sexism and presidential politics

2012 Republican Presidential Candidates

Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr

If there is one thing I hate, it’s defending the less defensible of my gender from sexism. In the wake of the apparent upcoming tug of war for the hearts and minds of conservative leaning voters that pundits feel certain that Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann will wage, the stereotypes fly about in the thick and annoying manner of mosquitos on an Alberta late May evening.

The Huffington Post referenced it as “the battle of the Snooki’s” and I stumbled across a blog whose author believes that both Sarah and Michele are hot enough to settle their differences in bikinis and a mud pit.

A friend posted a reference to their combined, and supposed, brainlessness to her Facebook status that elicited a lot of yuks, but I just cringe and sigh.


Because even though there are easily just as many male politicians with batshit crazy ideas in the GOP, they are seldom the butt of jokes that infer that their gender is to blame.

It’s a given that women in the public spotlight, and especially those that dare to seek political office, can be taken down via their appearance, attacks on their single, married, mother or not choices, and by insinuating that their extra X exerts a difficult for them to control influence over emotions and their ability to think. Men are seldom, if ever, held to such stringent accounts. And so even if Palin and Bachmann are intellectually deficient, and I don’t believe that based on their levels of success, unless the same measures of fitness are applied to male candidates as well, this is not a good plan of attack for those opposed to either woman making a showing in the coming 2012 primary season.

The reason I feel this way is simple. Whatever modus operandi is sanctioned for use against them will be used again and again in the future. It will deter women from entering politics and marginalize or sink those that do.

And Palin and Bachmann are credible threats even if you don’t think much of them, their politics or the religious, conservative and very white-power oriented views they represent. What they are pushing sells and given the dire straits of many Americans – particularly the white working class which feels increasingly left behind and victimized – allowing them, Palin especially, a legitimate access to playing the victim role, is bad strategy.

Underestimating women seeking power roles, in my experience, nearly always bites back hard. Make no mistake that both Palin and Bachmann are in politics for what it brings them and not what they can do for their country, and people like that should be taken seriously.

In response to my lament about Hillary Clinton’s souring bid for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency, a fellow blogger reminded me that this is not the first time women have been asked to step aside and let black men go first. When it became clear to the women working feverishly for the Abolitionist cause in the mid-1800’s that women were equally disenfranchised in their own country, and they wanted to link their cause with that of the slaves, Horace Greeley had this to say to them, “Remember that this is the Negro hour and your first duty is to go through the state and plead his claims.” Wow. Even before there were buses women were already sitting in the back, doing our duty. Greeley might as well have said “the Negro man’s hour” because he surely didn’t mean black women any more than he thought about the rights of white ones.


Newsweek devoted much of its current issue (March 17th) to the fact that it was/is women who are keeping Sen. Clinton’s presidential hopes alive. They called it a “backlash”. If it is, and I don’t doubt that, it won’t be enough because it is mainly older women who are indignant. Young women foolishly buy into the  “you’ve come a long way baby” myth. Apparently all it takes to satisfy a twenty-something female is her right to dress provocatively without being called into question by her peers and the illusion that the playing field has been beaten into submission even though very little has changed since I was in high school in terms of women in the workplace or the household or in intimate relationships. We are still very much doing our duty in all the aforementioned areas. So it’s not much of a surprise that they truly see another man in office as change just because he is black. Mostly, I think, they are just used to being told that it is. They are a generation raised to be superficial and as instantly gratified as possible and conduct most of their relationships from a distance thanks to Al Gore and Steven Jobs. People like this aren’t going to find a grandma as president as exciting as a good-looking middle-aged black man.


As a matter of explanation for their magazine’s stance, the Newsweek’s Editor, John Meachem, wrote a piece explaining how he reached the decision to devote so much print to the idea that sexism is one of the real reasons Clinton is struggling. He was reminded by a number of female staffers that the Senator is being treated by the press and her two main opponents, Obama and McCain, in a way that would not be tolerated if she were a black or Jewish man. Obama has accused Clinton of being on the attack when she “is feeling down” as though calling your opponent on issues is something that only female politicians do when they are suffering from PMS. McCain was asked how he planned to “beat the bitch” and instead of calling the questioner on the pejorative, this father of four girls let that little word go. Because “bitch is the new black” according to SNL’s Tina Fey, and she’s right. Women who don’t stay in their God designated spot in the back of the bus and let the men do whatever it is men do when they are questing for power and self-acclamation and following their destinies, these women are bitches. Right? If someone were to sling the “N” word at Obama, it would make the front page of every paper in the world, but men in New Hampshire can catcall Clinton at a rally with “Iron my shirts” and the press ignores it. They ignore the fact that Clinton has to prove she is strong and by doing so she is calculating and unlikable, but Obama and McCain had the testosterone things covered at conception, so they can be charismatic and feisty.


So it is once again the black man’s turn. The man’s turn. Because if you think Michelle would have even been given the chance her husband was, think again. Or better yet, watch a rap video and really listen to the lyrics if you can do that at the same time your mind is reeling from the misogynistic images being seared so deeply on your mind’s eyeball that you’ll need a large spork to dig them out.


Anna Quindlen has an excellent essay on the whole “second” thing. Only in America can a woman as vice-president be seen a victory by young women and men. The former because they are so easily placated with tokenism, and the latter because with luck they can breathe easy for another eight years.


If Clinton weren’t a capable candidate, I could go along with the party line on Obama even though he is mild and status quo and nakedly ambitious. He learned nothing in the Senate except how to play the game from the ultimate insiders but he couldn’t do worse the current administration. But she is capable. She is experienced. She would do a good job. And the fact that she represents me, a woman, is more than icing on the cake. It is ice cream too. I want my cake with ice cream, and I’ll be sitting in the front of the bus while I eat it.