Sexism and the campaign

Blogging while I watch the election results come in from New Hampshire.  Clinton’s still leading Obama with a bit under 1/3 of the results in so far.  If she wins, it will be really interesting to see the analyses of why the polling over the last few days was so far off.

The Steinem piece on Hillary has been getting a lot of play today.  I think she’s completely right that Hillary has been the object of a great deal of sexism — from the constant refrain that she’s "shrill" and "strident" to the obsession with her appearance and the damned if you do, damned if you don’t coverage of her emotions.

That said, I do think the campaign has highlighted the degree to which
sexism continues to permeate the environment, at a time when overt
racism has become clearly unacceptable, at least in high-level
politics.  Obama’s been the subject of some nasty anti-Muslim comments
(even though he’s Christian), but other than the people who keep
calling him "articulate",* there’s been very little racism in the
campaign so far.  (But I still think racism probably does more to hold
people back on the US overall than sexism.  Some other day, I need to
blog about the Pew findings on race, gender and intergenerational
mobility)

[CNN just said that their exit polling is showing more support for Clinton from women in NH than they saw in IA.  If so, I think that may well be driven by the blatant sexism of the news coverage of the past few days -- from the headlines, I thought that she had burst into tears and been unable to continue, rather than having a hitch in her voice.]

But I think Steinem’s overstating the degree to which sexism is driving the results so far, as opposed to people’s real enthusiasm for Obama.  Yes, it’s improbable that a woman with Obama’s bio could be a serious candidate for president. But it’s also totally improbably that he’s a serious candidate for president.  And it’s not fair, but that’s part of his appeal.

I also think that when Steinem includes "powerful fathers" along with "sex, race, money.. and paper degrees" in the things that shouldn’t be driving our choices, it’s more than a bit disingenuous for her not to include "famous husbands" in the litany.

*  "Articulate" is a compliment when you’re talking about a teenager, or someone you’re interviewing for their first job.  When applied to an adult who has been elected to political office, it’s either damning with faint praise or code for "he doesn’t sound black."

[AP and CNN are calling New Hampshire for Clinton.  Judging by my disappointment, I'm officially off the fence.]

29 Responses to “Sexism and the campaign”

  1. K Says:

    Although I’m disappointed too…it sure does make for a more interesting race.
    So did you land on the Edwards side of the fence or the Obama side?

  2. bj Says:

    I too am way more disappointed than I’d have thought I’d be. I’m also a bit mad at the attacks from the Clinton camp. As I was driving home this evening, I decided that Clinton would have a hard time getting my money, though she will get my vote, if she wins the nomination.
    I disagree with you that racism doesn’t play a role in the anti-Obama rhetoric, because I think questioning his competence and calling him a pretty boy plays to covert racism in the same way as calling Clinton cold and unfeeling and automatonic plays into covert sexism.
    I am not at all impressed by the Steinem piece. It falls into the Clinton attack camp, and I don’t see why the non-new yorker who won the senate seat in New York was any more qualified than the hypothetical woman eight year state senator who won the senate seat in Illinois.

  3. dave.s. Says:

    Well, I’ve had Clinton Derangement Syndrome for years – about both of them – so I was never anywhere close to the fence. The policy statements she has come up with seem moderately sensible, but I see her as someone who will make everything a battle when it doesn’t have to be, and I don’t want him anywhere near the levers of power ever again. I see her as the second coming of Jimmy Carter. The Brad DeLong discussion of her role in the health care disaster is very persuasive to me. If she or Edwards is the nominee, and McCain is the Reep, I’ll vote for McCain. I would vote for her over Huckabee, though.

  4. Wayne Says:

    Obama seems to me a more powerful orator than the other candidates, and certainly we’ve had a rather inarticulate president for a very long time, so it’s worth noting it in any candidate now. I do see what you’re saying, but hesitate to conclude that noting the quality of his articulation is racist in every instance. It’s a quality less present in the other candidates, and therefore noteworthy.
    But then, I haven’t noted the context in which people are citing Obama’s articulation.

  5. MBooth Says:

    I agree with Wayne. While “articulate” should be a given for our Commander in Chief – its something we have long been lacking, so I don’t think its necessarily a dig or a racist comment. That said – I usually think of articulate as something you hear with surprise said about an athelete – not someone whose primary job is speaking.

  6. bj Says:

    Elizabeth is referring to the conventional wisdom that “articulate” is used primarily to describe black male candidates, and that it reflects a surprise over their articulateness. I think people who don’t know that conventional wisdom might misinterpret.
    Perhaps the more appropriate words to use for Obama would be eloquent, or other words that comment on his relative strength in speaking compared to everyone. Articulate has connotations of comparing a black man to the straw man of inarticulateness (or speaking ebonics, or speaking like a black man).
    But Dave, will you vote for Obama over McCain? I won’t vote for the Republican under almost circumstance (even though I’m starting to develop stronger dislike of Hilary — because of the attacks against Obama than I had before). Almost, ’cause I think no one should ever say never about the future.
    bj

  7. Elizabeth Says:

    What bj said. No one ever called Mario Cuomo or Bobby Kennedy “articulate.” Like them, Obama is eloquent.
    (Did anyone else hear echoes of the St Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V in Obama’s New Hampshire speech?)

  8. jen Says:

    I’m with Wayne on the eloquent thing. Obama is an unbelievable speaker; I have actually heard people compare him somewhat to Dr. King, especially that Iowa victory speech. It is a noteworthy thing to differentiate him from his rivals. He is way, way, way beyond having to prove he just doesn’t “sound black”. (In fact in many ways he’s sounding more black now that he did in the past. He seems to be more openly embracing the black minister style of speaking — and people love it.)
    I would be totally OK not voting for Senator Clinton if I felt the general sexism of the campaign was being dealt with. (In fact, two weeks ago I would have told you I was an Edwards supporter.) But the treatment she’s getting has been too horrible to look past. For example I can’t believe I didn’t hear more about the “Iron My Shirt” incident. I just don’t see where anything short of voting for Senator Clinton will wake people up to the sexism issues and fix some of these problems.
    And can I say that I LOVE the fact that the pollsters and the media were so completely wrong about New Hampshire. If anyone needs to “experience change” in DC, it’s all the media and pollsters. Too bad *they* can’t be voted off the island!!

  9. bj Says:

    PS: I will say I’m not actually arguing that “articulate” in some kind of pure dictionary definition has all those connotations, merely that it does in its current usage, and the impression that it conveys. It’s actually an example of the parallel of the sexism faced by Clinton.
    Jen — I went through the same logic as you — that one had to *vote* for Clinton in order to show to others (and even to ourselves) that we could avoid being influenced by the kind of sexism that pervades people’s impressions of her. But, her attacks against Obama have made me give up that logic. If Obama joined in, and started attacking her fitness for office because of features that result from her being a woman (i.e. more likely to cry, . . . ) I’d have to reconsider. Right now, I feel like she (and her camp, i.e. Steinum) are playing the race v gender card and that makes me so upset at them that I’m actually angry. I have opinions on “which matters more” that are quite complicated and depend on the circumstance, but watching one disenfranchising person attack another makes me so angry because I believe it is so counter productive to the overall goal of enfranchising all of the dispossessed.
    (and, I think it’s hugely counterproductive to weigh the soft bigotry encountered by Obama against the soft gender bias encountered by Clinton).
    bj

  10. Wayne Says:

    I am aware of the conventional wisdom about “articulate,” but the some of the same connotations carry with the word “eloquent.” I didn’t mean to argue with Elizabeth; I understood where she was writing from. I only meant to suggest, rather gently and with some qualification, that many instances of admiring Obama’s speaking style may not be instances of racism, even if the troublesome word “articulate” is used.

  11. Wayne Says:

    To clarify: I can imagine an instance of someone describing Obama as “eloquent” and meaning “for a black man.” Semantics doesn’t save you from being racist — something like that?

  12. bj Says:

    I’m channeling the New York Times editorial page (and I hadn’t read it yet):
    “Unite, Not Divide, Really This Time”
    [In the days before the voting, Mrs. Clinton and her team were so intent on talking about how big a change a woman president would be — and it surely would — that some of her surrogates even suggested that it would be a more valuable change than an African-American president. Mrs. Clinton managed to energize the women’s vote in New Hampshire to win the contest, but the Democratic Party should be celebrating its full diversity, a refreshing and notable difference from the field of Republican contenders.]
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/09/opinion/09wed1.html?ex=1357621200&en=212c0077fb157369&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

  13. Christine Says:

    The way Edwards and Obama tried to bully Clinton during New Hampshire’s debate came off really negative to me. They may have done it because she is a threat for votes, but it just felt like two men bullying a woman. The fact that she succeeded in dealing with their tactic proves to me she is all the more able to take office and the criticism that goes along with it.
    If Obama wins the democratic primaries and does not pick Clinton as V.P. I will not vote for him. I may vote republican depending on who is running or abstain from voting at all. A Clinton/Obama team would be phenomenal. They both need to realize that they need each other to win the presidency. Race and gender together are a powerful combo.

  14. Christine Says:

    This is off on a tangent, but did anyone see the cable news (CNN, Fox) stories on Obama’s family in Kenya? It was baffling to me on how it attempts to reflect racial history in America. The plantation imagery was mind boggling. Yet, civil rights is ignored because, from the articles I read he really was not an active participant in that era due to his age. If someone were to talk pointedly at how Hillary and women in her family overcame limitations placed on women the media would be in an uproar that she is playing the gender card.

  15. bj Says:

    How did Hillary and women in her family overcome limitations placed on women because of their gender? Wasn’t she a highly capable woman who did what highly capable women have always done? Hitch their ride with a husband who was a rising star? I went to an an elite all girls school where a speaker (old style feminist speaker) scandalized the school and the girls by telling us that we needed to learn about the world because “even though we might not have power, we’d be likely to sleep with power” and would have our influence on the world through our choice of mates. That didn’t mean that we weren’t highly capable, so I’m not using it to allege that Hillary is unqualified, and I think she would make a perfectly good president. But, she did fight the battle to power by picking the right man (and sticking with him through thick and thin), not through some other mysterious force.
    I’m starting to act a lot more bitter about Hillary than I actually feel, because I believe that we have been drawn into comparing gender and race, and am attributing that to Hillary, rather than Barack.
    The NYT editorial suggested that most of the Democrats in Iowa liked all of their candidates, but just picked one. I hope that no one’s behavior (I see Hillary’s as doing so — interesting that Christine saw Barack & John ganging up on Hillary; I didn’t watch the debate, so can’t comment on that) is changing that because it will only result in damaging all the Democrats.
    (Also, I don’t think that Clinton would accept the VP spot. It’s too reminiscent of Mondale/Ferraro and she wouldn’t want to be VP. Don’t know about Obama, and whether he’d accept the VP spot).
    bj

  16. Christine Says:

    BJ, I disagree with you on what highly capable women due. I am trying not to get personal, but I came from a middle class family and happened to fall in love with someone who, although came from middle class, happens to make alot of money. I am consistently discriminated in the workplace due to this factor. As well as having to put up with comments from friends on how good I have it. People criticize Hillary for staying with Bill, even though this is what Christianity taught me one is supposed to do. Also, let’s keep in mind that marrying for love is a very modern and free-thinking idea. Historically and in some parts of the world marriage is an arranged relationship.

  17. bj Says:

    I really want to remain non-bitter about Hillary’s candidacy. So, I didn’t actually mean that she chose marrying Bill as her route to success. In fact, in my collection of things I like about Hillary is a quote about her, where she’s asked by her Yale friends something to the effect of why she’s “following that hick to Arkansas”, and she answers that she loves him.
    So I don’t think Hillary married Bill counting on one day being the first First Lady candidate for the presidency. Bill was a pretty impressive twenty-five year old, but I’m pretty sure that she couldn’t have guessed that he’d be the first two term democratic president in a gazillion years. What I am saying is that she’s where she is right *now* because of who she fell in love with. I think she’s an impressive person, and in an alternate history, she might still be running for President, but her path to this version of history is a fortunate marriage. I don’t think we can learn from her how a woman navigates to the pinnacles of power by leaving that fact out (Steinem’s disengenuity in leaving out “powerful husbands” while including “powerful fathers.”)
    And I don’t want to pit race against gender (though maybe we’ll hear Elizabeth’s views some day).

  18. dave.s. Says:

    It kind of baffles me why people keep suggesting that either Obama or Clinton would be well served to pick the other – or Edwards – for Veep. The resume of each is weakest in experience actually running things, dealing with a legislature from within an administration. Clinton’s only attempt there was the appalling failure on health care, Obama has not even that. So I think either would be best served to pick someone who brings successful experience – and that suggests (to me, at least) a governor or a mayor. The Dems have some governors who might bring something to the ticket – Rendell, Bredesen. If he wanted to make some grand bipartisan gesture, Bill Weld. The prior governor of Washington state did a nice job, Gary Locke. Granholm’s not available because she was born in Canada (nor is Schwarzenegger, again in the grand bipartisan gesture theme).

  19. Elizabeth Says:

    See, I could write for the Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/10/us/politics/10women.html

  20. bj Says:

    Indeed you could (write for the NYT) :-)
    Dave: I think part of the trend towards expecting one candidate to pick another as a VP is that we Dems actually really like them all. So, we’re playing a bit of classroom politics of trying to get the winners to share with the losers (kind of like we might with our kids in a classroom). Also, if folks are thinking along those lines, it forces them to be more civil and kind to each other. If they’re expecting that after all is done, they’re going to work together, not against each other, they’ll behave better now. We don’t want to see any of the contenders torn down by the primary battle, because we’re hoping for a united front come the fall. What I want most of all out of the primary battle is for these folks who I generally respect to imply or say, or allow their supporters to say, that the other is unworthy or incapable.
    (Oh, and we don’t actually know who else to consider, if we’re not political junkies.)

  21. jen Says:

    As of this morning, I’m officially concerned that the Democratic party is fragmenting. There’s a piece in the NYT about South Carolina blacks responding negatively to Senator Clinton’s comments about the civil rights era. This on top of Senator Obama’s comments about Clinton being “likeable enough” to me show that if this doesn’t get under control we’re going to splinter, and perhaps not recover.
    Who do I call to insist on everyone uniting right now???? Can we just agree as to who’s going to be the vp and who gets the big chair, before we shoot ourselves in the foot? Because I think most of us would love to see the combination of both the first woman and the first african-american rising to this level. Particularly Obama, who prides himself on a different kind of politics, should show us how he can help us all heal these divides.

  22. Christine Says:

    Jen, I would not worry too much. After watching the ‘same old speeches’ given during the South Carolina republican debate last night I feel pretty confident a Dem will be in office next January.

  23. bj Says:

    I think the essential thing is to remember that we like the other person, too, even while supporting the candidate we prefer. I keep trying to remind myself of this as I get angry about the behavior of the campaigns (mostly directed at the Clinton campaign right now).

  24. W Says:

    What’s interesting to me is Clinton as a case study in how far we’ve come and how far we’ve still got to go. I had dinner with my boss last week who was telling stories of discrimination she faced as journalist in the early 70s — getting in trouble for wearing pants in newsroom, not being given the police beat because she was a woman (and told that point blank). I think those experiences created a whole group of women who got ahead by being as tough as nails (Clinton, Martha Stewart, etc.), and now the rules have changed again and being tough as nails isn’t enough. You’ve also got to “show emotion.” When has a male candidate ever needed a teary moment to get votes? I’m still on the fence, and really would be fine supporting Clinton, Obama or Edwards. But the sexism of the race does have me leaning Clinton to make a point.

  25. dave.s. Says:

    bj, I’m not a Dem – I vote sometimes for one party, sometimes the other, occasionally for a credible independent. I DON’T like all 3 – I like Obama okay, and I dislike Clinton and Edwards. I got a severe case of Clinton Derangement Syndrome during his/their administration, over the usual list – the Travel Office, the remarkable success in options, the bimbo eruptions. And there was her ham-handed failure on health care. So I don’t want either one of them anywhere near the Oval Office again. Edwards seems to me to be running on cheap and hostile anti-capitalism.
    I have no idea how many like me there are, but it seems that if there are many of us, running Obama would be a way to lure more independents to vote Dem. That said, if the Reeps actually run Huckabee and the Dems Hillary, I will hold my nose and vote for Clinton, unless Bloomberg runs..

  26. bj Says:

    Dave: thanks for answering the question! I’m a pretty partisan Dem, who would find very few circumstances in which the Republican would seem like a viable choice. So, it’s interesting to hear what voters who actually do switch allegiances think.
    But, although I can see reasons why an independent would be troubled by Clinton (i.e. the Clinton history) and by Edwards (the populism), what does an independent _like_ about Obama?
    I’ve drunk the Obama kool aid, and am mostly trying to make sure that I don’t start disliking the others. But, I’d like to hear what a non partisan sees in Obama.
    bj

  27. dave.s. Says:

    bj – I’m not so much a non partisan as an anti partisan. I really dislike both parties, and think that they encourage their members to put party interests above national interest. One of the most trenchant recent examples: revolted by Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay and their gang of kleptocrats, the voters gave the Congress to the Dems and were rewarded with – Murtha and his favor bank. And Pelosi, who enabled this, is getting the ratings she deserves for it. Meanwhile, worthless crap research which our military doesn’t need is being done in Murtha’s district instead of Duke Cunningham’s. This was not progress. We see the Dems casting their lot with the teacher’s unions whenever those interests run contrary to those of inner city children. Everybody seemed happy to keep the housing gravy train rolling, though it was obvious at the time that this was one of those economic phenomena which could not go on forever, and when it stopped there would be trouble.
    What I like about Obama is that he shows openness to the arguments of all sides, and to hoping to find a way that most folks can be happy going forward. NOT the goal, in the immortal words of Conan the Barbarian: “Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women. Mongol General: That is good!” I see Clinton as a Conan, and Edwards very much so, as are most of the Reeps. I’m a sucker for an anti-Conan. Of course, George W. advertised himself as an anti-Conan, as well…

  28. Christine Says:

    W, I have also been thinking the same thing in terms of how far we have to go. The other day I was thinking about when Katie Couric left Today for CBS and how much criticism was directed at her by the media. I have been drawing alot of connections to comments against Couric and Clinton. When I think about that I start to agree with Bill Clinton on how no one was questioning Obama’s experience. If he gets the nomination he will have to explain it sooner or later against the republicans, because his lack of experience will be the repubican’s arguement against him.

  29. dave.s. Says:

    bj, this is about politicians in purple states who think independents are more likely to warm to Obama than Clinton.
    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0108/7892.html

Leave a Reply