May
25th 2008
It all comes together

Posted under: American history, Gender, jobs, women's history

In the six months since launching this blog, I’ve written a lot about bullying in the academic workplace.  I’ve also written a lot about the 2008 Democratic primaries (and Hillary Clinton’s candidacy in particular) because I’m a women’s historian and the author of a book on gendered language and rhetoric by profession, and a political junkie by avocation.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the interconnections between these phenomena in the bullying of Hillary Clinton by the corporate media and many Democrats.  (Ann Bartow at Feminist Law Profs pulled together a lot of useful links contributing to the following discussion–see especially Erica Barnett’s catalog of the offensive language deployed by Democrats against Clinton.  See also this entertaining new video by the Women’s Media Center, via Shakesville.)

Bullies, like misogynist trolls in the corporate media and even among Democrats and so-called “liberals” and “progressives,” count on the complicity (or at least the silence) of the majority so that they can work their evil without interference.  Workplace bullies are also in the business of controlling the majority through their bullying of a minority:  their implied message is, “keep your head down, or you could be next.”  Finally, the silent (or enabling) majority convince themselves (falsely) that the victim brought on the bullying herself, and that they don’t need to take action because it’s really the fault of the victim, not of the bullies.  This last parallel seems particularly significant.

cu-527.JPGGo to any discussion thread (even on feminist blogs) following a post on the rampant misogyny within the anti-Clinton forces and/or the corporate media, and early on you’ll see a commenter pop up to proclaim that “I’m not against all women, just this woman,”  followed by a long list of Clinton’s political and personal errors that the commenter finds unforgivable.  I’ve had this conversation with a few of my friends.  (As I have pointed out before, these errors when committed by male presidential candidates get a passAs I have noted before in discussing inequality in the application of tenure standards, women faculty are held to dramatically higher standards than men faculty (while being paid less all the while, natch.)  Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen the same unannounced, secret standards for the Presidency applied to candidate Hillary Clinton that have been applied to no other candidate this year. 

The funny thing is that a majority of the Democratic voters haven’t bought into the media’s preferred narrative about Clinton.  At least half of them see that she’s ready, willing, and more than able, and they are willing to give her a chance.  That’s the silver lining, such as it is, but ironically the support of actual voters isn’t the most important factor in choosing the Democratic nominee.

11 Comments »

11 Responses to “It all comes together”

  1. Feminist Law Professors » Blog Archive » The Sexism In The Democratic Primary on 25 May 2008 at 2:53 pm #

    [...] Update: See also, via the awesome HIstoriann. [...]

  2. Knitting Clio on 25 May 2008 at 4:38 pm #

    I just watched five minutes of “Meet the Press” where they started to dissect the Robert Kennedy assassination reference. Despite the fact that RFK Junior said to lay off, they continued to slam her. Then Maureen Dowd came on and I decided to flip channels before I barfed.

  3. Historiann on 25 May 2008 at 7:58 pm #

    That was an excellent decision, KC (turning off the TV). This whole season has been totally disgusting.

    My take on the 1968 reference is that it’s one she’s made before, so the outrage now seems particularly hollow and manufactured. Now that it’s almost June, she probably should have been more thoughtful, but as you point out, Bobby Kennedy Jr. has come out in her defense. (Actually, the RFK side of the family has endorsed her–RFK Jr., Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. it’s the EMK and Caroline Schlossberg side that has gone for Obama.)

  4. nicole on 25 May 2008 at 9:52 pm #

    My aunt bought my father the “nut-cracker” for Christmas “for a laugh”. I pointed out how upsetting I found the entire situation (apparently my aunt knew I’d react as such- she knows I “just can’t take a joke”) but they seemed to get it when I asked what the equivalent would be for Obama or McCain. The overt sexism that exists in the country is astounding and sickening.

  5. Historiann on 26 May 2008 at 7:27 am #

    Ahh…a learning moment, Nicole! What would the offensive trinket be for McCain, I wonder: something making a horrible joke about being a P.O.W. who was tortured for seven years? (Some people just can’t take a joke, y’know?)

  6. Roxie on 26 May 2008 at 9:09 am #

    Happy Memorial Day to you, too, Historiann. Hope you are having some holiday fun. This isn’t a criticism, just a question. I noticed that in a post the other day you refused to put up the hideous Michelle Obama image from Daily Kos that invoked lynching, though you did link to somebody else who had it up. In this post, on the other hand, you feature some pretty virulently misogynistic anti-Hillary images. I don’t object to your doing that at all, because I think it’s important for those of us who are tracking the ugly underbelly of this contest to look at such things directly. Could you talk a little bit about what motivated those two different editorial decisions, though? I ask because we use a lot of images over in my happy little corner of the blogosphere, so I’m interested in how and why fellow/sister bloggers make such judgments. Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts!

  7. ej on 26 May 2008 at 9:11 am #

    I find the strain of Hillary-hatred that runs through the country today perplexing. Somehow, its okay to make her the target of such misogynist attacks, which people try to cloak in humor to make them seem acceptable. I honestly think a lot of why people target her goes back to her role in the Clinton White House. Remember all of the outrage that the first lady was actually involved? That she was interested in doing more than redecorating and taking on a few favored charities? Hillary committed the cardinal sin of bending accepted gender norms then, and she continues to do so today in running on her own.

    She’s an extremely intelligent, independent, successful, strong woman who is completely at home in the public sphere. If this were Early Modern Europe, she would have been burned at the stake long ago. After all, we can’t have all our women acting this way. The nutcracker is actually a warning to other women that such behaviour isn’t acceptable by society.

  8. Rad Readr on 26 May 2008 at 10:02 am #

    Historiann, you’re on the mark in pointing at the gendered and misogynistic responses to Hillary. These function as part of an impoverished public and media discourse that extends into many other areas, people, and topics (e.g. immigration).

    What I’m not sure I understand is the connection between, on the one hand, rhetoric/statements in the media/T-Shirts, and, on the other, the workplace bullying. These would seem to function in different ways in very different contexts. I’m thinking here of the physical presence of the bully but also other dynamics. I would even venture that the type of academic bullying you have described is different than how that might emerge in other workplace scenarios.

  9. Historiann on 26 May 2008 at 12:42 pm #

    Rad–the analogy isn’t perfect. I guess what really struck me as a strong connection was the victim-blaming, and the success that bullies have in driving away people who might otherwise stick up for the victim. Many people, including many feminists I know, honestly believe that Hillary Clinton is a terrible person who has brought the media ugliness and misogynistic ridicule on herself. They insist that they’re not judging her by different standards, when it seems to me that they are. (Take the 2002 AUMF vote: as I’ve noted here in another post, every single man who ran for President in 2004 or 2008 except for Bob Graham voted for it, and yet that’s hung around her neck as though she cast the final, decisive vote and then led a tank squad into Bagdad herself. And, I don’t recall Graham’s presidential candidacy even making it into 2004–I think he dropped out in 2003, well before Iowa.)

    And Roxie–great point. I must admit that I didn’t give a second thought to posting photos of the t-shirts and bumper sticker. I wanted to show some examples of the ugly discourse, but because they were mostly done with langugage rather than graphic imagery, they didn’t trip my wire the way the lynching image of Michelle Obama did. Also, the graphic use and display of lynched bodies and photos of lynching victims has an especially ugly recent history in the late 19th and 20th centuries. If the t-shirts and other anti-Hillary products had shown her tied up in lingerie, or hung up by a meat hook, I likely would have made a different call.

    However, it’s interesting to me that as ugly as the nutcracker and these t-shirts and other products are in their Hillary hatred, they don’t depict her body being subjected to sexual exploitation and/or lethal violence. (There are no images of Hillary strung up or being victimized by a killer, for example.) For the most part, even these ugly depictions of Hillary focus on her face alone (although there may be some exceptions I’m unaware of). But, no such deference or restraint (if that’s what it is) is shown when depicting an African American woman’s body. And of course, there’s an even longer history of white people and the white-dominated media depicting African and African American bodies in ways that they never would show European or Euro-American bodies.

    You’re giving me an idea for a new post, Roxie, about the different rules for depicting black bodies versus white bodies in the colonial American and early national U.S. media…

  10. Susan on 26 May 2008 at 3:32 pm #

    I’d add that almost all the “actual voters” I know, even if they prefer Obama, think Clinton is qualified, able, etc. That is, I think *most* of the democratic electorate gets that these are two smart, qualified people who could help the country. I don’t think democrats are as polarized as the pundits suggest.

  11. Historiann on 26 May 2008 at 3:54 pm #

    Good point, Susan. It’s important not to assign these people more power and influence than they’ve earned.