Friday, June 6, 2008

Sexism Or Something Else?

As Hillary Clinton's presidential bid sinks into the horizon, pundits contemplate what went wrong. The Telegraph reported that as Clinton's campaign workers were leaving headquarters Tuesday night, a Japanese television camera crew offered them the chance to express their views as to what went wrong by placing a sticker on a board next to the reason of their choice. Most chose "She's a Woman." (Some chose: "Attacked Obama" and "Cried in Public." Nobody chose "Negative Personality.")

Reuters ran a story this morning pondering whether sexism in the media and among voters contributed to Clinton's failure. Sexism was surely an issue some say, citing incidents like the "Iron My Shirt" heckler at a January 7, 2008 campaign stop. After the sign-waving, shouting man carried on for a few moments, security workers escorted him from the area. Clinton sighed and said: "Ah, the remnants of sexism, alive and well. . . . I am running to break through the highest and hardest glass ceiling." Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation sees Clinton's defeat as a call to arms: "One of the legacies of the Clinton campaign is that it's been a wake-up call, really, to the women's movement of how far we have to go," she said. "We have a lot of work to do. We are in much worse shape than we thought."

Others are angered by the suggestion that sexism brought Clinton down. Camille Paglia accused Clinton of hiding behind charges of sexism to avoid scrutiny: "Will every losing woman candidate now turn on the waterworks and claim to be maimed by male pride and prejudice?" Peggy Noonan advised Clinton to "be a guy and say thanks [for the votes she got]." Raising sexism as a factor in her loss "is blame-gaming, whining, a way of not taking responsibility, of not seeing your flaws and addressing them." Others note the irony in Clinton's claim of sexism, observing that she likely had the opportunity to seek the presidency in large part because she happens to be the wife of a president.

Sexism, or perhaps more accurately, woman hating, will always be a factor as long as women are easily discernable from men, and some men fear losing their relative advantage as the characteristic (maleness) on which it rests becomes insignificant. I experienced the pointy end of fear like this in law school in the early 1980's. After first semester grades came out, a crushed and exasperated male classmate lashed out at me. Women had beat him, perhaps for the first time, at a game he expected to win. "You don't really need this law degree," he muttered across the library table. "You'll always have a man to take care of you."

Sexism is far more subtle than the sign-wielder's crude insult to women who serve as homemaker and helpmate. Sexism is a symptom of fear and fear, like scarcity, will always be with us.

1 comment:

Jim Chen said...

Sometime around 1990-92, I recall Suzanna Sherry arguing (in a head-to-head challenge to Alex Aleinikoff) that sex discrimination will outlast race discrimination because (1) sex has been with humanity, well, since the beginning and (2) the ultimate sex-based difference -- women have babies and men don't -- will not go away. If I recall Suzanna's words properly, they sounded something like this: "Sex discrimination will be with us long after race discrimination is overcome and forgotten."

That strikes me as a perspective worth pondering in connection with this insightful post.