Friday, June 06, 2008

Bye Bye Hillary, Hello Sexism

With Hillary Clinton out of the race, we can finally focus on Obama and winning the White House. I am thrilled to have Obama as the Democratic candidate for President, but I am still sore about the lessons I have learned from this primary season. What was made evident to me was how pervasive and appalling sexism is in this country. I have never felt an occasion as great as this past Democratic primary to renew my commitment to feminism and educating young women about the ill effects of sexism on their futures.

Sitting around the table with some good friends a few nights ago, I finally exploded with anger about how disgusting Clinton was treated--not only by the press--but by other women and feminists. There was never a moment during her entire campaign where gender was not an issue and used in some way to discredit her. Sure, the sexism brought out many female supporters, but the damage it did not only to her--but to all women--will linger for quite some time.

Gloria Steinem (in)famously asked why the sex barrier was not taken as seriously as the race barrier? I think perhaps she didn't push this point further. There is no way, for example, that you would've seen a political cartoon representing Obama with overt racist overtones the way Pat Oliphant painted Hillary Clinton in this cartoon:

Even if I concede that Hillary made some really bad moves during her campaigning or that her tactics were ugly, that would never justify sexism--EVER. And, the take away message I got from this campaign was that any woman seeking positions of power and authority can expect heaps and piles of unforgivable sexist treatment--references to feminine weakness or manipulative tactics, bitchiness, ball breaker, emotionalism . . . the script is there to turn not just men, but all sorts of women, against other women who wish to seek positions of power.

I remember vividly something my Political Science prof told me when I was an undergraduate. She was discussing what can often happen to women in politics--that they have to play like men to achieve powerful and prominent posts and that they either leave behind their feminist ambitions to change institutions or they alienate themselves from other women. I doubt that Hillary has given up her feminist ambitions. But, I do think that the kind of person she had to make herself into to compete with men in powerful positions ticked off more than one woman. She has been paying FOREVER for her "baking cookies" comment, for example. And, I have always found it interesting that she made the comment. Why? Because, well, let's face it, that is still what we expect a First Lady to do in 2008.

I have also been appalled by fellow feminists criticizing Hillary for "staying with Bill" or "being too masculine." Shame on you! When I hear these sorts of comments coming from other feminists, I can't help but shudder at the numbers of angry and moralistic types that fill the pews of feminism. I may be rare or a dying breed, but I still believe that feminism is aimed at fighting sexism in all of its forms and helping to promote a world where a woman is judged as a person. Hell, feminism should, in part, be aimed at making it possible for a woman to be mediocre at a job (just like many men are), to be allowed to make foolish decisions (just like men are), and to project herself in any manner without being penalized and punished for not being "feminine."

As I write this, I still feel angry and depressed about how shitty we are about gender in this country. I fully acknowledge that we have made a lot of progress. But, I am not at all optimistic that my daughter can avoid the bullshit that most women have to navigate daily to succeed. I don't want her to be considered a ball breaker or ruthless if she is ambitious. I don't want her to be seen as unfeminine if she doesn't delight in pink, stroking male egos, or typical feminine pursuits. And, PLEASE, I wish she didn't have to endure some young boy or man telling her one day that she is on the "rag" if she is upset. I know that I have my work cut out to not let her be crushed by the variety of messages out there designed to lower the self esteem of women and girls. I cannot protect her from it. And, no doubt she will have to struggle with self esteem issues like so many young girls and women do.

I will continue to admire Hillary for staying in this race, for making her case, for trying to achieve the highest office in this country--all against the back drop of crushing sexism that most women would refuse to face.