Monday, June 9, 2008

Hillary Clinton and the Sexism of America

Something I don't understand regarding the national debate over Clinton v. Obama is why it was acceptable, as they were campaigning, to attack Clinton for gender. No one would think of nationally revealing bigotry toward Obama, and ( gratefully ) there would be enormous outcry if this did occur.

Remember ' nappy headed ' basketball players and the end of a radio career?
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/04/12/national/main2675273.shtml

So why is it that commentators or columnists can attack Clinton based on points directly related to her gender?

- The scandal with Bill Clinton and her continuation of the marriage.
- The picture of Clinton with her mouth open and finger raised repeatedly being evoked as a negative trait. God FORBID a woman look aggressive or terribly passionate when fighting the fight of her life.
- The discussions over her hair style.
- The words 'shrill', 'stubborn', 'aggressive' etc - used to point out that according to the commentator, Clinton is too forceful. To this I point to how damn hard, how exhausting and depleting and depressing it must have been at times for Hillary Clinton to achieve what she has achieved- the national recognition as a forefront contender for the Presidency. Without this 'unfeminine' force, she would not be where she is, absolutely not.
- What I have heard, over and over again from those who do not like Hillary Clinton, is a catch-all bunch of passe and lazy adjectives used to sum up the structure of the dislike, which is that she is a woman with traits associated with the success of men.

This entire critique is an expression of the microcosm of this issue in American family life.
Let's set it up: Mom and Dad work full-time and have four children. The family has been through a lot of stress in the last year, health issues, financial strain, a fight to keep the family functioning well. Dad and Mom are both hard working and stressed to their limit. Mom, however, is culturally mocked (where those expectations come from and how powerful they are is an entire other subject) for the changes this stress brings in her appearance, her tone, her face, her ability to provide 'femininity' to her role. Raised finger and face intense... she becomes what? A leader? A strong role model? A fighter, a survivor, or any of the other words we can associate with continuing to enact your responsibilities when under great stress? Or is she a hag, a shrew... a bitch?

Sound familiar?

I support Obama- he's my guy. But I find it depressing and intellectually lazy that so many people who are experts in political debate fall back on these kinds of criticisms when explaining why they do not support Clinton. The entire structure of political commentary is set up on the premise that the people writing and speaking on the issues are educated about them and their veiwpoints are created via facts and information, not a Legally Blonde critique on the behavior and appearance of women in politics.

So thank you, Hillary Clinton. I know you did what you did for yourself, of course, but I know what you did for me and my daughter and her daughter, as well. And so do you, and your daughter.

May their hair be messy and their faces be lit with passion.
sueke said...

I am ashamed to admit but I too fell into the ultra angry feminist pitch about our Hilary as a President would be a set back for women not a promotion, claiming that her success was due to her becoming more "manly" in order to "rise" in a male dominated arena. Fortunately I realized my folly, as you stated being aggressive is not merely a being a "man" that was me falling prey to the patriarchal ideals that I so dare to believe I have escaped. While I do not support her politics, I too thank her for her strength and tenacity in the face of such ridiculous critiques.

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