I don't like Hillary Clinton. Does that mean I'm a sexist?
Sweeping misogyny charges by Clinton supporters are insulting, corrosive, patronizing and counter-productive.
An all-too-common theme we hear from supporters of Hillary Clinton is that the opposition to her results from misogyny. Sometimes we’re told this in just those words, and other times the charge masquerades behind sentiments that are intended to read as more affirming, like we see in the meme to the right here. (Similar sentiments and representations can be found employing Michelle Obama as the subject.)
Three things must be noted.
1: There is no doubt that much, if not most, of the Hillary hate in America is driven by misogyny. We live, as so many of our conservative neighbors point out, in a Christian nation, and regardless of your personal beliefs, it is impossible to argue (with a straight face, anyway) that our Christian history and culture has been positive on the question of gender equity. Not only is Clinton a woman, she is, from this perspective, the worst possible kind of woman: uppity, strong, accomplished, powerful, “shrill,” “bitchy,” and of course, “liberal.” She does not know her place. (That she isn’t actually liberal is beside the point.)
Eight years of Obama taught us – if we didn’t know already – how badly America hates black people. A Clinton presidency would teach us – if we don’t know already – just how deep our collective woman problem runs.
So when you blame sexism, in the aggregate, for the vitriol aimed at Clinton, you are probably right. Very right. You may be even 90% right.
2: Sadly, this is not only true where conservatives are concerned, it’s probably true for too many on the progressive side of the aisle. I don’t personally know any of the hateful Sanders-supporting assholes in the comment threads of the world, but I have seen said comment threads and I know they exist. These people disgust me, and I hope sincerely that they represent only a very small minority of those who oppose Clinton from the left.
I don’t know what they are, but they aren’t progressives, and I don’t want them on my side.
3: However, there are many, many reasons to dislike Clinton the candidate that have zero to do with her gender. I recently outlined a few of them in a post here at S&R, and a little casual research on your own will reveal that there are many, many more.
But despite this, am I maybe still a sexist?
Well, heck. I mean, I was raised in an extremely sexist culture (working class rural South in the 1970s) and I don’t think it’s possible, no matter how hard you try, to ever 100% scrub that filth out of your brain. My friend and fellow S&R contributor Otherwise says he thinks we’re all at least a little bit racist, and probably sexist, too, and he may be right.
(If you’ll forgive a brief semiotic digression, I have to observe that if everyone is racist/sexist, then the term no longer has the power to denote anything. Which means we have to use the terms to describe those who are more racist/sexist than the basic default. </digression>)
Here’s the thing.
- My preferred candidate for 2016 wasn’t Bernie Sanders. It was Elizabeth Warren.
- If Clinton wins the nomination, I am seriously considering voting instead for Jill Stein of the Green Party.
- Neither has a Y chromosome.
I’m not alone, either. If you poll the ranks of Sander supporters, I suspect that “preferred Warren” and “may vote for Stein” are relatively common opinions. I personally know multiple people who fit each category (and maybe both).
Now, I spent a lot of years in academia and have seen some remarkable ideological gymnastics, so I will not put it past you to argue that my preference for two women over a third makes me a misogynist. But I don’t think most intelligent people would find that credible.
If I’m correct in my reasoning, what does it mean for our current campaign?
I pay attention to rhetoric. We may commonly think of language as a simple way of communicating, but in truth it does far more than just transport ideas from one brain to another. Rhetoric is a tool for the exercise of power, and it can be used to oppress as well as uplift, to misinform as well as inform and mislead as well as illuminate. I note this because of the cynical way in which much of what we get from the Clinton camp, their surrogates and followers, is being used to distract us from the point with subtle emotional misdirections that are corrosive and in places amount almost to bullying.
The meme above? If weak men fear strong women and you don’t like Hillary, then … what does that mean about you? It’s sort of like the old case with “Japan-bashing.”
The term was first coined in the early 1980s by Robert C. Angel, a paid lobbyist for the Japanese government. At the time, Angel was president of the Flag of Washington, D.C..svg Washington-based Japan Economic Institute, an organization financed and overseen by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Wanting to counter growing US protectionism and suspicion at the time about the growing Japanese economy and their rapid entry into consumer electronics, the US automotive market and buying of number of high profile US companies and buildings, Angel searched for a way to discredit Japan critics by insinuating their criticism was based on racism and xenophobia. “I looked around for a phrase to use to discredit Japan’s critics,” Angel later said. “And I hoped to be able to discredit those most effective critics by lumping them together with the people who weren’t informed and who as critics were an embarrassment to everybody else.”
He tried out the term “anti-Japanism” in speeches and interviews, but it did not catch on. Then he tried “Japan bashing.” The term quickly caught on and gained widespread popularity. “The first people to pick up on it were the Japanese press,” Angel said. “However, within a year the American press began to use the term.” The term became a weapon in the public relations war being waged in Washington over trade policy and U.S.-Japanese economic relations.
Angel, who says he is now embarrassed by his triumph, commented, “I view that modest public relations success with some shame and disappointment.” And added, “Those people who use (the term) have the distinction of being my intellectual dupes.” (emphasis added)
In other words, the term was used to stifle discussion on an issue.
So ask yourself: how often in this election cycle do you encounter messages, from whatever direction, that have the effect of making you … self-conscious … about replying and engaging the discussion? If you’re normally the sort who’s willing to talk honestly and in good faith about important subjects, what has happened in this case to change things? Are you afraid that there’s no safe way to make your point, no matter how thoughtful it is?
Which brings us to “Bernie Bros.” Here we have a term that, as I acknowledge above, describes a certain number of people and embeds a justified criticism of their behavior. But the term has quickly taken root and generalized, and now threatens to fly about in a way that bundles all men who don’t like Clinton. We’re even seeing the once-respectable Paul Krugman, who has now degenerated into little more than a sad Hillary hack, getting into the act. (As a side note, the selling of the once-reliable Krugman has been one of the most disappointing developments of this campaign so far.)
A lot of Sanders’ backers have something important in common: we’d love to see a woman president. For my part, it isn’t that I want to elect a woman just for the sake of electing a woman. No, I want to see a woman in the White House because genius and brilliance aren’t gender-specific traits. Roughly 50% of the excellence in the world is female, and your society is better off when it’s tapping its entire pool of potential, not just half of it. If things are going optimally, about every other one of your leaders is going to be a woman. (Of course, gender notwithstanding, we’re a long way from optimal.)
Back in 2001 I offered a series of predictions about the 21st century. This was #16:
The U.S. will elect its first female and minority Presidents. Sadly, they will prove as corrupt as the white males they replaced.
So far I’m right on track. That said, I see the advance of women into an equitable share of our leadership roles as a cultural imperative.
But electing a woman doesn’t mean electing this woman. All women aren’t equally competent. All don’t believe in the same goals. All aren’t of the same character. (If you need an example, I offer up Carly Fiorina, who can’t order a spiced pumpkin latte without lying as brilliantly as any man in our recent political history.) And those who would try to bully us into supporting Clinton because we don’t want to look like misogynists, now do we, there’s a word for that. I’m sorry, but that’s patronizing. Worse, it’s insulting to your own cause, because it holds women to a lower standard. I know a lot of insanely brilliant women, and as a result I can say with no reservation at all: Women should be held to as high a standard as possible, just like men. In politics, as in every other sphere of life, their increasing importance and their ever-greater contributions should be about raising the standard. Accepting less is not only demeaning to women, it’s tokenizing and counter-productive to the cause of gender equality.
When push comes to shove, my plea here is similar to the one I issued in the article I linked earlier: we might have all manner of legitimate complaints about each other’s preferred candidates, but we need to dial back our attacks on each other. I don’t take it personally when you slam the behavior of a segment of Sanders supporters who need slamming, nor do I feel insulted when you make a legitimate indictment of Sanders himself. In fact, my next planned post will dive directly into his (fairly significant) failings.
But when your language jumps the fence and is all of a sudden tarring everyone with the same brush, then we have an issue (an issue that may still be fresh in people’s minds come November when they’re debating whether to hold their noses and vote for a candidate they don’t like or to cast a protest vote). I’m not speaking hypothetically, either. In addition to the various insults about my intellect and seriousness as a citizen that have been flung my way (as noted in the earlier post) I have seen plenty in the Facebook feeds of my friends that insults me directly and I have, on more occasions than one, personally had it suggested that my Clinton issues are misogyny.
My advice: before you speak, before you post, before you share that pithy little meme, stop and ask yourself precisely what you are saying and specifically to whom. This will help us in every way imaginable, and we may have less work to do repairing relationships down the road.