If sexism happens and nobody mentions it, did it hurt?
There’s much moaning about how the uncool uninteresting unrevolutionary candidate Clinton has only stodgy middle-aged (or even old!) women behind her. All the Cool Kids and men and thoughtful discussers of other people’s discussions prefer somebody else, anybody else. That is, Sanders. Some examples out of dozens: NYTimes, Salon, The Atlantic, LATimes, LATimes, LATimes. (The LATimes apparently really wants to be sure that none of those girl cooties stick to them.)
My mind reels at this stuff. I’m with Jill Filipovic. “Do ppl really not think that the first female pres would be a BIG DEAL?” And don’t try to tell me that it’s no different from first black or first Jew or first socialist or first candidate with curly hair. If they are male such people have been made leaders of countries dozens of times over. Women, on the other hand, not so much, and in the US of A, never. Never. N.E.V.E.R. Never.
Are so many people really that incapable of drawing the obvious conclusions from the obvious evidence? Somehow, I doubt it. That level of ignorance requires lots of work.
There’s a name for this situation:
1) We have a candidate with a list of accomplishments longer than a basketball player’s arms (both of them).
2) People say “Oh, that doesn’t count,” “Oh, those aren’t accomplishments,” “Oh, those aren’t her accomplishments.” ” She looks like somebody’s mom.” She is somebody’s mom. How uncool is that? Not like being a disheveled grandpa with big ideas.
Natasha Chart said it clearly. “This is a pressure that goes one way only. Men are cool, women aren’t — both are pushed to conform to stereotypical masculine norms. You know, if they want to be cool.”
The fact is, there is nothing Clinton can do that will be seen as right. She has boatloads of experience, so she’s part of the Establishment. If she had less experience, she’d be an airhead bimbo. If she’s ready for the cameras, she’s fake. If she has a hair out of place, she’s a wrinkled old fright. If she shows any military toughness, she’s a warmonger. If she didn’t, she’d be unfit to be Commander-in-Chief. If she makes money, she’s a shill. If she had no money, she’d be a loser. And on and on and on.
There’s a name for this, but nobody can say it out loud. It’s like that episode in Fawlty Towers where Basil Fawlty goosesteps around a party of Germans shouting “We won’t discuss the War!” Only in this case it’s a different war, which is ongoing and not funny yet. So it comes off more like pathetic climate change deniers sleepwalking their stupidity into disaster.
I saw a comment recently saying “When Hillary finds yet another way to lose,” and it went on from there. No, buster. When you’ve torn Hillary down enough to destroy her, you’ll land us all with the toxic two bit rabblerousers frontrunning on the other side. In a country with as much power as the USA, that will be bad.
Peter Daou said it best in an article on Hillary and the rage of straight white males.
You can’t stop a wild mob that wants to “burn the witch,” a mob that wants to dehumanize and degrade a woman, that wants to strip her of her dignity. It’s an impulse as old as humanity.
And it’s a monstrous thing to behold.
We will see if the inexorable transformation of the American populace will endure a dangerous setback with a President Trump or Cruz. Democrats must do everything in their power to prevent that outcome.
In that grave context, demolishing the public image of a leading Democratic candidate is unimaginably reckless.
But what about all this we hear how she has no support among the young, among young women? Surely, young women haven’t absorbed any messages about who’s cool and who’s old school? If they don’t support her it can’t be the bigotry-which-must-not-be-named. At least the media seem to desperately hope so.
So, what does explain the absence of the young? There certainly is a problem, but it’s not coming from Hillary. It’s coming from having fifty, sixty, seventy years of your life yet to live, from just starting out, from being incapable of seeing what you’re in for without being crushed. It’s a survival instinct. At the age of twenty five you may not yet have been kicked all the way to hell and back.
You’ve felt the crushing weight of sexism and misogyny, that starts before you can talk. You’ve dealt with the boys bullying, and the fathers putting a premium on pretty, and the street harassment, and all the instructions about how not to get raped even though you’re not at all in any way actually the perp, and you know the world isn’t for you and you better be invisible and hope some guy gives you shelter from the storm.
All that is already more than any human being can stand. Very few can face it squarely at any age. Most people cringe away from it, try to tell themselves that what it obviously means is not what it means. It’s just an accident. It’s isolated. It’s nothing to do with you.
But if you’re going to get excited about a female candidate for President, you have to acknowledge that there really have not been very many. You have to notice that there have been 44 of these people and not a single woman. That’s kind of high for just an accidental concatenation of circumstances. You’ll have to notice that the deck is stacked against you. What you’ve dealt with so far, all the stuff that’s so bad you can’t even look at it, is just the beginning. You’ll have to see that it doesn’t get better. It gets worse.
And people wonder why young women can’t bring themselves to celebrate Hillary Clinton.
But none of this can be mentioned. Instead let’s try to pretend that the pain of sexism, the damage it does to women, the amputations of humanity it causes in men, the crushed children, never have to be faced. We’re talking about people’s loves and families here. This hits everybody right in the heart. Unlike racism or homophobia or antisemitism, you can’t get some relief by living among your own kind. Nobody wants to do open heart surgery on their souls. Especially since there’s no anesthetic for it.
If you can’t even speak the name of the real problem, you’re reduced to coming up with cockamamie explanations such as that Clinton has some wrinkles, or she’s too reasonable, or too practical, or not exciting, or has too many pantsuits.
The problem isn’t pantsuits. The problem is the unbearable unmentionable burden which must be carried with an effortless smile. Once you see it, there’s no way to un-see it. Which is why it’s really really really important to look the other way.
The strange thing isn’t that young women are in denial. The strange thing is the unimaginably reckless refusal to face their own prejudices among all the people and pundits and thinkers and journalists and writers who are old enough to know better.
I greatly appreciate this post for its tone, wisdom and long-view examination of the generational issue. I would however humbly suggest there are other factors at play beyond the subconcious/subliminal sexism in our culture. I, a 61 y.o. white male, have self identified as a feminist since the Equal Rights Amendment was circulating. Our whole span has been a learning curve, and I’m often surprise at the things that come out of my mouth contrary to my beliefs. In an era when Carly Fiorina declares herself a feminist while denying self determination, the definition has become murky.
I also agree that HRC is the most qualified candidate by experience of our generation. She’s taken the hits and (imo) was an excellent Sec. of State. She knows how to play the game. That’s kind of my problem.She did vote for the Iraq war and didn’t spend the W. years railing against an illigitimate regime. She played the game.
I’ve admired Sanders for years. About a year ago I declared if there were a Clinton-Bush match up I’d vote Green. When Sanders announced I chipped in some bucks but figured a Socialist would fade fast. I have been heartened but the groundswell. I know people of all ages and stages excited by his disgust at the status quo. I presume, should he win the nom., the message in the general will include voting out incumbent members of congress. This is what millions of citizens of all stripes want. The key of course is to motivate people to actually vote. In my lifetime I don’t think we’ve ever had most eligible voters turn out, and Republicans have Gerrymandered their way into minority rule, with an unbreakable lock on the House.
I think this quagmire is what makes Sanders’ message so appealing to young people and I hope it will resonate regardless. I’ve been surprised how many people who would otherwise be apolitical respond to seeing my bumper sticker, and I live in a safe Republican district. I tell them “No matter what, VOTE”
Sorry to be so long winded. What I really wanted to say is if (when?) HRC gets the nom., I’m going to make sure my wife, who’s increasingly sick of her, reads your post.
Scott on February 24th, 2016 at 14:23
I agree that sexism isn’t the only factor, but it is an 800 lb gorilla, and it’s the only gorilla people try so hard to pretend not to see. That last bit was my point, really.
As for Sanders, I used to like him a lot. Some of the stuff that’s been coming out around this campaign has soured me though. That business with Dolores Huerta at the Nevada caucuses was simply beyond the pale. He should have been out there five minutes later saying he didn’t want supporters like that and apologizing for their behavior. It’s not about them yelling or chanting or what they said, which you can’t make out. It’s about them being delighted that an icon of civil rights has been shut down by an intimidated moderator.
Then finding out that he’s voted against background checks for gun buyers, several times. You can support Vermont hunters without that.
Then there’s the all-contributions-gratefully-accepted attitude to Republican money (Bloomberg, NYTimes, discussion of FEC disclosures). That just blows me away. I guess he could say his heart is pure and if they want to spend their money on him, that’s fine, but it does look funny. Especially when he makes a big deal out of Clinton getting speaking fees to tell Goldman they need to mend their ways. His heart is pure, but hers isn’t? These things go both ways. Or they should. Which was part of the point of the post.
And I could go on. (Hey, luckily, long comments are not a problem here! 😀 )If he’s the nominee, I’ll definitely vote for him since he’s way ahead of the toxic waste on the Repub side, but I no longer feel all that kindly toward him.
quixote on February 24th, 2016 at 15:26
Thank you for this essay. It is brilliant.
You have put exactly into words what has been coalescing for me as I’ve tried to identify why what HRC is going through for a -second- time feels so very personal to me.
I had been thinking exactly how the kind of bigotry that used to start in middle school (and judging by the product and toy aisles, now kindergarten) and becomes background by high school never really goes away. It was there during all my working life, briefly lessened during the early eighties but back in full force by the nineties as television, the print media and then the internet again made bigotry overt and violence and discrimination more acceptable than ever. These are entities owned by men who are not about to give up the one prejudice that benefits them far more than any other. The view they broadcast of women has never really stopped reflecting that fact.
It’s understandable why young women would do many things rather than look at what being a woman means in this country now. Hillary is amazing in that she faces this head on, and can still keep going, with her integrity, intellect and ability intact.
PDXPat on February 28th, 2016 at 06:10
Yes, unrelenting sexism affects us all still. Thank you for describing it so well. And I also see youngish feminists who are captivated by Bernie’s rhetoric. As Bill said so often “It’s the economy…” I only hope that (assuming a Clinton primary win) in the general, Clinton will have the votes of most of Sander’s supporters. And that he does the right thing and supports her. I do think that Hillary will take us closer to Bernie’s and her goals, better than any other candidate.
purplefinn on February 28th, 2016 at 07:18