Tuesday, February 19, 2008

If Sexism Is Carefully Packaged Does It Cease To Exist?

Here's a statement made by Barack Obama (from Yahoo News):

"I understand that Senator Clinton, periodically when she's feeling down, launches attacks as a way of trying to boost her appeal."

Ann at Feministing doesn't believe this statement which evokes stereotypes about women's moods is as bad as the "Iron my shirt" shouts from protesters because it isn't necessarily planned sexism, but I disagree because those over-the-top protests are less insideous than comments like this which use the power of implication to say something while allowing the speaker of that statement to have plausible deniability.

All the benefits of sexism. None of the accountability.

Women often see this in rape threats that carefully exclude the word rape so the person can claim that the object of the threat is overreacting or delusional or crazy. Women who report these threats to the police often get told there was no rape threat. If we excuse what is implied in statements such as this one made by Obama then we are supporting the making of excuses when what is implied is criminal and clearly threatening.

Negative ads about a candidate are not unique to Hillary Clinton. They are used frequently because political experts believe they work. So why would any logical person assume that these types of ads from a political rival have anything to do with the other candidate's personal mood?

It simply doesn't compute. But like the original Swift Boat ads against John Kerry, accuracy often comes second to success. When a politician can meld routine events with widespread bias against women -- especially when they are in positions of power -- to elicit negative feelings about that rival candidate, too many will do so. Obama has promised to not practice politics as usual, but this is a breach of promise.

Obama's statement is a backhanded and deniable claim that Hillary Clinton is one of "those moody women who isn't trustworthy during certain times of the month."

The proof for me is that the wording of this statement is in no way gender neutral. For someone who has been described as a master speaker using the word "periodically" cannot be viewed as anything other than intentional and filled with sexist induendo.

If I'm wrong and Obama didn't intend this to be a sexist jab then he is the one who launches attacks when he's feeling down over being the subject of negative ads. Notice how the same explanation has different connotations when applied to a man?

Intentional sexist jab or emotional outburst? Neither make him seem like someone who is both masterful and trustworthy. The fact that he is the least sexist man left in the presidential race doesn't make me stand and cheer.

This is about far more than feelings, it is about dismissing women. If Obama becomes president will he dismiss genuine grievances from women over his policies or his decisions because he characterizes them as "feeling down" that he beat out a woman to be president?

I don't know the answer to that question and that worries me. This statement isn't the only reason I have this concern. He dismissed what Hillary Clinton learned during President Clinton's administration by talking about "tea parties." which is a sexist dismissal of what women do when they get together in a social setting.

Correction: Here is what Obama said which evoked the notion of a Hillary Clinton doing nothing more substantial than having tea parties without having to say that explicitly or even to use the name of the person the jab was clearly directed at:

"It's that experience, that understanding, not just of what world leaders I went and talked to in the ambassadors house I had tea with, but understanding the lives of the people like my grandmother who lives in a tiny hut in Africa." (bolding mine)

Men network, women have tea parties.

Rather than being something new or bringing change to political debate this is the same old, same old. If I'm going to get same old, same old I'm not going to buy it from someone who denies that is what they are selling unless all the alternatives are clearly worse.

I've held my nose while voting before and I can do it again, but I would rather not do so.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:56 AM   2 comments links to this post


At February 19, 2008 1:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama also made the following statement in reference to Hillary Clinton: "You challenge the status quo and suddenly the claws come out." (instead of the regular phrase "gloves come off"). That was definitely deliberate too but people are defending his sexism because of the plausible deniability.

At February 20, 2008 12:44 PM, Anonymous Pizza Diavola said...

If Obama becomes president will he dismiss genuine grievances from women over his policies or his decisions because he characterizes them as "feeling down" that he beat out a woman to be president?

That's a large part of what bothers me about all his so-subtle jabs. I don't think Obama will actively dismiss genuine grievances, but I think he will be inclined to let them slide and I deeply distrust anyone who is willing to pander to sexists and dismiss women with sexist attacks that imply Clinton is an emotional crybaby incapable of running the country because she's inherently more emotional than rational. I get that the race is vicious and that it's tempting to do everything you can to win. I don't want to vote for any candidate who'll do that, though, and it's seriously hypocritical for him to position himself as anti-establishment, hopeful politics and then rely on sexist slurs. We all have our baser impulses, but most of us don't broadcast them on a national level. Every time Obama makes a tea party or period crack, he makes it ok for everyone else to do so and reinforces those stereotypes of emotional, incompetent women because if he can do it, then of course it's ok for your average lunkhead on the street to do it, too.


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