to take her down -- and certainly by the media.
I guess she didn't get the memo -- middle aged women are supposed to dry up, go home and be invisible.
Personally, I expected a fair amount of hatred from the traditional media and conservative media against Sen. Clinton in this primary (although there are times when Fox News seemed to have better coverage of her than MSNBC and CNN). What has surprised me is the deep seated and irrational hatred, often transgressing into sexism and misogyny, among people on the alleged "left", that has certainly made me question the bona fides of some segments of the progressive movement in this country.
To explore what Sen. Clinton has been subject to in this primary, let's start with Law Professor Stanley Fish's blog post in the New York Times, titled "All You Need is Hate". I hope he does not mind that I am reproducing his entire post since it is a must-read:
I have been thinking about writing this column for some time, but I have hesitated because of a fear that it would advance the agenda that is its target. That is the agenda of Hillary Clinton-hating.
Its existence is hardly news — it is routinely referred to by commentators on the present campaign and it has been documented in essays and books — but the details of it can still startle when you encounter them up close. In the January issue of GQ, Jason Horowitz described the world of Hillary haters, many of whom he has interviewed. Horowitz finds that the hostile characterizations of Clinton do not add up to a coherent account of her hatefulness. She is vilified for being a feminist and for not being one, for being an extreme leftist and for being a “warmongering hawk,” for being godless and for being “frighteningly fundamentalist,” for being the victim of her husband’s peccadilloes and for enabling them. “She is,” Horowitz concludes, “an empty vessel into which [her detractors] can pour everything they detest.” (In this she is the counterpart of George W. Bush, who serves much the same function for many liberals.)
This is not to say that there are no rational, well-considered reasons for opposing Clinton’s candidacy. You may dislike her policies (which she has not been reluctant to explain in great detail). You may not be able to get past her vote to authorize the Iraq war. You may think her personality unsuited to the tasks of inspiring and uniting the American people. You may believe that if this is truly a change election, she is not the one to bring about real change.
But the people and groups Horowitz surveys have brought criticism of Clinton to what sportswriters call “the next level,” in this case to the level of personal vituperation unconnected to, and often unconcerned with, the facts. These people are obsessed with things like her hair styles, the “strangeness” of her eyes — “Analysis of Clinton’s eyes is a favorite motif among her most rabid adversaries” — and they retail and recycle items from what Horowitz calls “The Crazy Files”: she’s Osama bin Laden’s candidate; she kills cats; she’s a witch (this is not meant metaphorically).
But this list, however loony-tunes it may be, does not begin to touch the craziness of the hardcore members of this cult. Back in November, I wrote a column on Clinton’s response to a question about giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. My reward was to pick up an e-mail pal who has to date sent me 24 lengthy documents culled from what he calls his “Hillary File.” If you take that file on faith, Hillary Clinton is a murderer, a burglar, a destroyer of property, a blackmailer, a psychological rapist, a white-collar criminal, an adulteress, a blasphemer, a liar, the proprietor of a secret police, a predatory lender, a misogynist, a witness tamperer, a street criminal, a criminal intimidator, a harasser and a sociopath. These accusations are “supported” by innuendo, tortured logic, strained conclusions and photographs that are declared to tell their own story, but don’t.
Compared to this, the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry was a model of objectivity. When the heading of a section of the “Hillary File” reads “Have the Clintons ever murdered anyone?” — and it turns out to be a rhetorical question like “Is the Pope Catholic?” — you know that you’ve entered cuckooland.
Horowitz warns that as the campaign heats up, this “type of discourse will likely not stay on the fringes for long,” and he predicts that some of it will be made use of by Republican operatives. But he is behind the curve, for the spirit informing it has already made its way into mainstream media. Respected political commentators devote precious network time to deep analyses of her laugh. Everyone blames her for what her husband does or for what he doesn’t do. (This is what the compound “Billary” is all about.) If she answers questions aggressively, she is shrill. If she moderates her tone, she’s just play-acting. If she cries, she’s faking. If she doesn’t, she’s too masculine. If she dresses conservatively, she’s dowdy. If she doesn’t, she’s inappropriately provocative.
None of those who say and write these things is an official Hillary Clinton-hater (some profess to like and admire her), but they are surely doing the group’s work.
One almost prefers an up-front hater (although he tells Horowitz that he doesn’t like the word) like Dick Morris, who writes in a recent New York Post op-ed of the Clintons’ “reprehensible politics of personal destruction” (does he think he’s throwing bouquets?), and accuses them of invading the privacy of opponents, of blackmailing and threatening women, and of “whatever slimy tactics they felt they needed.” Morris calls Harold Ickes, a Clinton aide, a “hit man” for the president, and he calls the president “Hillary’s hit man.”
This is exactly the language of the most vicious anti-Hillary Web sites, and here it is baptized by its appearance in a major newspaper.
Horowitz observes that there is an “inexhaustible fertile market of Clinton hostility,” but that “the search for a unifying theory of what drives Hillary’s most fanatical opponents is a futile one.” The reason is that nothing drives it; it is that most sought-after thing, a self-replenishing, perpetual-energy machine.
The closest analogy is to anti-Semitism. But before you hit the comment button, I don’t mean that the two are alike either in their significance or in the damage they do. It’s just that they both feed on air and flourish independently of anything external to their obsessions. Anti-Semitism doesn’t need Jews and anti-Hillaryism doesn’t need Hillary, except as a figment of its collective imagination. However this campaign turns out, Hillary-hating, like rock ‘n’ roll, is here to stay.
Let's go to Taylor Marsh next who had a long post today, titled "Hillary, Erica Jong and the Progressive Patriarchy". I'm going to reproduce parts of it here:
I never in a million years thought I'd be posting something like this on this blog. I came up through the modern feminist revolution, and as impassioned as I've always been about equality, I've never, ever, ever been militant about it. The opposite, actually. Maybe that's partly because of my big brother, who as a Missouri Republican long ago helped fight for the first pro choice bill in the Missouri State Senate, as well as back the ERA amendment, debating Phyllis Schlafly about its importance. But what I've seen happen in this primary season has sickened me, including coming from so called progressive males, which on the whole have been a disgrace, though there are few exceptions, but very few. It's not that I ever expected Clinton to be embraced. Or that people should automatically vote for her. There are real differences that I appreciate and respect. But the sexism in traditional media has been met by the same in the progressive blogosphere, especially where fairness of coverage is concerned.
Part of the primary story that has yet to be written is the secret sexism running rampant in progressive quarters and within our Democratic midst. I have never been so shocked as to see some supposed Democratic and progressive males react with such shameful sexist bias that is sometimes obvious, but also evidenced in unfair coverage of Clinton. It makes me even more grateful for those who have stood up against it, including liberated males who found their way here to my blog (and radio show). However, the experience has changed my opinion forever about the Democratic party, especially the online progressive community. On a personal note, the onslaught of "c" word emails and invectives used by Obama supporters has been sobering, as it has been expensive. Without a bartering deal with my tech team, AgoraNet, I wouldn't have been able to stop it. Not that attacking me personally bothers me at all. I think of Eleanor Roosevelt's quote: "Every woman in public life needs to develop skin as tough as rhinoceros hide." But the attacks have come because I have made the case for Clinton, after first starting out as simply a contrarian against a biased press attacking her. These hate emails have come because I dare to challenge the ideology and record of her main opponent. The attacks come from so called progressives, including emails from male bloggers warning me of my tone, my perseverance, even insinuating that by appreciating Clinton's record I am racist (revealing themselves instead). These Democratic males have shown no respect whatsoever for what I'm fighting for, but instead simply warn that I will regret my position and should adjust to reality, which includes the unquestioning genuflection and worship of her opponent, because they will need my voice once he wins. You guys need to read up.
Segue to Erica Jong's Hillary and the Patriarchy. It says the rest.
... .. I'm hardly the only woman who sees my life mirrored in hers. She's always worked twice as hard to get half as far as the men around her. She endured a demanding Republican father she could seldom please and a brilliant, straying husband who played around with bimbos. She was clearly his intellectual soul mate, but the women he chased were dumb and dumber.
Nothing she did was ever enough to stop her detractors. Supporting a politician husband by being a successful lawyer, raising a terrific daughter, saving her marriage when the love of her life publicly humiliated her -- these are things that would be considered enormously admirable in most politicians and public figures. But because she's a white woman, she's been pilloried for them.
She's had to endure nutcrackers made in her image, insults about the shape of her ankles and nasty cracks from mediocrities in the media like Rush Limbaugh, Chris Matthews and Kristol.
... .. As a senator she has learned compromise and negotiation. She has gotten to know red America as well as blue. If she could win over the rednecks in upstate New York, she can win over any American. ... ..
... .. You will also quote left-wing bloggers who love Barack Obama, and MoveOn.org peaceniks (I am one) who see no evil in him (nor do I). But I see little experience either. Obama is smart and attractive. Maybe he'll be president someday.
He was lucky enough not to be in the Senate when the Iraq war resolution was floated after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell lied about WMDs. That was the true tragedy of race: a black man lying for a corrupt white administration that was using him as a token, much as they use Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice now.
... .. I understand my hopeful friends who think an Obama button will change America. But I'm sticking with Hillary. I trust her because all her life, her pro bono work has been for mothers and children. And mothers and children -- of all colors -- are the most oppressed group in our country. I trust her to speak for our children and grandchildren -- and for us. She always has.
To add, if you're still confused, maybe this post will help, though I realize some of you are too far gone to save.
Let's end this post with extracts from an essay by Robin Morgan (writer, journalist, activist and co-founder of Women's Media Center) titled "Goodbye to All That". It is a long essay but very much a must-read and I'm going to reproduce some snippets from it here (emphasis in original) - please click through to read the entire essay:
Goodbye to the double standard . . .
—Hillary is too ballsy but too womanly, a Snow Maiden who’s emotional, and so much a politician as to be unfit for politics.
—She’s “ambitious” but he shows “fire in the belly.” (Ever had labor pains?)
—When a sexist idiot screamed “Iron my shirt!” at HRC, it was considered amusing; if a racist idiot shouted “Shine my shoes!” at BO, it would’ve inspired hours of airtime and pages of newsprint analyzing our national dishonor.
—Young political Kennedys—Kathleen, Kerry, and Bobby Jr.—all endorsed Hillary. Senator Ted, age 76, endorsed Obama. If the situation were reversed, pundits would snort “See? Ted and establishment types back her, but the forward-looking generation backs him.” [...]
Goodbye to the toxic viciousness . . .
Carl Bernstein's disgust at Hillary’s “thick ankles.” Nixon-trickster Roger Stone’s new Hillary-hating 527 group, “Citizens United Not Timid” (check the capital letters). John McCain answering “How do we beat the bitch?" with “Excellent question!” Would he have dared reply similarly to “How do we beat the black bastard?” For shame.
Goodbye to the HRC nutcracker with metal spikes between splayed thighs. If it was a tap-dancing blackface doll, we would be righteously outraged—and they would not be selling it in airports. Shame.
Goodbye to the most intimately violent T-shirts in election history, including one with the murderous slogan “If Only Hillary had married O.J. Instead!” Shame.
Goodbye to Comedy Central’s “Southpark” featuring a storyline in which terrorists secrete a bomb in HRC’s vagina. I refuse to wrench my brain down into the gutter far enough to find a race-based comparison. For shame.
Goodbye to the sick, malicious idea that this is funny. This is not “Clinton hating,” not “Hillary hating.” This is sociopathic woman-hating. If it were about Jews, we would recognize it instantly as anti-Semitic propaganda; if about race, as KKK poison. Hell, PETA would go ballistic if such vomitous spew were directed at animals. Where is our sense of outrage—as citizens, voters, Americans?
Goodbye to the news-coverage target-practice . . .
The women’s movement and Media Matters wrung an apology from MSNBC’s Chris Matthews for relentless misogynistic comments (www.womensmediacenter.com). But what about NBC’s Tim Russert’s continual sexist asides and his all-white-male panels pontificating on race and gender? Or CNN’s Tony Harris chuckling at “the chromosome thing” while interviewing a woman from The White House Project? And that’s not even mentioning Fox News.
Women have endured sex/race/ethnic/religious hatred, rape and battery, invasion of spirit and flesh, forced pregnancy; being the majority of the poor, the illiterate, the disabled, of refugees, caregivers, the HIV/AIDS afflicted, the powerless. We have survived invisibility, ridicule, religious fundamentalisms, polygamy, teargas, forced feedings, jails, asylums, sati, purdah, female genital mutilation, witch burnings, stonings, and attempted gynocides. We have tried reason, persuasion, reassurances, and being extra-qualified, only to learn it never was about qualifications after all. We know that at this historical moment women experience the world differently from men—though not all the same as one another—and can govern differently, from Elizabeth Tudor to Michele Bachelet and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
We remember when Shirley Chisholm and Patricia Schroeder ran for this high office and barely got past the gate—they showed too much passion, raised too little cash, were joke fodder. Goodbye to all that. (And goodbye to some feminists so famished for a female president they were even willing to abandon women’s rights in backing Elizabeth Dole.)
Goodbye, goodbye to . . .
—blaming anything Bill Clinton does on Hillary (even including his womanizing like the Kennedy guys—though unlike them, he got reported on). Let’s get real. If he hadn’t campaigned strongly for her everyone would cluck over what that meant. Enough of Bill and Teddy Kennedy locking their alpha male horns while Hillary pays for it.
—an era when parts of the populace feel so disaffected by politics that a comparative lack of knowledge, experience, and skill is actually seen as attractive, when celebrity-culture mania now infects our elections so that it’s “cooler” to glow with marquee charisma than to understand the vast global complexities of power on a nuclear, wounded planet.
—the notion that it’s fun to elect a handsome, cocky president who feels he can learn on the job, goodbye to George W. Bush and the destruction brought by his inexperience, ignorance, and arrogance.
Goodbye to the accusation that HRC acts “entitled” when she’s worked intensely at everything she’s done—including being a nose-to-the-grindstone, first-rate senator from my state.
Goodbye to her being exploited as a Rorschach test by women who reduce her to a blank screen on which they project their own fears, failures, fantasies.
Goodbye to the phrase “polarizing figure” to describe someone who embodies the transitions women have made in the last century and are poised to make in this one. It was the women’s movement that quipped, “We are becoming the men we wanted to marry.” She heard us, and she has.
Goodbye to some women letting history pass by while wringing their hands, because Hillary isn’t as “likeable” as they’ve been warned they must be, or because she didn’t leave him, couldn’t “control” him, kept her family together and raised a smart, sane daughter. (Think of the blame if Chelsea had ever acted in the alcoholic, neurotic manner of the Bush twins!) Goodbye to some women pouting because she didn’t bake cookies or she did, sniping because she learned the rules and then bent or broke them. Grow the hell up. She is not running for Ms.-perfect-pure-queen-icon of the feminist movement. She’s running to be president of the United States.
Goodbye to the shocking American ignorance of our own and other countries’ history. Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir rose through party ranks and war, positioning themselves as proto-male leaders. Almost all other female heads of government so far have been related to men of power—granddaughters, daughters, sisters, wives, widows: Gandhi, Bandaranike, Bhutto, Aquino, Chamorro, Wazed, Macapagal-Arroyo, Johnson Sirleaf, Bachelet, Kirchner, and more. Even in our “land of opportunity,” it’s mostly the first pathway “in” permitted to women: Representatives Doris Matsui and Mary Bono and Sala Burton; Senator Jean Carnahan . . . far too many to list here.
Goodbye to a misrepresented generational divide . . .
Goodbye to the so-called spontaneous “Obama Girl” flaunting her bikini-clad ass online—then confessing Oh yeah it wasn’t her idea after all, some guys got her to do it and dictated the clothes, which she said “made me feel like a dork.”
...How dare anyone unilaterally decide when to turn the page on history, papering over real inequities and suffering constituencies in the promise of a feel-good campaign? How dare anyone claim to unify while dividing, or think that to rouse U.S. youth from torpor it’s useful to triage the single largest demographic in this country’s history: the boomer generation—the majority of which is female?
Old woman are the one group that doesn’t grow more conservative with age—and we are the generation of radicals who said “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Goodbye to going gently into any goodnight any man prescribes for us. We are the women who changed the reality of the United States. And though we never went away, brace yourselves: we’re back!
We are the women who brought this country equal credit, better pay, affirmative action, the concept of a family-focused workplace; the women who established rape-crisis centers and battery shelters, marital-rape and date-rape laws; the women who defended lesbian custody rights, who fought for prison reform, founded the peace and environmental movements; who insisted that medical research include female anatomy; who inspired men to become more nurturing parents; who created women’s studies and Title IX so we all could cheer the WNBA stars and Mia Hamm. We are the women who reclaimed sexuality from violent pornography, who put childcare on the national agenda, who transformed demographics, artistic expression, language itself. We are the women who forged a worldwide movement. We are the proud successors of women who, though it took more than 50 years, won us the vote.
We are the women who now comprise the majority of U.S. voters.
Me? I support Hillary Rodham because she’s the best qualified of all candidates running in both parties. I support her because she’s refreshingly thoughtful, and I’m bloodied from eight years of a jolly “uniter” with ejaculatory politics. I needn’t agree with her on every point. I agree with the 97 percent of her positions that are identical with Obama’s—and the few where hers are both more practical and to the left of his (like health care). I support her because she’s already smashed the first-lady stereotype and made history as a fine senator, because I believe she will continue to make history not only as the first U.S. woman president, but as a great U.S. president.
As for the “woman thing”?
Me, I’m voting for Hillary not because she’s a woman—but because I am.
There's nothing for me to say or add. These women have spoken.