How Sexism Upended an Election and Why It Won’t Change
09 Mar 2017
Five years ago, I published Dirty Words on Clean Skin, a book exposing the sexism, coming mainly from the left, that derailed Hillary Clinton’s 2008 razor-close bid for the Presidential nomination. I wrote it as a call to action and to share a truth, the publication of which was intended to overcome chauvinist bias going forward. The 2016 presidential election was a painful reminder of how I, and many others, fell short of that goal. Why did our words not find sufficient purchase? In part, because a well-documented message was and is daily obfuscated by the Beltway Press. Hey, don’t pick a fight with people who print ink by the barrel, right? In both 2008 and 2016, a corporate owned (male-owned) media pushed every sexist trope and applied double standards that excoriated Hillary Clinton for that which male candidates of both Parties were excused.
The “BernieBro” types of 2016 were just as vile in 2008, the year misogyny was made cool and “Bros before Hoes” T-shirts were all the rage. The Hillary attacks were framed differently but the purpose of the bullying was the same — to demean and diminish. Blogger Uppity Woman noted the GOP trashed Hillary for 25 years using smears that the press eagerly repeated, teaching sexists on the left how it was done. In that vein, Sady Doyle’s insightful new piece in Elle reports a devastating nexus of left and right, where sexists converged to keep a powerful woman from breaking the highest, hardest glass ceiling in 2016. She writes that “In several polls, hostile sexism was found to be a better predictor of Trump support than economic concerns.” This goes a long way to clarifying how three seemingly disparate forces worked together, with an able assist from big media:
“Though [Julian] Assange, [Vladimir] Putin, and [Donald] Trump look like a motley crew—they are, respectively, far left, far right, and a shrieking mass of chaos punctuated by Breitbart headlines—they are united by one coherent, mutually shared political philosophy. They are all misogynists. All three have made openly sexist and/or anti-feminist statements; Trump and Putin have both moved to pass those beliefs into law; Trump and Assange both stand accused of sexually assaulting women. If one tracks these men in this way, their seeming alliance is anything but surprising. The issue is that sexism is still seen mostly as a matter of personality, not politics, even as sexism continues to operate with the power of a political force that can change the world.”
“…sexism itself [is] a political vector—a self-sufficient cause, capable of aligning with and uniting otherwise disparate factions.” [emphasis mine]
Acknowledging Hillary Clinton’s threat to “Trump’s presidential ambitions, Putin’s national interests, and Assange’s freedom,” Ms. Doyle notes this is not all about sexism, and yet:
“When three men, with three nominally different world views, are all so singularly, obsessively angry at a powerful woman that they all somehow wind up working to destroy her career and reputation, and when at least two of those men explain their anger in terms of the target’s refusal to behave “correctly” (i.e., correctly for a woman), it’s really hard to tell a coherent story of their alignment without bringing misogyny into the equation.”
This irrational male “loathing” of Hillary Clinton isn’t because of her “baggage,” but her power, her refusal to bow down to these men – and the fact that she has long fought for the rights of the marginalized whom both Trump and Putin seek to undermine.
More disturbing is that there are plenty on the left who want women to “know their place.” A smattering of 2008 quotes tell the tale:
“A super delegate needs to take her into a room and only he comes out.”
— Keith Olbermann, MSNBC
“CBS got fined 2 million for Janet Jackson’s nipple. Just think what they could get for Hillary Clinton’s c*nt.”
— Bill Maher, HBO, Real Time with Bill Maher
“She’s everyone’s first wife standing outside a probate court.”
— Mike Barnicle, MSNBC
“She’s never going to get out of our faces. She’s like some hellish housewife…”
— Leon Wieseltier, literary editor, The New Republic
“Hillary needs a radio-controlled shock collar so that aides can zap her when she starts to get screechy.”
— Joel Achenbach, Washington Post
“Some find that she makes their skin crawl. Some run screaming from the room. And some want to drink a gallon of rat poison while lying across a railroad track.”
— Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune
“Madame DeFarge.” “Domineering Mother.” “She-Devil.”
— Chris Matthews, MSNBC
Bill Moyers’ 2007 PBS interview with Prof. Kathleen Hall Jamieson discussed highly trafficked Facebook sites describing “sex acts that should be performed on Hillary by animals.”
Last but not least, “slitting her throat and throwing her in the trunk of a car and driving it into the river” was written about Hillary on a very prominent leftie blog. I saw it myself.
Threatening a woman with humiliation, violence, sexual or otherwise, even death is a time worn and effective way to get her to sit down and shut up.
How was this different than assassination threats aimed at Hillary Clinton by the right on the 2016 campaign trail? Or the press concentrating on her “tone,” not smiling enough, being “shrill” or trashing the Clinton Foundation, an organization that is considered the gold standard of disclosure and which has literally saved millions of lives?
After 600 straight days of the press bashing her over nothing-burger emails, we now discover Vice President Pence shared classified information over personal emails while Governor of Indiana and the GOP, leftie and Press response is a collective yawn. This reinforces that sexists of disparate political views aligned to insist Hillary Clinton be perfect in order to be remotely acceptable. An expectation no man is asked to meet.
Today, we have frightened Democrats telling us to “move on,” “get over it,” to sweep it under the rug and “come together.” That prescription is an oversimplification, conveniently advantaging misogynists both in the press and on the ground who were guilty of this destructive sludge in the first place. It also ensures the same thing will happen again when another woman runs for president – if she dares run.
I believe we are capable of multitasking. We can still come together and turn out to both protest and vote on vital issues while making a profound, sustained case about ending misogynistic double standards. As Ms. Doyle puts it:
“…[W]e continually refuse to bring misogyny into the equation, or to see violence against women as political violence. Political commentators parse elections in terms of the gender of candidates or voters, divide issues into “economic” and “social,” divide causes or actors into “right” and “left,” rather than considering that repressing women’s participation in public life may be its own coherent political ideology, shared by men and some (admittedly self-destructive) women across the political spectrum.”
Until we understand and unpack the illogical threats some men (and women) perceive from having a woman in power, nothing will change and we will continue to get defeated at the margins. The same tropes will be employed and fool voters hungry for an excuse to give the woman less credibility.
This is less about pointing fingers than solving the problem. Some of the entreaties to “move on” smack of a wish to bury discomfort with the truth. Perhaps disquiet in examining the underlying causes for sexist attacks emanates from our knowing we will have to confront and challenge those close to us.
It was just reported by USA Today that “The U.S. Marine Corps is investigating a veteran’s allegations that military personnel and other veterans distributed nude photos of female colleagues and other women as part of a social media network (with 30,000 members) that promotes sexual violence. Hundreds of Marines may be caught up in the scandal, the Marine Corps Times reported Sunday.”
It would appear toxic masculinity isn’t going away anytime soon. Does anyone believe that if we “move on,” the result will be different for any woman going forward? Even one with “less baggage”? Nonsense. That’s a dog whistle for Hillary being both accomplished and battle tested. It’s a dog whistle that works. Until we understand how to combat it, we will see the same outcome.
Minutes after the shocking 2016 election result, pundits were absolving their grotesque campaign coverage by calling Hillary Clinton a “bad candidate,” despite her receiving 2.8 million more votes than Trump and her winning. more. votes. than. any. white. man. in. history. That she did this despite beltway media, GOP, Assange, Trump, Putin and the arguably rogue FBI Director Comey is miraculous. Big media’s negativity toward her was always designed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. In an attempt to restore their own credibility, they are already rewriting history to obscure that fact. Some pundits were so threatened by her bid for power, and her work to put the final stamp on women’s equality, they used #InternationalWomensDay to mash our faces (and hers) in the fact that her poll numbers had not yet recovered after 2-years of their non-stop character assassination.
Still think any other women who got as close to power as she did wouldn’t get what she got?
Don’t let anyone talk you into marginalizing an issue that keeps 51% of the population with less than 20% representation in a country that is supposed to be a beacon of leadership – and equality – to the free world.
In 2017, misogyny is still cool.
What will we do to change that?
Anita Finlay is the bestselling author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin. Sharing the untold story of Hillary’s 2008 campaign, Dirty Words exposes media sexism in a society not as evolved as advertised. “The book tells it like it is for women aspiring to power.” #1 on Amazon’s Women in Politics books for 16 weeks.
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