Our Sexism Problem
by Bargeron, Thu May 22, 2008 at 05:21:16 AM EDT
Has anyone noticed the recent explosion of solidarity and outrage among women Democrats over the sexist treatment in the media of Hillary Clinton during this primary season? MYDD regulars would say this is something that has been an issue among Clinton supporters for a long while, but in terms of national coverage, we seemed to have turned some kind of corner, reached critical mass. There was an excellent discussion with folks from Emily's List and NARAL Pro Choice America yesterday, for example, on Talk of the Nation, the NPR program. There was the New York Times article earlier this week, and now all the morning shows are talking about it today.
In my advocacy for Barack Obama, here and among my friends, I've always tried to keep a cool head about the nature of this primary, remembering that Clinton is not some kind of evil enemy, but a fellow Democrat. Sometimes, I've been very frustrated with Clinton tactics, things that made me want to lash, and in some cases to actually lash out in anger. But I've also always tried to refrain from the type of casual sexism (and the not-so-casual, bordering on vitriolic kind) that one often hears thrown around about powerful women.
As much as I often regret the sort of "gotcha" PC atmospherics which surrounds our public discourse on matters relating to identity politics, I'm also quite aware of the utility of this line. Yesterday on Talk of the Nation, Elizabeth Shipp eloquently made the point that open sexism is one of the last frontiers of public bigotry in this country (though, I'm quite sure that heterosexism ought to be included in that category as well). One in five Kentucky and West Virginia voters notwithstanding, America has by and large become a place where--at least in mainstream public discourse--open racism is frowned upon. We have a ways to go before we get there with sexism and heterosexism, I'm afraid.
What is frustrating is when you hear this sort of thing from Democratic activists, netrootsers, and hyper-supporters. I've been hearing about the awful things that Obama supporters have been saying to turn off Clinton supporters for some time. Earlier this week I encountered it first hand.
One commenter, responding to charges of sexism, wrote this:
Please, give me a break. I have not seen a hint of sexism coming from Obama. Politely saying to a reporter "I'll be with you in a minute sweety" doesn't exactly drip sexism. Again this is the broken down Clinton Machine running out of gas and oil. It's starting to sputter, and looking for a bumper to grab onto to give it a boost. But the wheels are falling off.Most of the feminists out there can be mistaken for men and are never called anything close to sweety. I know other things were said by Obama, but this seems to be the worst. Oh my god, did he call her sweety? How dare he!
Much as I agreed with his point that it was hard to pin anti-Hillary sexism on Obama, I was taken aback by the turn his comment took near the end, and highlighting his comment that "most of the feminists out there can be mistaken for men," I responded this way:
totally out of line. I'm a proud feminist and a Barack Obama supporter. You clearly have a misunderstanding of what feminism means. Feminism is a core Democratic Party value: the belief that women should be treated as equals socially, culturally, and politically. It also means that you recognize the huge barriers that women have faced in the past and still face, and that you feel the need to work actively for gender equality.
If you don't believe this, then you should reconsider your commitment to the Democratic Party.
So shame on you for engaging in extremely juvenile stereotyping.
My new friend then responded with this gem:
I apologize to you for the statement, but not to most of the other women on this site. A lot of the women out there don't understand what a feminist actually is. I do actually understand and have studied the 3 waves of feminism.
I should have let it die, I suppose, but I was angry now, and responded this way:
I'll accept your apology as a feminist and a progressive, but I'm a dude.
And while I think I see where you're coming from, I think the dismissiveness & stereotyping is what gets people angry.
I think we can honestly criticize knee-jerk identity politics and still be fully committed to women's rights. But we have to call out and fight against these stereotypes. That's why I responded the way I did.
It went back and forth a little while longer, as these things do, he arguing that he can be brash sometimes, and me saying that brashness wasn't the issue, but rather blatant sexism & stereotyping. He got his last word in with this post:
Please drop it because your ungraciousness is starting to aggrivate me. Don't bother commenting for I will not read another from you on the subject. I for one am going to take my beautiful intelligent (more intelligent I )non feminist but strong girlfriend for a drive. We will now go where she wants. I haven't clubbed a woman over the head in a long time.
Why put all of this in a diary? I felt the need to share with Clinton supporters, with whom I spend most of the time arguing, that I am with you on this one. It's a big problem. And it's not a problem because it might divide the Democratic electorate--that is secondary. The major problem is that we haven't come far enough as a nation to make it highly uncomfortable for people to engage in casual sexism in public (progressive, even) fora.
No pitches here either: I won't try to convince you that your anger is misplaced, mainly because I don't think it is. I think you have a point. But I will make a pledge to redouble my efforts to weed out sexism in my thinking and writing, and to call out bigotry of all sorts when I hear it or read it.
I encourage my fellow Obama supporters to do the same.