Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Hillary has yet to concede

Barack Obama is the democrats' choice to run against McCain in the American election, but as yet Hillary Rodham Clinton has yet to concede. Some debate in the States continues around whether the sexism of the media coverage of Clinton's campaign has significantly impacted her chances of selection, but the discussion is fairly anodyne (except in the blogosphere), with most MSM commentators pointing towards bad advice, her failed rhetoric of being an old hand in politics, and the times she was caught out, particularly in relation to her claims about being under sniper-fire during a visit to Bosnia.

I remain of the opinion that the very fact of Clinton running has probably caused many people in a bunch of places to change their thinking on who can participate in national politics and in what capacity. However I was sent this link to a feminist law professor blog in the States that points out that Clinton has become a lightening rod for a sustained round of misogyny, and speculates that this will now find targets in other women in the political system like Michelle Obama, Barack's wife.

Do I think this is a possible outcome? Hell yes. Do I think that Clinton shouldn't have run or that she's made the situation somehow worse? Hell no. Do I think we need to look at the issues of sexism (and racism) that raised their heads in this campaign? Abso-bloody-lutely. If I had a vote, I wouldn't give it to Clinton, but she put her head over the parapet for this and that's something we should all salute.

12 comments:

jafapete said...

Lyn,
Hillary's holding out for the VP slot, so is not in any hurry to concede. Her main leverage at the moment is that Obama really does need her support to bring the Dems together. If she had come out yesterday supporting Obama’s candidacy and praising him effusively -- as she ought to have -- then she would have lost that leverage. Obama would have been freer to look elsewhere for a running mate. Instead, she made it very clear that she wants the VP slot.

Also, I do think that feminists need to be a bit more careful about usage of "misogyny". Otherwise, what do you call actual misogyny? It's a little like recent use of "awesome" to describe anything remotely impressive.

Yes, Clinton should be saluted for taking politics in the US to the point where a woman could well have won the presidency -- but for a crappy campaign strategy that opened the door for Obama. If she gets the VP slot, Americans may get the chance to salute her soon!

Lyn said...

Jafa - thanks for that.

Am interested in the distinction you draw between misogyny and (presumably) sexism, and in whether it was my use of the word or its use in the blog link you were referring to. What, in your view, should misogyny be reserved to refer to? This is a genuine question - I'm not stirring.

I do think that, Clinton's crap campaign strategy aside, Obama has been able to activate an interest in politics in younger and more marginalised citizens that Clinton perhaps couldn't have because of her age and established position in the general hierachy, but perhaps you would differ on that?

jafapete said...

Lyn,

The OED defines misogyny as "Hatred or dislike of, or prejudice against women." The usual usage is the former, which implies something more than the sort of unthinking sexism which assigns women certain roles and devalues their contribution, etc, while valuing them in other (sexist) ways.

Not surprisingly, the word is not new. According to the OED Thomas Blount defined Misogynie in 1656 in Glossographia as "the hate or contempt of women."

So, if you use the word to describe sexism, how do you define someone who actively hates women? Especially, where to place those women who, having been socialised in a patriarchal society, hold that women should play a limited role? Are they women-haters?

I agree completely with what you say about Obama. Damn, I listened to his whole speech yesterday and almost choked with emotion by the end. But, given the closeness of the final result in terms of committed delegates it must be uncontestable that, had the Clinton campaign taken the Iowa caucuses and certain primaries on and after Super Tuesday more seriously, she'd long since have wrapped up the nomination.

I don't think that it was just her age and establishment position, but her hard-bitten and cynical approach compared to the inspirational, hopeful charismatic offering of her opponent.

If she had Bill's charisma she would have romped home, campaign blunders or no. Bill Clinton was exceptional in that regard, and so is Obama. These people really do only come along once in a blue moon. In sum, Hillary was unlucky to strike Obama, and didn't help herself with her campaign strategy.

Might have to blog on this, myself.

Ari said...

Lyn- I'm pretty much with you here. I'd like to point out that Clinton's not unique- any other woman being the first to run would've created a similar amount of backlash. What's really been disappointing is that many of the commentators on American politics haven't joined in defending her against ridiculously misogynistic insults, like the Hillary Clinton nutcracker.

Jafa- Why ought Hillary to have conceded yesterday? Doesn't she have the right to independently confirm that it's over? Technically, the Republican race is still open, for instance.

As for your definitions of sexism and misogyny- I'd say that sexism is implicitely somewhat misogynistic. It doesn't specifically entail hatred of a specific woman, but it might well imply hatred of the idea of women as full and equal members of a society that ought to no longer be male-centric, and condemnation of women who act independently of men. Those two themes are very much present in many of the attacks against Clinton, and the exhortations for her to drop out.

As for what Clinton did wrong- Clinton actually ran this campaign pretty close, and pretty recently she was claiming to be ahead in the popular vote. She just got burned by Obama dominating caucuses, and the fact that he performed very well with superdelegates. Hillary didn't have a crappy campaign- but she did start off expecting a cakewalk, and got burned for that, and then didn't really address the gender issues that popped up as well as Obama addressed the race issues. If anyone else but Obama had been her main opponent for the nomination, she would have had the nomination wrapped up.

I won't compare her to her husband, because down that road lies very near the point where people start blaming her for what her husband did, and treating them as the same person, or having to have the same views. And that idea annoys me.

jafapete said...

Ari,

Yes, sexism is "implicitly somewhat misogynistic", but that is not the same thing, is it? I suspect a psychologist would baulk at the idea of "hatred of the idea of women as full and equal members of a society", when what we are talking about is beliefs that women are destined to play an inferior role.

But it's up to you. If you want to start substituting one word for the other, fine, It certainly sounds a whole lot more impressive. I'll go along with that. The English language's great strength is its dynamism, after all.

I don't think we really disagree that much about Clinton's campaign, much as you seem to want to believe that. Your statement that, "Hillary didn't have a crappy campaign- but she did start off expecting a cakewalk, and got burned for that..." is self-contradictory. In the context of a primary campaign, you can't start off with incorrect assumptions and give your opponent that much momentum at the outset, especially if it's someone like Obama. And they were caught short after Super Tuesday. That's why their strategist had to fall on his sword. A fatally flawed campaign strategy is a crappy campaign if it finishes up costing you the nomination.

Lyn said...

Jafa - below for your edification is a cut and paste from the blog I mention in my post. I suppose each individual comment could be construed as "sexist", but taken together, they begin to assert a more misogynist picture in my opinion, because they reveal a huge set of assumptions about women that are certainly sexist, but are also used in a misogynist way – and I don’t think it’s that easy to draw the line.

The cut and pasted post is comprised of clipped, linked quotes from other sources. Best to view the original (link is in my post above). Even though it aggregates and takes things out of context, and arguably over-reads certain comments, exactly what are we supposed to make of a Hillary Clinton nut-cracker or the fact that seeing her on TV apparently makes a certain male commentator want to cross his legs? This is a backlash against perceived female authority and the tropes involved are beyond a simple expressed belief that women shouldn't be 'equal'. It reads like war and there is a pretty heavy arsenal involved. A selection from the Feminist Law Professors Blog:

"Hillary Clinton is a bitch. A big ol’ bitchy bitch. And a cunt. A “big fucking whore.” Fortunately, you can “call a woman anything.” She’s “Nurse Ratched.” She’ll castrate you if she gets a chance. She would like that. She’s a “She-Devil.” She’s a madam, and her daughter’s a whore. She’s frigid, and she can’t give head. She’s a “She-Devil.” A lesbian. A nag. When things get tough, she cries like a big dumb GIRL. In fact, she’s just that — a “little girl.” In FACT, she wants to “cry her way to the White House.” To be, ahem, “Crybaby-in-Chief.” That proves that she’s not tough enough. But she’s also not feminine enough. She’s “screechy.” She’s an “aging, resentful female.” She’s “Sister Frigidaire.” She really ought to quit running for President and stick to housework. She basically spent her entire times as First Lady going to tea parties. She’s a monster whojust won’t die. In fact, she really should just die. You can buy a urinal target with her face on it to express what you really think of her. OMG she’s got claws! She’s crazy. In fact, she’s a lunatic. She’s petty and vindictive and entitled. She’s a washed-up old hag. She’s “everybody’s first wifestanding outside probate court.” She’s a “scolding mother.” She’s shrill… shrill… shrill. She can’t take it when people are mean to her. She’s a “hellish housewife.” She’s Tanya Harding. She CAN’T be President, what with the mood swings and the menses.Any woman who votes for her is voting with her vagina, not her brain. Women only like Hillary because she’s a fellow Vagina-American. And because they vote with their feelings. Frankly, anyone who still thinks we need “feminine role models” should get over it and move on, already. Oh, and men who supporters are castratos in the eunuch chorus. You shouldn’t make her President because she wants it too much. She’s totally just banking on support from ugly old feminists. And she looooves to “play the victim.” She cackles! And cackles. And cackles. It’s like she’s a witch or something! She’s definitely“witchy.” And now you can buy her cackle as your ring tone. Her voice, too, is “grating”–like “fingernails on a blackboard” to “some men.” She’s hiding behind her gender. She isn’t a “convincing mom” because she’s too strident. She never did anything on her own. Her husband keeps her on a leash. She hates men. Her campaign is a “catfight.” She makes people want to kill themselves, is like a “domineering mother,” and is cold. And OMG she has boobies! All of which are reasons to hate her. (And boy, could I go on.)"

All of the collected comments above are not formed collectively but they draw on the same assumptions and tropes and meanings - they are rife within our society's ways of doing business. There are limited positions for a woman to fill – Madonna and whore (nothing unusual there). Anything feminine (crying, girlishness, motherhood, having breasts) becomes dirty and tainted in politics and yet politicians are criticised also for not being proper women.

You mention that if Hillary had Bill's charisma then she would have won easily. Tell me a woman in western politics who has ever been perceived as that charismatic. I don't think there's a way we could do that. In India maybe, or Pakistan, but not in the West. Women in power here are always desexualised, resexualised or neutralised, and, let's face it, a lot of Bill's charisma issued directly from his charm. Just ask Jennifer Flowers or Monica Lewinsky. Then ask people if Helen Clark is a lesbian. You know what the answer is going to be.

No one really believes a woman shouldn’t be president, but many of them trot out a lot of reasons to really dislike her, thus helping to preserve the status quo. I’m struggling to locate the line between sexism and misogyny here – it looks to me like one is being used in service of the other.

Ari said...

Jafa- Let me put it this way, shall I? A person who says something sexist two or three times to my knowledge gets the benefit of the doubt, and we assume the instances are isolated. A person who is consistently sexist whenever the conversation turns to gender issues is probably misogynist, but merely does not express those more extreme views in public. I agree that the overlap isn't perfect and there will be times when it's hard to deal with. As for what psychologists think of systemic hatred? I think they know a lot about it ;) There's a lot of overlap between psychology and sociology.

I resist the idea that anyone was to blame for Clinton initially underestimating Obama, and thus criticising her campaign for it is hindsight at best. A black freshman senator from illinois making the nomination? Completely unprecedented. Presidential politics in America has, until this race, been all about experience, there have been no black presidential nominees, and Illinois has not had a presidential nominee since Lincoln. Even though I backed Obama from the start, I knew he would have to upset the current dynamics completely to win- and between doing that and a heavy helping of both misogyny and sexism launched at his chief opponent, he won. The only big flaw in Clinton's campaign was that she didn't address the sexism and misogyny as frankly, early, and decisively as she should have. Everything else was media beat-up or Obama simply running better. I disagree with the notion that someone else running a better campaign than you means your campaign is necessarily flawed- in MMP, for instance, a second-place party can easily form the winning coalition.

Lyn's cut and paste sums up the biggest issue that faced the Clinton campaign quite nicely, I think. If Obama's campaign had to deal with him being lazy, poor, criminal, sinister, scary, etc... as much as Hillary's did, then he could well have lost. And that's what's sad about this primary- he will probably have to deal with a lot more of that for the general election, especially as Bush's biggest attack-dogs have gone over to McCain's campaign now.

jafapete said...

You're right, there's a lot of vile, hateful, misogyny in there. Some of it from MSM commentators and liberal blogs.

It's mixed in with ignorant and sexist remarks, including a disconcerting number from women like Adrianna Huffington ("little girl") and Maureen Dowd, and a bunch of HuffPost contributors, male and female, who really ought to know better.

Stunning when you put it all together.

I guess we'll have to disagree on the Clinton's campaign, Ari.

l_d said...

I think female politicians have to battle the double-hurdle of gaining credibility as a politician which is difficult enough, and then also be credible in the public eye in face of the extra flak of the type that can only be leveled at women seeking powerful positions. All politicians are derided, and suffer indignities expressed about them, but women also have a special category of derogatory reserved for specially for them.

And even when it's not derogatory, it can just be left-of-field and completely irrelevant. I'm thinking of Rosemary McCleod's bizarre piece about Clinton whereby she decided Clinton was doomed because she looked like an old crone in her scarves. Dress sense, too much cleavage, not enough cleavage, barrenness, too much scowling, too pretty to be credible, too ugly to be credible. The list goes on. Poor form I say.

Although, personally, I believe Hillary narrowly missed out on the nomination purely because she wasn't the best candidate. But that is just personal opinion. If sexism played a part in Hillary's campaign, racism would have been present in abundance in Obama's which in a terrible world of prejudices might have left them even.

Ari said...

l_d: Yeah, women as politicians definitely face more scrutiny about their appearance than men do. I think I've said this elsewhere, but it's basically because looking powerful and respectable is viewed as attractive for men, wheras it's still quite polarising for women, and thus they have to balance looking sexual and non-intimidating with looking respectable and in charge.

It's not that the little things like that are big, but it's that she has to face them aaaalll the time, regardless of whether there's a more serious issue for the media to be talking about, and she gets labelled a feminazi or a radical lesbian or an angry bitch if she pushes back too hard. Typical brainless stuff really- and you wouldn't believe how much of that sort of sentiment was attached to the "quit running!" messages sent her way.


On the plus side, apparently Obama is meeting with her today. :> I remain hopeful that the good elements of her campaign will end up amalgamating into his, whether she's VP or senate majority leader or just another senator when the votes are tallied. :)

Lyn said...

l_d - I really think you've nailed it when you talk about the fine line that women have to tread in presentation. I think the West makes it particularly difficult for women in authority to navigate this, but then, at least there haven't been any assassinations as yet (compare Pakistan or India). The misogyny levelled at Clinton has made her harder to like, and in many ways this type of election is a popularity sweepstake.

Ari - I totally agree that misogyny and sexism have had a huge part to play in the way Clinton's campaign went down. It was probably a tactical error not to face them head on, but I guess doing that would have sounded like whining. I too hope that some rapprochement is possible - it might help to get the democrats all pulling in the same direction.

On a slightly different note I do wonder about Clinton's integrity ratings. I think she may have suffered a lot from the sniper-fire incident because it made people wonder what else she was exaggerating or fudging. Personally I have issues with the fact that she never kicked Bill to the curb after that infamous series of infidelities because it seems like she probably made the decision based on what was politically expedient. This didn't really occur to me again until the sniper-fire story.

Ari said...

Lyn- Yeah, whining or angry or uppity- all the words used to dismiss feminism over the ages, huh? =/ Always a risk, but I think addressing it as a complex and nuanced issue that affects men, too, like Obama did with race, could have done some really productive things for her campaign. Alas, Clinton's strength is more in being uncompromising than in drawing in potential allies. We'll get to see soon enough if that would have been a good thing or not.

As for rapprochement? I caught this on Feministe:
http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2008/06/08/good-work-clinton/