Mar 2, 2008

Misogyny and Election 2008

Sometime in January, Gloria Steinem sent up an op-ed in the Times that got a lot of play because she compared the misogyny and sexism that Hilary was facing in the race - and by extension, that women face in their everyday lives - with the limited outright racism that confronted Obama in the race to date. The piece drew a lot of ire from various camps, and I don't know if there was any real resolution or even a follow-up or clarification by Steinem. Obviously, you can't really get far by comparing oppressions, but she was trying to make a point about how even facially obvious sexism pervades American culture.

I was not as sympathetic to the point earlier, knowing that there are a lot of factors -- class and particular life history -- that have been greasing the wheels for Obama at that point, and he offers good proof to the proponents of color-blindness that the system works (similar to Clarence Thomas, Alberto Gonzalez (maybe not so much anymore) and other really successful people of color). Of course racism exists, and is still deeply embedded in the institutional oppression and generational disadvantages that have made it more difficult for people and communities of color to have a fair shake.

But I've been thinking more about Steinem's points, and after seeing the segment below on Meet the Press today, was just absolutely shocked in two ways. First, Tim Russert pointing to recent Pew Research Center poll results (with an N of an undisclosed number, but higher than 100 people), mentioned that when asked to sum up the leading candidates in one word, 11 people said a "word that rhymes with rich." I was shocked that that a significant a percentage of people actually felt comfortable enough to say something that offensive. That's a large segment, and it seems to be very telling that they can use a slur rather than even some indirect way of getting to the point. Obama's words were pretty vanilla, pun both intended and not.

But when I went to the actual Pew site for the poll, I started thinking more about what happened on Meet the Press, and realized my second moment of shock and disgust: the Pew website summary doesn't draw the list out as far as the list shown on MTP. They only go down the top five. In essence, MTP could have done the same thing and made the same point. And I just wonder - even on the full list there's nothing remotely similar in the columns for the other two men (though McCainites might beg to differ concerning the "liberal" on his list, but I guess he should rest assured that nearly as many people called Hilary "socialist").

Why did they include the really offensive comment? Why was that okay? Beyond a conspiracy theory, what does it say about how acceptable it is to put something like that on national television (I don't give a fuck about your disclaimer, Tim Russert, that this is a "family" program, you still had it out there). Sorry, that's fucked up. Here's the clip:

While I'm not a big fan of either candidate at this point, this really made me think more about what this race is bringing up, and the fact that while "women" (of all backgrounds) and men of color may have aligned interests against white male patriarchy, there are some other things going on here that make it easier for some men of color to rise in prominence and still preserve the underlying inequalities of power that keep this society so screwed up.

This moment serves as a reminder to me that sexism and patriarchy are important oppressions that I have to keep in mind at all points, not just as an item on a checklist to mention while flashing left credentials. This shit is real.


Anthony said...

Interesting post, though I wouldn't necessarily say that either candidate has it easier - nor do I think that Clinton would be a much better candidate in terms of deconstructing the structures that keep a straight white patriarchy in place. I think that ultimately, either candidate could serve as a tokenized figure - though there seems to be a lot more discussion about Obama being a Black presidential candidate (though apparently not the first), Clinton's status seems to be relatively ignored in comparison.

I do agree that people's comfort with using such a sexist slur is quite problematic - and that they would choose to air this publicly on MTP is definitely indicative of the sexism present in society today.

Makes me wonder when a candidate will come along who's committed to universal social justice - a proponent for civil rights on behalf of People of Color, as well as Women, the LGBTQ community, the poor, disabled, etc. It seems quite unlikely - we probably have a long ways to go, but maybe grassroots alliances between communities could lead to better chances for such a candidate to succeed sometime in the future. For now though, I guess we're stuck with whatever happens to be the better choice out of the two. But we've just got to work on changing society - I guess it happens slowly, but.

Hard to respond to this piece actually - don't know where we're at; but change happens. You definitely made a legitimate point though, especially worth considering when Barack's so widely seen as a "safe" figure representing a post-racial America.

Rage said...

Thanks for writing and I hear your points. Check out There are candidates who aren't afraid to speak their convictions, and keep things real. But maybe people are too afraid of that. Have Americans become that cynical about real change/democracy?

Anonymous said...

The Steinem article pissed off a lot of woc.

Rage said...

Anon: I know - definitely felt that through different conversations. But of course, I still wish Shirley Chisholm was the candidate that I could choose this election.