Wednesday, January 9, 2008

It's time to have a talk (aka LALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU)

Ever since I saw this piece by Gloria Steinem about Hillary Clinton and the role of sexism in her campaign, I have been passing it around to friends. Well, after reading this piece by Angry Black Bitch and scrolling through the comments accompanying the post, I have to say I'm completely ashamed I didn't give more thought to Steinem's piece.

I know where Steinem's piece came from. As I glance around on the internet this morning, I see a lot of backlash against Clinton taking the form of sexist attacks. And that makes me angry, sad, and afraid.

However, even with Steinem's disclaimer that she knows all about the intersections of racism and sexism, the article still reads like this: "Obama, as a black man, has an easier time getting the democratic nomination than Clinton, as a white woman." This is a dangerous game because even as Steinem's disclaimer sits there shouting about how tangled up identities are, the rest of her article claims to separate out identities so neatly that supporting Clinton is supporting the (mythical single) cause of all women/feminism. This game is going to lead to a lot of shouting, a lot of deeply hurt feelings, and absolutely no resolution.

I am all for having discussions about the intersections of race and gender and I'm not about to tell people when they can and cannot have these discussions. I am just not looking forward to having this "discussion" played out on the national stage through presidential primaries and the subsequent presidential race. I'm apprehensive about this, mainly because I don't think it will be a discussion at all. Discussion requires an attempt to understand another person's opinion. I don't know if you've been on the internet lately, read a newspaper, turned on your television or radio, or stepped outside, but there's not a lot of that going on.

I see a lot of conversations about who the candidates are in these terms: Clinton is a woman, Obama is black, Huckabee is a preacher, Romney is rich, Kucinch/Paul are the outsiders. These handles tell us something about the candidates, but not much. The also tell us something about the candidates' supporters, but, again, not much. And I think, perhaps, they disguise a lot more than they tell. We are told again and again that voters care more about superficial aspects than they do about the "issues." Even when we care about the issues, our interest can supposedly be summed up in one easy phrase, "Change." How are voters supposed to care deeply about the issues when we are force-feed this cliff-note version of things? What does change mean? What do we mean when we say people support/don't support Clinton because she's a woman? What do we think being "a woman" means? What do we think being black means? What do we think being an white means? What do we think being rich means? What do we think being an outsider means? What do we think "we" or "the nation" means? WHAT ARE ALL THESE WORDS CODE FOR?


lauren said...

right. yeah, what steinem should have focused on instead is not that obama is black and that hillary is a woman and hillary has it harder which shows its harder for women than black mean, but that the fact that hillary is a woman gets negative attention at all is fucked up and sexist. and that while its great, fantastic, if a little difficult to take sincerely, that white news anchors are so careful not to mention obama's blackness in any sort of negative way, that they do the same with hillary's gender. in an ideal world, neither would be used against them, and both would talked about in terms of what that candidates gender/race means in terms of the perspective they have to offer as a presidential candidate. and if it tells us anything, it tells us that perhaps blatant racism is less acceptable than blatant sexism in the current media climate. for whatever reason.

Shark-fu said...

Thank you.

maiaoming said...

Great post.
a) One of the annoying things about making it all about gender/race is that then you can't just say, Gee, I don't like her personality, or Hey, he's not that great a speaker as they say...
b) I DO think that, at least for now, the media 'take' on Clinton - like on her crying - shows that her gender, whether they explicitly say so or not, is at the forefront of minds - contrasting Clinton and Obama, it's easy for men to give Obama a historical heritage - JFK, MLK Jr - but they have no idea what kind of mantle a WOMAN has. So in that way, I agree with Steinem, even if that seems really crazy-heinous to do.
c) Even if people aren't explicitly talking about Obama's race, you know that there's plenty who still wont' actually VOTE for him b/c of it.

drh said...

Of course blatant racism is unacceptable in the current media climate. That's obvious--and if Obama wins the nomination we'll see how trepidatious the Republicans' campaign will be, because god forbid they be accused of racism in any attack on Obama, but if Clinton wins the nomination no one will shy from asking the offensive question "Can a woman be a good President????"

On a certain level I think Steinem is right that sexism is still much more prevalent than many of us care to admit, but at the same time, maybe things are better off because at least it can be talked about more openly than race and racism in American life. So many WHITE Americans want so desperately to pretend that racism doesn't exist anymore can't bring themselves to talk about it honestly, and can't even see what's going on around them.

At a certain level, this election has left me deeply conflicted, because like you said, what do all of these codes mean?, and I feel like the democratic nomination has come down to being forced to pick a candidate not on the issues or who appeals to me personally, for my own reasons, but to the symbolic importance of my choice. Do I support Clinton because she is a woman and so am I? What would it say if I supported Obama (or not)? If I happen to like Edwards am I sellout on multiple levels because he is a rich, white, man?

drh said...

Oh, and I just have to mention how MAD IT MAKES ME to see a video clip of a female voter in New Hampshire asking Clinton how she gets ready in the morning....WTF??

Okay, I realize that is a personal question that can humanize a candidate but give me a freakin' break. "Mr. Obama! How long does it take you to pick out your tie in the morning? Do you struggle with your wardrobe choices?"