If you haven't been following, we've had quite the discussion on WLST, Plunderbund, Glass City and here about this month's cover of The New Republic.
The discussion has, in the main, been unsatisfying. Eric and I have pointed out grave dangers with overusing the label "misogyny" and with equating criticisms of Hillary with hatred of women. Folks on the other side (some who are good friends of mine) have refused to acknowledge those dangers much less confront them. Instead the argument boils down to "You're a man so your arguments don't count."
That's one bit of useful consciousness raising. I'm reminded what it is to be subject to a double standard.
I agree that sometimes the normal rough-and-tumble of American politics has crossed the line in attacks on both Hillary and Barack, and will even go so far as to say I've seen more sexist1 commentary from Barack supporters than racist commentary from Hillary supporters2
At the same time, it's really important that we not conflate all criticism of Hillary with sexism. Like all Presidential candidates, Hillary has flaws. Some of her very real character flaws also touch on gender stereotypes, but that shouldn't be a basis for disallowing comment on them. For example, one reason the charge that she is ruthlessly, stop-at-nothing, bend-the-rules ambitious is a long record of stopping at nothing and bending the rules on the part of both her and her husband.
To illustrate, lets' look at this hypothetical from my comments section:
- Now, what if the shoe was on your foot? What if the cover was of a stay at home dad, what if the cover was a photo of YOU as a stay at home dad and instead of capturing you in the 99.9% of the time where you are your wonderful self, what if the photo they chose for the article was you in an unflattering circumstance (most likely taken out of context) that illustrated the stereotype that only women can raise children and men were unfit care providers. Maybe you would be a little more critical of the magazines intentions and would not so eagerly dismiss the charge that the cover was picked soley to garner attention and lacked any journalistic value.
It's hard to imagine an illustration of that point -- photo or cartoon -- that couldn't be read as reinforcing some gender stereotype. If she's calm she's "calculating" or "frigid," if she's happy she's oblivious, etc.
So we can make the analogy tighter by assuming that I am running for public office and a photo of me as a stay-at-home is used to illustrate a point about my character. That photo may even reinforce some stereotype about stay-at-home dads -- that they are disastrously organized for instance (true in my case.)
The question shouldn't be whether the criticism happens to reinforce some stereotype. It's whether it constitutes fair comment -- fair in the sense of relevant to my seeking office and with an at least arguable factual basis. If, under the hypothetical, I'm running for office, I've opened myself up to harsh commentary on my character. As long as the commentary isn't "don't vote for him because men are disorganized," it's fair comment.
Here's the thing. Rolling back sexism, racism and various other -isms requires among other things some social approbation for engaging in those isms. In turn, that requires society in the main to be willing to enforce that social approbation. All of that doesn't happen if we aren't careful about how we apply the labels.
In the political context, that is particularly important. One reason the charges of sexist treatment of Hillary haven't stuck is that it's often seen as a way to hide Hillary's flaws behind a veil of "you can't talk about that, it's sexist."
So we need -- desperately need -- to have an ongoing discussion about how we differentiate between criticisms of a candidate and attacks on all members of her gender. And respecting the opinions of both genders in the course of that discussion would be a good start.
1Among other things I've tried repeatedly to point out that charging "misogyny" as opposed to mere sexism is over the top. Alas that point has received no acknowledgement and I'm tired of hearing myself type. It's sexism from here out, with the understanding that the two are not synonymous.
2There's an element of know-nothingism from the Hillary campaign itself when it comes to things like the "Barack is a Muslim" rumor. But we're talking about discourse here so we'll leave that for another day.