Clinton and the misogyny/sexism debate

With just a couple of weeks left in the primary/caucus season for Democrats, and with Hillary Clinton’s campaign desperate for answers as to what happened, the focus of discussion in the media today has turned to sexism and misogyny, and what role – if any – did it play in the Dem race for the presidential nomination. Lois Romano in the Washington Post interviewed Clinton about the issue Sunday, and here’s what Clinton had to say:

In an interview after church services in Bowling Green on Sunday, Clinton for the first time addressed what women have been talking about for months, what she refers to as the “sexist” treatment she has endured at the hands of the pundits, media and others. The lewd T-shirts. The man who shouted “Iron my shirt” at a campaign event. The references to her cleavage and her cackle.

“It’s been deeply offensive to millions of women,” Clinton said. “I believe this campaign has been a groundbreaker in a lot of ways. But it certainly has been challenging given some of the attitudes in the press, and I regret that, because I think it’s been really not worthy of the seriousness of the campaign and the historical nature of the two candidacies we have here.”

Later, when asked if she thinks this campaign has been racist, she says she does not. And she circles back to the sexism. “The manifestation of some of the sexism that has gone on in this campaign is somehow more respectable, or at least more accepted, and . . . there should be equal rejection of the sexism and the racism when it raises its ugly head,” she said. “It does seem as though the press at least is not as bothered by the incredible vitriol that has been engendered by the comments by people who are nothing but misogynists.”

Personally, I think this is sour grapes from Clinton. While I do agree there’s been this tinge of sexism lurking in the coverage and writing about her campaign from certain quarters (like MSNBC, for example), it hasn’t been remotely enough to even consider as a possibility for being one of the main reasons why her campaign hasn’t gained much traction against her opponent. Rather than acknowledge her own campaign’s failings, she – typically – blames “sexism,” which is exactly what her campaign did after a bad debate she had last November.

Some of the failings mentioned in the Time piece I referenced: Her chief campaign strategist Mark Penn’s belief that California was a winner take all state. As we all know, Democrats apportion their delegates. Another? Not having an aggressive, effective caucus strategy. Obama has (if I recall correctly) won almost every caucus state. The latter alone was probably the biggest mistake. If Hillary Clinton had won most of the caucus states, in addition to the big states she has under her belt, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now.

I do agree with one point she implied in what she said to Romano about a double standard in place for sexism versus racism – at least in terms of media coverage. The Captain, in a post about Gerry Ferraro’s claim that she may not be able to support Barack Obama because she believes he’s sexist, explains:

Ferraro’s example of “Annie Oakley” appears dead-on, though, and it’s not the only example. Dean Barnett runs down a list that has begun traveling through e-mail of late, including Sweetiegate. The media barely mentioned that and rushed to absolve Obama of his spontaneous condescension and dismissal of a female reporter, and Ferraro complains about that as well in this segment with Meredith Viera. She recalls the incident at a Hillary event where a couple of jokers held up a sign that said, “IRON MY SHIRT!” The media shrugged, Ferraro charges, but would have created crisis desks if someone had held a sign that said “SHINE MY SHOES!” at an Obama event.


With that said, one of the things that gets lost in all the back and forth about sexism and racism (especially regarding sexism) is the fact that some of the same women who would nail you to the wall for suggesting that a woman is not fit in one way or another for a specific role will turn around and tell you why it’s advantageous to choose a woman over a man, just like any number of Democrat female politicians have – including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And if you have listened closely to Hillary Clinton campaigning, especially in front of female voters, she’s done it, too. The unstated but clear message: “I’m a woman, I hear you, I can relate to what you’re going through in a way he can’t” – wink wink, nudge nudge. Yet if a Republican male were to, for example, state that he felt it was vital to have a man in charge during a time of war because our enemies probably wouldn’t take a female CIC in chief seriously, the howls of outrage would be so intense you wouldn’t even be able to feel yourself breathing.

Same same with respect to commenting on a woman’s clothing – except you don’t have to be a man to be given the third degree, as WaPo fashion writer Robin Givhan found out after expressing the belief last summer that Hillary Clinton was deliberately trying to show her feminine side and shun the buttoned-up tradition in Congress by wearing tops that bared a little cleavage. I wrote about this “controversy” when it erupted, and suggested that it was probably a deliberate attempt by Mrs. Clinton to show her softer side to voters who think she comes off as cold and unfeeling. And in a follow up post to that one, I noted another feminist double standard:

As a woman, and knowing many women, I can tell you from first hand experience that when professional women dress, nine times out of ten they’re dressing to impress, I don’t care where they’re working. They also expect to get noticed for how ‘sharp’ and/or ‘stylish’ they’re dressed and, shocker of all shockers, they actually like to receive compliments for what they wear. Now I can guarantee you that if Givhan’s column had been more flattering about the way Hillary dresses, i.e., if she was wearing red, how the color and style she was wearing was a symbol for power, or if it was along the lines of “Hillary is showing some cleavage and leg in a Congress that traditionally shies away form overt displays of skin. You go girl! Break down those walls!” the reactions to that column would have been totally different – especially amongst the liberal women responding to what was written. The fact that it wasn’t a very flattering piece on Hillary’s attire and what it displayed was where Givhan erred – not that she wrote about cleavage per se.

Bottom line: women can’t have it both ways. You have to be able to “take it like a man” and take the good as well as the bad. It makes you stronger in the end, if you don’t allow it to consume you. This is especially true in politics, where whining is seen as a sign of weakness for both men and women, unless you happen to be the inexperienced but charismatic liberal male frontrunner. This doesn’t mean you have to find sexism as “acceptable” and just “take it,” but instead resist the temptation to see it lurking around every corner, and resist the temptation to blame every criticism or negative comment on sexism or misogyny. Sometimes criticism is just, well, criticism.

Lastly, Howie Kurtz writes about the elephant in the room that the Democrats and their allies in the media would like to continue to ignore as it relates to identity politics this campaign season:

But there is a certain degree of identity politics in this narrative, one that the media haven’t been shy about pushing this season. Should all women vote for Hillary because she’s a woman, and assume that men who oppose her are sexist (and women who back Obama are traitors)? Should all African Americans support Obama because of his race and assume that whites who vote against him are racist? Doesn’t that reduce both candidates to one-dimensional symbols and ignore the substance of what they have to say or how they would govern?

Somewhere in Hillary’s inevitability phase, the trailblazing nature of her effort got lost. She became the establishment candidate, the return-to-the-’90s candidate, and the wow factor–which has always surrounded Obama–simply faded. (There are 16 female senators; Obama is the only black member of the Senate, and only the third African American since Reconstruction to serve in that body. But still, all of the 43 presidents have been–what’s the word?–men.)

Look, I don’t have any problem with women and blacks supporting their own, just as generations of Irish Americans, Italian Americans, Hispanics and Jews have tended to do. It’s why Michael Dukakis was able to raise a lot of money from Greeks and Mitt Romney from Mormons. But there has to be more involved in picking a president. Or does there?

‘twould be the perfect question to ask the 90+% of black people who have voted for Barack Obama, and the overwhelming majority of older white women, who have supported La Clinton, wouldn’t it?

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