Saturday, May 24, 2008

Oh, the Misogyny! An Update

This entry follows-up my previous post, "Oh, the Misogyny!," where I made light of the sexism controversy surrounding Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

How serious is Hillary's misogyny problem? What does it mean for the U.S.?
This piece from Britain's New Statesman takes a look:

History, I suspect, will look back on the past six months as an example of America going through one of its collectively deranged episodes - rather like Prohibition from 1920-33, or McCarthyism some 30 years later. This time it is gloating, unshackled sexism of the ugliest kind. It has been shamelessly peddled by the US media, which - sooner rather than later, I fear - will have to account for their sins. The chief victim has been Senator Hillary Clinton, but the ramifications could be hugely harmful for America and the world.

I am no particular fan of Clinton. Nor, I think, would friends and colleagues accuse me of being racist. But it is quite inconceivable that any leading male presidential candidate would be treated with such hatred and scorn as Clinton has been. What other senator and serious White House contender would be likened by National Public Radio's political editor, Ken Rudin, to the demoniac, knife-wielding stalker played by Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction? Or described as "a fucking whore" by Randi Rhodes, one of the foremost personalities of the supposedly liberal Air America? Would Carl Bernstein (of Woodward and Bernstein fame) ever publicly declare his disgust about a male candidate's "thick ankles"? Could anybody have envisaged that a website set up specifically to oppose any other candidate would be called Citizens United Not Timid? (We do not need an acronym for that.)

I will come to the reasons why I fear such unabashed misogyny in the US media could lead, ironically, to dreadful racial unrest. "All men are created equal," Thomas Jefferson famously proclaimed in 1776. That equality, though, was not extended to women, who did not even get the vote until 1920, two years after (some) British women. The US still has less gender equality in politics than Britain, too. Just 16 of America's 100 US senators are women and the ratio in the House (71 out of 435) is much the same. It is nonetheless pointless to argue whether sexism or racism is the greater evil: America has a peculiarly wicked record of racist subjugation, which has resulted in its racism being driven deep underground. It festers there, ready to explode again in some unpredictable way.

To compensate meantime, I suspect, sexism has been allowed to take its place as a form of discrimination that is now openly acceptable. "How do we beat the bitch?" a woman asked Senator John McCain, this year's Republican presidential nominee, at a Republican rally last November. To his shame, McCain did not rebuke the questioner but joined in the laughter. Had his supporter asked "How do we beat the nigger?" and McCain reacted in the same way, however, his presidential hopes would deservedly have gone up in smoke. "Iron my shirt," is considered amusing heckling of Clinton. "Shine my shoes," rightly, would be hideously unacceptable if yelled at Obama.
The notion that sexism "is now openly acceptable" is not supported by generic survey data. An overwhelming majority of Americans see women as equally qualified for the White House, as shown in a Washington Post poll from last year, "Race, Gender Less Relevant in '08."

To the extent that we have substantial remnants of mysogyny, we may simply be witnessing the combination of highly-visible cases of unacceptable political demagoguery coming at a time of intense media coverage of the campaign.

The Randi Rhodes' and the "iron my shirt" idiots have been revealed as just that. Hillary Clinton's problem this year's not so much sexism as ego: She campaigned as an annointed nominee, not taking her top challenger seriously until it was perhaps too late; her campaign spent extravagantly, illustrating a "drunken-sailor" style of campaign management that's elitist and entitlement-mined.

For all the gender-bashing, Hillary's paved the way for the next woman presidential candidate. These things take time, but the fact that the overwhelming bulk of people reject sexist extremism is one of the most important developments of campaign '08.