Gender and sexism is clearly an issue in this presidential campaign. There is no question that the media (with Mr. Tweety at the top of the list) has treated Hillary in a sexist manner, which kossacks have denounced. My question is whether kossacks will similarly condemn not Hillary or her candidacy, but her use of sexism as a political tool to shield herself from criticism as well as a sword to promote her candidacy based on gender. Regardless of which candidate you support, the use of sexism as a political toy has the effect of trivializing sexism, which will have impacts on all women long after a president is elected.
These issues will be examined by political analysts, historians and feminists for years. The question is whether we at dk can discuss this issue and its impacts without pie fights about candidates. Right now I am basically an "orphan" now that I have reluctantly accepted that Gore is not running and have not picked a candidate. This diary uses examples from Hillary because she raised the issue of sexism against her by the other Democratic presidential candidates.
| Feminisms is a series of weekly feminist diaries. My fellow feminists and I decided to start our own for several purposes: we wanted a place to chat with each other, we felt it was important to both share our own stories and learn from others’, and we hoped to introduce to the community a better understanding of what feminism is about.
Needless to say, we expect disagreements to arise. We have all had different experiences in life, so while we share the same labels, we don’t necessarily share the same definitions. Hopefully, we can all be patient and civil with each other, and remember that, ultimately, we’re all on the same side.
Sexism As A Shield.
After losing one Democratic debate (video and transcript), the Hillary campaign played the sexism card. An official campaign video entitled "The Politics of Pile On" showcased the male democratic candidates saying her name at --- of all places --- a democratic debate.
There is no anger or condescension apparent in the voices, no patronizing attitude or behavior apparent in the video of the debate or the Hillary campaign video. There was simply the fact that the male candidates used her name, which is pretty common in a debate.
It is clear from the context that the "politics of piling on" was simply the campaign's euphemism for sexism by the male democratic candidates. The Hillary campaign stated that the men had ganged up on her in the "politics of piling on" because she was a woman. The next day, "Clinton called the political world a 'boys’ club,'and a union chief endorsed her with the observation that the debate had been 'six guys against Hillary.'"
The video ends with this very important sound bite by Hillary:
|"I seemed to be the topic of great conversation and consternation, and that's for a reason."|
The implication is that Hillary made this statement during the debate because she felt that the male candidates were "piling on" during this debate for the implied reason of sexism. A statement made contemporaneous with events occurring is accorded more weight and credibility in our legal system and society because the facts, perceptions and feelings are fresh and almost reactive without time to think or spin. Thus, the fact that Hillary had perceived the statements by the other candidates as piling on or sexism while the debate was occurring is important.
However, this sound bite in the Clinton video was used out of context. The reality is that Brian Williams asked Senator Obama about his statement in an interview that "Senator Clinton was trying to sound Republican, trying to vote Republican on national security issues." The video sound bite was part of Hillary's rebuttal to Obama's statement: She was referring to Republicans at a recent debate, not Democrats at this debate highlighted in this video:
| Hillary Clinton: Well, I don't think the Republicans got the message that I'm voting and sounding like them.
If you watched their debate last week, I seemed to be the topic of great conversation and consternation. And that's for a reason -- because I have stood against George Bush and his failed policies.
Thus, the true meaning of her sound bite was that Hillary was speaking about Republicans, not the Democratic candidates; Hillary was refuting that she was a goppie, not referring to being piled on at this debate, and, the reason for the "consternation" was not sexism, but her claim that she has opposed Bush. It is standard operating procedure that when Bush speaks, we need to hunt down the factual context and consider the meaning of each word used to decipher the truth. We should not have to do the same with our democratic candidates, whether it be Hillary, in this case, or one of the other candidates.
Moreover, if you look at Hillary's demeanor while she made this statement at the debate, she was at ease and smiling. [video clip of Hillary's statement at 2:25] So, what sexism happened at this debate that triggered her campaign to produce the "piling on" video?
Hillary's campaign apparently assumed that the men ganged up on Hillary because she is a woman. Assuming arguendo that the men ganged up on Hillary, is it a fair assumption that it was motivated by gender? Is gender the only reason a man might question her policies? Is it unusual for candidates to question the front runner? When looking at video of the debate, the male candidates took issue with Hillary refusing to clearly and unequivocally answer even simple questions, loading her answers with qualifiers and disclaimers to provide wiggle room and flip-flopping on positions. Is it now sexism if a male candidate questions the statements and policies of a female candidate?
Yes, this video was produced by goppies, but it shows a good selection of how the media covered Hillary's performance in this debate in a very negative manner. Hillary's sexism charge changed the focus of the post-debate coverage from her to the male democratic candidates.
Consequently, Senator Edwards posted a video to explain that the questioning was not a matter of sexism, or the politics of piling on, but the politics of parsing by Hillary:
So, what really happened at this debate that could be called sexism?
Well, for some women, the gender imbalance of participants in a forum or debate is sufficient ground to "invoke sexism and gender stereotypes as a defense on the campaign trail." Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said proclaiming sexism was a "gut response" to the "spectacle of Clinton onstage confronting seven male rivals and two male moderators at a debate in Philadelphia," even comparing it to the "congressional grilling of Anita Hill when she challenged Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court nomination in 1991."
|"Every woman — it was just so visceral — that panel was all male," Smeal recalled. "It didn’t matter almost what was being said. It [was] a visceral gut reaction, and I think that’s what you’re seeing here again."|
There is no question that sexism is institutionalized in the US to the degree that many do not even perceive clearly sexist conduct and statements as sexist. As a result of institutionalized sexism, women have been denied promotions in the work force, denied entry into positions and places and today we have fewer women visible in certain occupations and professions. One such field is politics and more specifically, presidential candidates. However, since when did it become acceptable to proclaim the fruits of historical and institutional bias as sexism today? It is one thing to support affirmative action to remedy the impacts of historical discrimination. It is quite another thing to claim that the male candidates in a political debate are sexist based solely on the gender of participants. As a lawyer, if I lose oral argument in court where there is a male judge and a male opposing lawyer, can I then scream sexism because the male participants outnumber the female due to historical sexism even though not a scintilla of sexism by this judge and opposing counsel?
This is not the first time that Hillary used sexism as a shield:
|It is not the first time for Clinton. The turning point of her 2000 race for New York senator came when her challenger, then-Rep. Rick Lazio (R), marched into her personal space during a debate to present her with a campaign financing pledge, a move many women saw as threatening. In her 2006 reelection, and this year, her advisers have missed no opportunity to label male challengers as 'angry.'"|
Can this sexism strategy be a win-win for Hillary against the Democrats in the primary as well as against a Goppie in the general? Some feminists have "predicted that this tactic will prove effective against fellow Democrats and against a Republican, if she is the general election nominee."
|"'They are being very, very strategic' by playing to sympathies that virtually every woman in a male-dominated professional world can relate to, feminist writer Naomi Wolf said of the Clinton campaign."|
If the debate truly constituted a sexist attack against Hillary, why did her campaign raise the serious charge of sexism and then quickly abandon the issue? After playing the victim card reaped some benefits for Hillary, she dropped the card like a hot potato, claiming that the piling on was due to the fact that she was winning, not because she is a woman.
Perhaps the point was to use sexism as a red-herring to deflect issues raised at the debate:
| She called Senator Clinton's use of the gender card a setback for women.
The question is, is it? It’s certainly distracted a bit from the criticisms that Mrs. Clinton's debate answers were less than direct, and from the controversy over her sealed papers at the Clinton library and the Spitzer license policy for immigrants.
Is it presidential for a woman candidate to flip-flop on sexism and gender stereotypes by claiming she is a strong, independent woman capable of leadership and then hiding under the victim card when men question her policies because she refuses to provide a clear, unequivocal, no-wiggle room answer to straight-forward questions.
Some feminists say that's ok because "turnabout is fair play":
|"When you're the one and only, those stereotypes are coming at you all the time. If she has one time when she can make them work for her, why not?"|
Even Smeal thinks it's ok for Hillary to use "stereotypes to her advantage":
|"You reap what you sow," she said. "There’s been discrimination against women for so long, and for once this is benefiting a woman."|
Sexism As A Sword.
Women represent 59% of the Democratic primary vote and 54% of the general electorate. The candidates are clearly vying for the women's vote. Should sexism be used as a political tool to garner those votes?
|In Sioux City, Monday afternoon, Hillary Clinton told about 200 people, inside the old Firehouse number 3, that they can help make history by caucusing for her... and electing the first female president in our history.|
Sexism is generally discrimination based on sexual stereotypes or gender, such as the exclusion of women from a promotion based solely on gender. Is it appropriate to argue that women should vote for Hillary simply because she is a woman? Is it ok to oppose sexism when it hurts women but support sexism when it benefits women?
The use of sexism as a sword goes beyond gender and making history. Hillary is also pandering to women who stay at home:
|As first lady-to-be, Clinton once said, "I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession." The same woman, now running for president, is telling voters, "I'm very much at home in the kitchen."|
Most politicians flip-flop when they pander to different constituencies. Whenever they pander, there will usually be charges of hypocrisy. However, it is particularly disturbing when the hypocrisy is based on sexism because it undermines a serious discrimination that women have been working for years to reverse.
Impact On Women
Does it hurt women when Hillary uses sexism as a tool by belittling the significance of sexism to a mere political toy?
What about the meme that has been so hard to break of women trumping up sexism charges? Often when a man is accused of sexism, he will defend against the charge by claiming that the woman's allegations are phony, trivial or do not constitute sexism. The reason that men use this "sexism card" is because infrequently a woman has falsely accused a man of rape. Women have fought to knock down this meme of the false use of sexism charges. Now, if it is appropriate to use sexism as a political tool, this meme will gain strength with a new life of its own.
The irony is that while Hillary may be trivializing sexism and its devastating impacts for all women, she will generally not be the victim of sexism. Yes, as a politician she is subjected to sexism like all women. But, Hillary will not face the hardship of losing a job or a promotion due to sexism because she has the financial security that most do not. Hillary will not face the anger and hatred that some women face because she has personal security to protect her.
So, Hillary may not be personally invested in the need to not trivialize sexism, but most people will. Including myself.