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At least PRETEND you’re not sexist

We have a year to go, and already I’m tired of noticing how diseased some people are when it comes to women. Something about having to take a woman seriously as candidate for president seems to make these people break out.

Well, fine. I’m a big advocate of letting people do whatever they like in the privacy of their own homes. But when you’re in public, do cover up all the pus-filled boils.

The thing that really gets to me is all the jerks in the public eye — the talking heads, even the candidates themselves — who let the crap come out as if it was something perfectly normal. It means that to them it is perfectly normal. And that’s the most tiring, depressing, and soul-destroying thing of all. It’s not the knowledge that there are all kinds of bigots out there. I know there are. What’s so awful is that sexism is not something they have to hide. What’s so awful is what that means about everybody’s attitudes, not just theirs.

One recent example is the McCain staffer talking about “how to beat the bitch.” Once it got out, did McCain have to fire the person? No, he turned it into a fundraising event.

Imagine the reaction if Obama was the frontrunner, and the staffer had said, “How do we beat the nigger?”

That’s the difference I’m talking about. These days, racism has to be covered up, at least in public. It is Not Okay. But sexism is frivolous to worry about when we have “real problems.” Any women who are offended should lighten up and “get over it.” Or they should “have a sense of humor.”

Bigotry has to be ignored to be maintained, so it’s interesting that sexism is the most strenuously ignored bigotry we have right now. People refuse to see it. They’ll grasp at any explanation except the obvious one. Thus the “problem” with Clinton is that’s she’s unelectable. That’s because she’s unlikable. It’s because she laughs. It’s because she doesn’t laugh. It’s because she gestures, she claps, she has cleavage. And so on, and on, and on. (A good summary of the whole litany up to the end of October by Gloria Feldt, here [1].) And there’s never, ever, ever anything unusual about the talking heads’ attitudes to her. It’s not them. It’s her.

A reaction to the recent name-calling provided one example, ably dissected [2] by David Kurtz at TPM.

“So it’s really all Hillary’s fault that some crotchety old conservative grand dame in South Carolina called her a bitch. If Hillary wasn’t so divisive (such a bitch) then conservatives wouldn’t get so riled up about her (that bitch) and that would in turn make fair-minded people (like those of us who read the Times) happier because then they wouldn’t have to hear angry GOPers fouling the air with words like bitch.

See? This really isn’t about John McCain at all.”

Liss gave the clearest explanation [3] of how the whole unlikable and unelectable shtick fits into the picture.

What I am saying, given that Hillary is firmly entrenched in the D.C. Democratic establishment and in line with the party platform, is that if Hillary were a man in that position — acceptable candidate with mainline party positions, 30 point lead, and seemingly unlimited fundraising potential — I sincerely doubt that there would still be a stage full of dudes trying to beat her.

Or pundits trying to belittle her.

That’s the essense of discrimination: the inability to see beyond your own limited understanding of someone’s abilities. That is starkly, clearly being done to Hillary Clinton. Sexism, as the remaining bigotry that dares not speak its name, is so unarticulated that we all, me included, sit around wondering, “Well, gee, sure, she does gesture. That’s a problem, isn’t it?”

No. It isn’t. The problem is them. The problem is not Hillary Clinton’s mannerisms, make-up, or methods of eating soup. If they have problems with her experience, her past actions in politics, or her plans for the Republic, that’s different, but you’ll notice that they don’t seem to engage her on any real issues. They probably know all too well that she’d wipe the floor with them in any exchange of ideas.

The last refuge is a sudden concern about “dynasties.” There’s something very suspect about it now, when there’s a female candidate. Before, there was something that looked a lot more like admiration. Think back to the Kennedy political family. Shrub has now stuffed up everything he’s touched, but people used to talk like there was some familial talent for politics that explained all the high and mighty Bushes.

It looks more and more like just another excuse not to judge Clinton on her merits. And, frankly, either we are going to judge people on their merits, or we aren’t. If we are, then it does not matter who your relatives are, by marriage or otherwise. After our experiences since 2000, it should be pretty clear that merit matters. Had we valued it correctly right along, we never would have had George the Second proving that merit is way more important than dynasty.

Although the sexism is getting gross, being called out on it annoys the boys. Here’s just one small example out of the much-too-many that we’re being given. When a reporter for the Financial Times suggested to Chris Matthews that he’d spent enough time criticizing Clinton’s way of clapping, he got all petulant. (Via Digby [4])

“Well, give me a list — Chrystia, give me a list some day on email of whom — what I’m allowed to criticize about Hillary.”

Um, Chris? You know those signs they have in the dorms? The ones that say “Your mother doesn’t work here. Do your own dishes.” When you’re a kid, your parents (try to) teach you manners. Once you’re an adult, you’re supposed to know these things, and if you missed the early training, it’s up to you to learn it on your own. Nobody has to give you a list. You figure it out. You’re a big boy now.

All the sexism on display isn’t just unfortunate, or revolting, or funny, depending on your point of view. Nobody will call it by its right name, because sexism is unmentionable, but I’m not sure that stops it from having a real and tangible effect.

As Digby puts it so well [4],

I don’t care who you support in the election, this kind of talk — especially just spewing out in the mainstream media with very little awareness — makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck if you happen to be female. …

The fact is that politicians of both genders and all ethnicities and races all over the country are trying to say in one way or another, “I’m one of you. I understand your needs and your problems and I will represent you!” It’s what they do. To say that Clinton is doing something that’s out of bounds by making a pitch to women is mind-boggling, (particularly after the years and years of hunting trips and horseshoes and cigarette boats to make that pitch to the ever valuable “angry, white male.”)

The Republicans are all running against Clinton, as if she was the source of all the trouble in the world. What else can they do? Their President has all the appeal of the mad aunt in the attic, and their platform can’t stand the light of day any better than a vampire.

But the amazing thing is the Democratic candidates. They could run against a failed President. Even more important, they could run against the whole failed kleptocratic concept of his “Administration.” That doesn’t just serve their political agenda. It would help inoculate the country against repetitions of that disease. For once, self-interest and the public interest run together.

So what do they do? The Dems are joining the Republicans in running against Clinton.

I wonder if it’s ever going to occur to any of them that they’re slapping the majority of voters upside the head with the message, “I’m not one of you.” I wonder if they’ll ever connect the big dots: a politician who’s talking about things that concern people, bristling voters, and “inexplicably” high poll numbers for one Hillary Clinton.

Cross-posted to Shakesville [5]

Technorati tags: politics, current events, news, media, Hillary, Clinton, sexism

2 Comments (Open | Close)

2 Comments To "At least PRETEND you’re not sexist"

#1 Comment By retro On 20 Nov, 2007 @ 06:33

As much as I’d like to see a woman president, I don’t trust Hillary as far as I can throw her.

#2 Comment By Cranky Boomer On 11 Jan, 2008 @ 08:08

Dear Acid Test: This article has been linked to from menforhillary.org (hillarynowobamalater.org) which is my effort to support Hillary for President. Would love to have you provide a link to it, since it is also significantly addressing the issue of sexism in the primary campaign.

Great article.