Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bite Me So Hard For That

Oftentimes, people will tell me that their dislike of Hillary Clinton does not lay in her gender but the fact that she's Hillary-fucking-Clinton, like she is such a force as to be beyond gender itself. And maybe sometimes they are truthful. Maybe their antipathy stems from the fact that she's still married to a man derisively called "Slick Willy". That she's, according to a friend of mine, "managed to be ALMOST as phony and self-gratifying as her philandering asshole husband". But I think a lot of this animosity is at least partially about gender norms and how Hillary Clinton has subverted them; or at the very least, people's hatred of Hillary Clinton expresses itself in disparaging, misogynistic, and sexist ways and so becomes about gender norms -and how Hillary Clinton's gender is wielded against her, along with those who admire her. There is a reason there are now 109 recorded sexist remarks and products on Shakesville. You can disagree with the site and the commentary found on it (as I often do), but the list and the remarks and the items on it (like the ubiquitous Hillary nutcracker -"the most popular political product in history") speak for themselves.

Hillary Clinton is not what one would term traditionally "feminine". She's tough. She's at times uncompromising. And she has never been exceptionally good at playing the traditional wife and mother. She friggin' kept her name after marrying her husband as a way to symbolically remain an autonomous individual with her own strengths and interests and life. And she had to give that up because she was seen as being too uppity and too independent by Bill Clinton's constituents; he lost in part because his wife had the audacity to keep her fucking name. And that is reason #1 why I admire and love Hillary Clinton, both in the fact that she kept her name after marriage -and the reasons for doing so- and the fact that she was forced to conform for the good of her husband's career. I imagine that it must have killed her to do so; but she gave up a part of what she felt made up her identity because American society insisted upon it. Because her husband and herself could not have succeeded in the political sphere if she insisted upon being seen as an individual and not simply as an appendage. And that is reason #2 as to why I love Hillary Clinton. She has, over the years, refused to be Nancy Reagan. She refused to be defined as simply a wife and mother. She refused to be seen as anything less than she was. She didn't bake cookies and sit at home. She was out fighting for children's rights, and she wasn't going to apologize for it. Until her uppity ways once again hurt her husband's political career, and she had to come back to the pack and downplay her intelligence, her strength, and her individuality.

Truth is, there was a time when I was at most ambivalent-leaning-toward-like about Hillary Clinton. When Barack Obama gave the keynote address at the 2004 DNC, I was blown away. When he chose to run for president, I actually had a bit of a debate about who I would vote for. I chose Hillary Clinton. It wasn't that I didn't believe in Obama. I did and do. It wasn't that I thought he wouldn't make a good president. I did and do. It wasn't that Hillary Clinton was a woman, and that I absolutely had to have a woman president if given the opportunity. I've said it before and I'll say it again, "I didn't want to elect 'a' woman president. I wanted this specific woman to be president". I looked at her plans and Obama's plans and even McCain's plans -because if McCain had won the Republican primary in 2000, I may have voted for him in 2004- and I decided that as close as Obama's and Hillary's platforms were, I liked Hillary's better. And as the attacks on Hillary Clinton grew in fervor and in animosity, as I felt myself as someone who had ovaries as being subject by proxy to those same, baseless, sexist, useless attacks, I grew closer to Hillary Clinton's campaign. I wanted her to succeed in spite of the fact that the phrase "Take out the garbage" was said over and over and over again in response to her voice. I wanted her to succeed because of every frickin' critique of her hair, her clothing, her wrinkles, and every other insult that was hurled at her but was not hurled at a similarly qualified male candidate. I didn't start off liking Hillary Clinton because she was a woman, but after a while her being a woman and being subject to what was basically highly televised and publicized street harassment made me want her to win more. Because what was hurled at Hillary Clinton, the belittling she faced, is the belittlement women in general face. And anyone -man, woman, child- who doesn't accept that fact, who doesn't acknowledge that fact, is not acknowledging the reality of being a woman in America.

Which is why I am so astonished that a good friend of mine -the same one who felt that Hillary was a phony- would ever say, "Did [Andrew Sullivan] offend your feminist sensibilities simply because he attacked a female leader?" So, I still love you but in the words of Sports Night's Dana Whitaker, "You know what, bite me so hard for that". Andrew Sullivan offended my feminist sensibilities for many reasons. Reason #1: he said, "it became clear pretty soon that the Senate was indeed merely a stepping stone back to the White House". I'm not a disciple of Andrew Sullivan the way my friend is -my worship is already taken by Joss Whedon, Aaron Sorkin, and Anna Quindlen- so maybe I'm wrong here but if Andrew Sullivan didn't have the exact same complaint about Barack Obama and his 2004 Senate election, then I cry foul. It may not be sexist, but it is certainly baseless. Reason #2 is that he invoked the specter of the tears of femininity in order to show how Hillary was a bad feminist; actually, the term he used was "anti-feminist". Which, "you know what, bite me so hard for that" Andrew Sullivan. But instead, I'll let Kristen Schaal do the honors of a rebuttal:

Plenty of politicians tear up. Plenty of elected -male- leaders get emotional. But no, when Hillary does it, it must be that she's a calculating, cold-hearted bitch who is setting feminism back a hundred years. I'll listen to Andrew Sullivan's criticism of Hillary Clinton's anti-feminist tendencies when he seriously looks at how he and many other media outlets play to anti-feminist themes. Until then, ciao, Andrew Sullivan; your feminist critiques have no teeth -especially when you seem to imply that Margaret Thatcher makes a better feminist icon than a woman who fights for things like women's rights, children's rights, comprehensive health care, and the environment (heretofore known as Reason #3). Which, last I checked, were all issues the feminist side of the spectrum were pretty down with.

There was an article questioning why women are still not running for office published a while ago; I pretty much think that the treatment Hillary Clinton endured answers that pretty soundly. I don't know of any single person who would voluntarily place himself or herself in a situation where political pundits, newspaper columnists, Maureen Dowd, and anonymous bloggers would do their worst to humiliate, dehumanize, and diminish the candidate. But that is what Hillary Clinton faced. Time and time again, that is what Hillary Clinton faced. And so, reason #? for why I admire and respect Hillary Clinton is that she was able -day after harrowing day- to step back onto the podium and make her historical run for president. That she didn't just crawl under the covers and never come out due to the jeering, the misogyny, and the idea that she should just be nagging her husband to take out the garbage.

You want more reasons? How about a neutral one? I don't hate her for staying with Bill Clinton. I don't even suspect she stayed with him for the political boost. I don't think she's anti-feminist for staying with a man who cheats. Maybe the Elizabeth Edwards situation will better Hillary's decision, but since people actually like Elizabeth Edwards and think of her as human -which I attribute partially to the fact that she is traditionally feminine- maybe not. I am not a part of her marriage to Bill Clinton. Because I'm not, I don't feel comfortable making judgements about it; but I've read about it. I've read their accounts of it, and I've read others' accounts of it, and what comes out time and time again is that these are two people who seem to genuinely care about one another and who enjoy each other's company, talents, and intellect. There is a story about how Bill Clinton's mother asked him why he was marrying Hillary, and he responded it was because he could talk to her. I think their marriage is a little odd; but I also believe that everyone's relationship is a little odd. I like Bill Clinton -I have a love affair with good oratory that knows no bounds, which is partially why I like Ted Kennedy and why I fell for Obama so quickly- and I certainly can understand why Hillary would be attracted to him, and how she is able to like or love him enough to stay with him regardless of his many personal faults.

Need some more? Every article I've ever read where she's been interviewed, she has been intelligent, moderate in emotion, and has addressed real issues stemming from her campaign. I have yet to read an interview where she railed against the press for what they did to her; and it would have been completely understandable if she had, if a little self-serving and naval-gazing. Need more? Read Courtney Martin's "Dear Hillary" letter. Need more? How about we discuss the cult of personality, and how men and women have to fit into their prescribed roles more often than not in order to succeed, and how men and women who go against the current are maligned, demonized, and made into the worst of the worst. And how we have to, as women, as progressives, as human beings, celebrate those few who don't allow the threat of being maligned, demonized, and made into the worst of the worst to affect how they act, how they dress, and what they see as being the most important aspect of their lives.

Hillary Clinton is one hell of a politician. And we can criticize how she got to where she is; we should critique political families and their influence in American culture. But we celebrated RFK and Edward Kennedy, and we wanted JFK Jr. to go into politics, and so criticisms of Hillary Clinton riding on her husband's coattails fall short of being purely altruistic in motive from where I'm standing (reason #? for why I didn't like that Andrew Sullivan piece). I firmly believed that Geraldine Ferraro's assessment of the Obama campaign was right, that Obama's meteoric rise is due in part to his race and his post-1960s racial construct in addition to his obvious intelligence and skill and talent. Just like John McCain's rise is attributed in part to his having been a POW and being seen as a maverick in addition to his 30 years in Washington DC as a successful politician. Just like Hillary Clinton's popularity is in part due to her gender and who she married in addition to her skill, intelligence, and talent. Geraldine Ferraro wasn't wrong; the American public -and I would assert any public- likes a good narrative. These three have good, inspiring narratives. But you can only get away with criticizing one of their narratives and have your job in the morning. Guess who's narrative that is?


John said...

I think you're the first person to defend Hillary Clinton who has actually made solid points without immediately rushing to the blanket statement of "if you don't think she's the best candidate for president, it's because you beat your girlfriend." Kudos to you for taking the high road.

What I really don't understand is the mentality of the swing voters who would rather vote for McCain than Obama because they can't vote for Clinton. Voting out of spite is fine when it's for Student Council, but for the chief executive office of the United States government? Isn't that an example of cutting off your nose to spite your face?

I overheard a conversation at a bar last night (immediately after Sen. Clinton's speech) where a friend of mine's political views were being questioned by a drunken townie woman. The townie said to her, "aren't you mad that Obama didn't pick her to be his running mate?" My friend replied that she was not. She then asked the townie why she was voting for McCain instead, to which she replied, "Obama doesn't have enough experience." My friend mentioned that Bush and Cheney had experience, but it didn't necessarily make them better leaders. When she pressed the issue further and asked what it was about McCain's history that made him such a worthwhile candidate, the townie replied, "I don't pay attention to his past."

petpluto said...

Oh, I'm planning on posting about PUMAs, the media, and the like in the coming weeks, don't you worry. Because those people drive me crazy. I can understand sitting out on election day if you don't like the candidates (though I don't really condone it, because there are also third party candidates who always need the votes in order to be recognized), but I cannot cannot cannot understand someone who would vote for Hillary Clinton then turning their backs on every issue the woman stood for and voting for John McCain. Which is why I floved her speech last night at the DNC: "Were you in this campaign just for me?" There is no way to answer that with an affirmative and still look like a decent human being.

And I especially don't understand the ire directed at Obama. He didn't attack her gender; he didn't call her a harpy or insinuate that she was only good for nagging or make fun of her hair, her wrinkles, or her pantsuits. He has made some missteps since becoming the presumptive nominee and I understand not voting for him, but come on. The only thing the guy didn't do is condemn the sexist remarks, and as her opponent that really wasn't his job. His job was to win, which he did very well. The Democratic party in general should receive some anger over the fact that they basically allowed her to be tarred and feathered in the media, but it is obvious to me that she cares more about her party than she cares about her own standing in the news media, and desperately wants a Democrat in the White House.

mikhailbakunin said...

I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that Clinton’s emotional slip-ups were (at least) exaggerated, considering the timing of the two events and the fact that she—like many public officials—is typically so controlled and on message. Most politicians, male and female, use emotion when it’s convenient, and the incident in New Hampshire clearly influenced the outcome of that primary. Andrew Sullivan’s point was that, if Clinton’s tears were bogus, this was a cheap political ploy—and a true feminist would never do something so shameful to score sympathy votes.

Now, maybe you’re right. Maybe Sullivan’s suspicions about Clinton are outrageous and wrong. Maybe what we witnessed was one of those rare but natural moments in American politics where a candidate had a genuine outpouring of emotion. Even if this is the case, it doesn’t make any of Sullivan’s comments “sexist”—it only makes them cynical. In fact, Sullivan has had similar questions about Bill Clinton’s “emotional” moments, attacking him frequently for his mawkish displays and phony affectation.

Obviously, I agree that it was stupid of me to imply that you’re a fan of Hillary Clinton only because she’s a woman. But it’s equally ridiculous for you to suggest that Clinton’s opponents are largely chauvinists motivated by their outmoded views of gender roles. There were lots of reasons to hate Hillary Clinton during the primary, especially if you were an Obama supporter. The venom that she spewed during the ABC debate—against a fellow Democrat, no less—was simply unforgivable, as was the constant race-baiting by her campaign.

You may not think that Clinton ran a dirty campaign, but accusing all her detractors of sexism is cheap, silly, and totally unfair.

Finally, I don’t think Sullivan has an issue with Clinton’s political ambitions (of course Obama had similar ambitions). He, like many Americans, simply can’t escape the feeling that Clinton remained with her husband after his infidelities because she knew that she was going to run for president. Even after her husband’s confession, Hillary Clinton never apologized to—or showed any sympathy for—the women who she insisted were part of the “vast right wing conspiracy.” Instead, she stayed with the man who viciously attacked these women (with extremely sexist onslaughts), and continued to defend him. This is why Sullivan questions her feminist credentials.

Again, he may be way off base here, but he’s not being sexist—in fact, quite the opposite. It’s totally fair to question why Clinton remained with her husband and refused to stand up for the women who were smeared.

petpluto said...

If you note, I didn't say that everyone who attacks Hillary Clinton is sexist or a chauvinist. I personally believe that much of the ire she has inspired since arriving on the political scene when she was not yet a politician stems from the fact that she scoffed at the idea of cookie baking and was not what some parts of the country would consider a proper wife and mother. She didn't fit into the female paradigm, and some people -though obviously not all- loathe the very core of her for that.

For the record, as much as I loved Michelle Obama's speech Monday night, I also believe that part of the way she combatted the horrid stereotype of herself as an angry Black Panther was by emphasizing her role as a wife and mother. Now, she has to because it isn't her convention, and she did have to reassure the American public that she was as wholesome as apple pie; but it still burns to know that as incredible a woman as she is, she still has to play the game in order to win the "prize" of public acceptance.

Secondly, it was stupid AND hurtful for you to insinuate that I am a fan of Hillary Clinton due to her gender. Let's get that out of the way right now. It was hurtful, and it felt demeaning. Which, as it happens, played right into what I saw happening to Hillary Clinton and her supporters over and over again throughout the campaign season. And I saw red, because of that.

Now, onto Andrew Sullivan. The man may make decent points 9 times out of 10. But I do have a very real problem with how he presented his case. First up, there IS no monolithic feminist way of reaching power. Hillary Clinton is no more or less a feminist because her ascent was helped by who she married. She didn't marry him when he was president. She worked hard to help him become president. And just because he was president doesn't mean that any political in-roads she made in her own quest for the presidency are anti-feminist. He mentioned Elizabeth I. Had Elizabeth (or Eva Peron) enacted feminist agendas through their position of power, they would be feminist icons. Just because they did not achieve power in the Andrew Sullivan mandated way would not limit the scope of their feminism. And that is what bothered me about that particular part of his article. I'm a feminist, and I hang in feminist circles. There is no One True Path to succeeding in a feminist way.

Two, I didn't comment about Hillary Clinton's tactics during the primary season. She fought dirty when she was scraping by. Was it admirable? No. Was it how politics are played? Well, yeah. Let's be completely honest. One of the reasons why Democrats lose so well is because the idiots can't be bothered to fight back and smear the Republicans -or even refute the smear tactics of the Republicans. It screwed John Kerry in 2004. It screwed Al Gore in 2000. And Democrats aren't the only ones affected. John McCain got screwed with his pants on in 2000. And it is all well and good to subscribe to what one should do or shouldn't do to win, but really, I'm not surprised.

Three, I didn't say that Andrew Sullivan's response to Hillary Clinton's tears was sexist. I said (well, Kristen Schaal said...) that the idea that tearing up was used negatively against her because she was a woman in the greater media was offensive and sexist. I just told Andrew Sullivan to bite me. Because crying? Isn't anti-feminist. It just isn't. Whether those tears were real (and I think they were) or cooked up, if Bill Clinton, if George W., if politicians in general are allowed to show emotion and still remain manly and capable of running America, then Hillary Clinton can do it too. Whether or not any of those moments of emotion are real. And to imply otherwise is infuriating; to imply that just because she teared up she has to tear up her feminist cred card is crazy.

And if you read my post again, I very carefully tried to stay away from blanket statements of sexism against Hillary's detractors. But there was sexism in the media coverage, there was sexism among some of her detractors, and I have no problem pointing that out. So I completely agree that "accusing all her detractors of sexism is cheap, silly, and unfair" -but on the other hand, I think that accusing me of painting all of Hillary Clinton's detractors with that brush is ALSO cheap, silly, and unfair. And I think it is obvious that at the very least, a lot of the animosity expressed toward Hillary Clinton, ESPECIALLY in the media, took a sexist bent -even if sexism wasn't the basis of their dislike in the first place.

petpluto said...

"he may be way off base here, but he’s not being sexist—in fact, quite the opposite. It’s totally fair to question why Clinton remained with her husband and refused to stand up for the women who were smeared."

You're right; it is totally fair to question why Hillary Clinton remained with Bill. And why she didn't stand up for the women who he slept with. Point out where Andrew Sullivan did that, because I don't see that anywhere in his article.

mikhailbakunin said...

Clearly identity politics is a big part of the reason why you like Clinton so much. Like you said:

"And as the attacks on Hillary Clinton grew in fervor and in animosity, as I felt myself as someone who had ovaries as being subject by proxy to those same, baseless, sexist, useless attacks, I grew closer to Hillary Clinton's campaign."

There's nothing wrong with this, and I didn't mean to suggest that gender was the ONLY reason you like her.

Andrew Sullivan believes (as I do) that Clinton remained with her husband after his infidelities because she knew that she was going to run for president.

She did this in spite of the fact that her husband had slandered many, many women and was, by all accounts, a sexist asshole. And she did this because she knew that her sexist asshole of a husband would help her political career. The fact that she's brilliant and capable makes it even worse.

If there are any objective standards of feminism, I'm pretty sure what Clinton did violates the hell out of them.

petpluto said...

"Clearly identity politics is a big part of the reason why you like Clinton so much. Like you said:

"And as the attacks on Hillary Clinton grew in fervor and in animosity, as I felt myself as someone who had ovaries as being subject by proxy to those same, baseless, sexist, useless attacks, I grew closer to Hillary Clinton's campaign.""

I liked Hillary first and foremost for policy reasons; I also happen to think she is an incredibly intelligent person, and so respected and liked her for that. As the campaign wore on, yes, there was some solidarity that grew out of the media's treatment of her, but that was secondary to my original reasons for supporting her. And I am still capable of remaining objective and acknowledging that she is human and has faults. Jon Stewart lambasted her on a constant basis on The Daily Show, and I had absolutely no problem with his commentary because it was about her as a person and her policies -and because he didn't presume to be the standard bearer of who is in the feminism camp and who must be ejected.

What I have a profound problem with is how many people express their dislike of Hillary Clinton; the dislike is not the problem most of the time, but I do think that some of it for some of the population is based in gender politics. Maybe not for you and maybe not for Andrew Sullivan or Jon Stewart or Keith Obermann, but for some people it is based on her gender and for a good deal more her gender (and my gender) is used as a weapon against her. And that is a very large problem, and one I do see Andrew Sullivan perpetuating in some -not all, but some- of his remarks on the subject.

I also don't really care what Andrew Sullivan's thoughts are on Bill and Hillary's marriage. He may be right, he may be wrong, but he will probably never know and neither will I. From what I do know, I tend to think that she stayed with him because she loved him and he loved her. If you (or Andrew Sullivan) think she wouldn't have won a lot of votes by divorcing him, I think you're sadly mistaken. She has taken a lot of heat over the length of her political career for staying with a man who perpetually cheated on her, and I don't think getting a divorce would have hurt her political ambitions because she already got her foot in the door. But just like Andrew Sullivan, I will probably never know if I'm right or wrong about that, so it ceases to matter to me. Because it is intensely personal and meting out judgements about something that cannot be quantified is something that I feel is kind of a waste of time and energy.

And as I said, I think Hillary Clinton should have some scrutiny as to why she stood by her husband and didn't stand up for the women he denied having affairs with. But although it is a personal failure and failing that she did not, and although it wasn't a feminist action by any means, it does not mean that Hillary Clinton is not a feminist.

Feminism is like any other -ism. The people who are within the system, who declare themselves to be of an "-ist" don't always succeed in being the best "-ist" they can be. In Catholicism, you can repent. In every other -ism, you deal with the fact that the members are not perfect, will screw up, and will let things like petty jealousy, love, anger, etc. to undermine their principles. Should Hillary Clinton have extended her hand to Monica Lewinsky just like Christie Brinkley did to the girl her husband had an affair with? Probably, yeah. But being human means being flawed, and being human and loving your spouse means sometimes you react in anger toward another individual who -while deserving your ire- deserves it less than the primary perpetrator.

Women (and increasingly, men) have stayed with cheating spouses. Women (and increasingly, men) find it in their hearts to forgive the person they married while not finding it in their hearts to forgive the person their spouse cheated with. It is the nature of the imperfect system of emotions, and I can call out Hillary's anti-feminist action there -something Andrew Sullivan does NOT- but I cannot call upon her to turn in her feminist card, because I'm not a perfect feminist either.

Like I said, I'm all for Hillary Clinton being criticized, critiqued, and possibly even hated (though I find that kind of ridiculous based on the fact that I hate very few people myself, and not even W.). But I can't stand for her -or anyone else- to be summarily torn down through demeaning, nonsensical insults and through criteria other politicians are not held to. Even if I hated her, I would hate even more the crappy way she has been treated -and the fact that a great many people find nothing wrong with how she has been treated, or very little wrong with how she has been treated.