Wednesday, August 17, 2016
The coming season of the witch
Michelle Cottle in the Atlantic has an insightful piece up about what's going to happen if Clinton wins in the fall. Let's just say that it's not going to be an easy time for feminists who write about politics. (Indeed, it's already been pretty damned awful.) This is an excerpt but I urge you to read the whole thing:
A Clinton victory also promises to usher in four-to-eight years of the kind of down-and-dirty public misogyny you might expect from a stag party at Roger Ailes’s house.
Here's some testimony from a woman who's been there:
You know it’s coming. As hyperpartisanship, grievance politics, and garden-variety rage shift from America’s first black commander-in-chief onto its first female one, so too will the focus of political bigotry. Some of it will be driven by genuine gender grievance or discomfort among some at being led by a woman. But in plenty of other cases, slamming Hillary as a bitch, a c**t (Thanks, Scott Baio!), or a menopausal nut-job (an enduringly popular theme on Twitter) will simply be an easy-peasy shortcut for dismissing her and delegitimizing her presidency.
Either way, it’ll be best to brace for some in-your-face sexist drivel in the coming years. Despite progress in the business world, women as top executives still prompt an extra shot of public scrutiny. (Just ask Marissa Mayer or Sheryl Sandberg or Carly Fiorina.) And just as Barack Obama’s election did not herald a shiny, new post-racial America, Clinton’s would not deliver one of gender equality and enlightenment. So goes progress: Two steps forward, one step back(lash). As the culture changes, people resent that change and start freaking out, others look to exploit their fear, and things can turn really, really nasty on their way to getting better.
Raw political sexism is already strutting its stuff. At Donald Trump’s coming-out party in Cleveland, vendors stood outside the Quicken Loans Arena hawking campaign buttons with whimsical messages, such as “Life’s a Bitch—don’t vote for one” and “KFC Hillary Special: Two fat thighs, two small breasts… left wing.” One popular T-shirt featured a grinning Trump piloting a Harley, grinning as Hillary tumbled off the bike so that you could read the back of Trump’s shirt: “IF YOU CAN READ THIS, THE BITCH FELL OFF.”
The home-crafted humor was equally tasteful, like the guy in a Hillary mask brandishing a large “Trump vs. Tramp” sign or (my personal favorite) the conventioneer who put together an elaborate “Game of Thrones”-themed ensemble incorporating a life-sized, inflatable Hillary doll—naked, of course.
Social media is awash in references to Clinton as a bitch, among less-flattering terms. “Trump that Bitch!” T-shirts are this season’s must-have couture at Trump rallies. And how about the tween boy yelling, “Take the bitch down!” at a recent Trump event in Virginia? Pure class.
It would be nice to think that this is all merely a heat-of-the-campaign thing—that if Hillary wins in November, the baser attacks will fade, and she will be treated with a smidge more respect. Fat chance. (Just ask Obama how that panned out for him.) “It will probably become even more overt the more power she attains because the more threatening she is,” predicted Farida Jalalzai, a political scientist at Oklahoma State University who focuses on gender. “People will have no problem vilifying her and saying the most misogynistic things imaginable.”
“The broader problem is that it is just a lazy way, an easy way” to dismiss one’s political adversary, asserted Julia Gillard, who got up close and personal with this phenomenon during her time as the first woman prime minister of Australia.
I can guarantee it will be worse for Clinton. The years of vilifying her along with the reversion to negative archetypal assumptions among a whole lot of Americans of all political stripes is going to make this really ugly. Misogyny and sexism are still so completely acceptable in society that people simply don't recognize when they're doing it.
As head of the Australian Labor Party, Gillard served as prime minister from 2010 to 2013. Her tenure was turbulent and notable for what Gillard termed in her exit speech the “gender wars.” What surprised the former PM most about the experience: that the sexist attacks grew worse as her time in office progressed. “I expected the maximum reaction to my being the first woman prime minister to come in the first few months,” she told me. “What I found living through the reality was that the sort of gendered stuff actually grew over time” as she tackled tough policy decisions. (Gillard too was derided as a “menopausal monster.”)
Gillard recalled a particularly galling episode stemming from her 2011 announcement of a controversial carbon tax and trading scheme. Thousands of protesters showed up outside Parliament House toting signs with charming messages like “Ditch the Witch” and “JuLIAR—Bob Browns [sic] Bitch.” (Brown was the leader of the Green Party.) Rather than denouncing or ignoring the slurs, the head of the opposition party, Tony Abbott, gamely used the signs as a backdrop for delivering an anti-tax address. (Later, on the floor of parliament, Gillard delivered a takedown of Abbott’s behavior that became known as “the misogyny speech” and turned her into a global celebrity.)
Gillard detected subtler differences in treatment as well. For instance, she recalled, the state-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation did a comedy about her prime ministership. “They chose bizarrely, in my view, to finance a comedy where an impersonator played me,” said Gillard, noting that this was something not done for any other prime minister before or since.
It is, in fact, the subtler, “more insidious gender negativity,” that worries Stony Brook’s Huddy. “There will be concern about outright gender discrimination, but we can call people on that. Then it moves into more subtle realms,” she said. “There are plenty of gender stereotypes still available to say, ‘Maybe a woman isn’t up to this.’” (You know the routine: She’s not a strong leader. Or, She’s too abrasive and aggressive.) These sorts of messages can erode “mainstream” opinion, even those inclined to support gender equality, said Huddy.
“People can play into stereotypes very much associated with gender without saying, ‘Oh, she must be having her period,’” agreed Rutgers’s Dittmar. They raise vague issues about a woman leader’s strength or likability or even age and health, she said, “to tap into those persistent gender stereotypes and norms and raise doubts in the broader public.”
A small example of mindless sexism and mindful feminism:
“You’re the first person to ever win two Olympic tennis gold medals, that’s an extraordinary feat, isn’t it?” he asked the Wimbledon champion.
Murray, with a smirk, responded: “Well to defend the singles title, I think Venus and Serena have won about four each … it’s obviously not an easy thing to do and I had to fight unbelievably hard to get it tonight as well.”
Thank you Andy Murray.
Sadly, as usual, women will be dismissed for point these things out. It would be nice if we could count on progressive men to do what Andy Murray did in that exchange. We live in hope.
digby 8/17/2016 03:00:00 PM