Friday, May 23, 2008

Sexism and Racism - Suffrage and Abolition

I support Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination and I support him for president. I began the primary season supporting Hillary Clinton but for a whole host of reasons came to believe that the nation and world will be better served by an Obama presidency. None of that mitigates my dismay at the sexism displayed against Clinton over these past months, nor should it have. I am a husband, a father, and a grandfather. All of that informs my response to a column a week ago in the Washington Post by one Marie Cocco, with whose other writings I am unfamiliar, and so was neither positively or negatively disposed toward her before reading, “Mysogny I Won’t Miss.”

She did not waste words in getting into her litany:
As the Democratic nomination contest slouches toward a close, it's time to take stock of what I will not miss.

I will not miss seeing advertisements for T-shirts that bear the slogan "Bros before Hos." The shirts depict Barack Obama (the Bro) and Hillary Clinton (the Ho) and are widely sold on the Internet.

I will not miss walking past airport concessions selling the Hillary Nutcracker, a device in which a pantsuit-clad Clinton doll opens her legs to reveal stainless-steel thighs that, well, bust nuts. I won't miss television and newspaper stories that make light of the novelty item.
She goes on with another ten examples, some of which may be taken out of context to make her point.

The greatest offense, Cocco suggests, is the “silence” by the DNC Chair Howard Dean or “other leading Democrats,” with the exception of Sen. Barbara Mikulski who haven’t “publicly uttered a word of outrage at the unrelenting, sex-based hate that has been hurled at a former first lady and two-term senator from New York.”
Don Imus endured more public ire from the political class when he insulted the Rutgers University women's basketball team.
Cocco concludes by acknowledging that Clinton is losing the nomination because of her own mistakes and a groundswell for “change.” Her last line returns to the indictment:
But for all Clinton's political blemishes, the darker stain that has been exposed is the hatred of women that is accepted as a part of our culture.
If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to go to the Washington Post web site and read the whole column. I went to the web site and read through the first "page" of comments (they go on forever). That re-enforced my dismay at the hurt caused by rampant sexism. I knew it was out there, but Cocco’s column focused it like the obsidian edge of a surgeon’s scalpel. One has only to read a few of the comments to see the hurt and anger many women are feeling. I wanted to weep for the women in my life.

I began the primary season thinking that I could happily support any of the Democratic candidates against any of the Republicans. That's not just Democratic bias on my part; it is an acknowledgement that the party matters. As the race narrowed, I was ecstatic that the Democratic nominee would likely be a woman or an African American, both of whom I believe to be quite qualified. Somewhere along the way, I began to tilt toward Obama. Was it because I was sexist? We never quite know our own motivations. I know that in the South Carolina primary I could hardly believe what I heard from Bill Clinton in making race an issue. Then, there were all of the "those states (where the votes were predominantly black) don't count" because they are usually outvoted in the general elections by their white majorities.

At one point in the campaign I realized my hope that race and sex would not be factors was a false one. I observed that racists and sexists would have their way by setting against each other a white woman and a black man. Alas, it seems to be. Someone wrote a piece on Kos a couple of months ago analyzing past primaries and concluding that where there has been this much blood-letting the party loses the general election. I so hope that is not the case. I would still support Hillary in a heartbeat if she became the nominee, but my respect for both she and Bill has greatly diminished, and I believe for reasons not sexist.

Looking ahead to the general election, I believe that what we have seen already on sexism against Hillary is but a taste of what we will see on racism against Obama. It has nothing to do with racism being more than sexism; it is not. If Hillary became the nominee, we would see sexism ramped up way beyond what Cocco has already described.

The thought of the political war that will be waged over the next months is frankly repulsive to me, and yet I believe we must elect a Democratic president and stronger majorities in Congress. I don't think it overdramatic to say that the future of this nation depends on it.

As I thought about the sexism and racism already so much a part of this campaign, my mind went back to the pioneers of the
Women’s Rights Movement following the Civil War, women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and others. During the war, the women’s movement suspended their quest and focused on abolition. After the war, they expected equality for both blacks and women, but were devastated when the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments restricted the right to vote to male citizens. We shouldn’t be surprised that the women’s movement was broken apart by this slap in their faces.

One man, a former slave named Frederick Douglass, was one of the most outspoken advocates of abolition and women’s rights in the 19th century. Believing that “Right is of no sex, truth is of no color,” Douglass urged an immediate end to slavery and supported and women’s rights activists in their crusade for woman suffrage. After the split of the abolitionists from the women’s movement, and the split in the women’s movement over that issue, Douglass maintained credibility with the warring groups and continued to be a tireless advocate for women’s right to vote.

Assuming that Obama is the Democratic nominee, he would do well to pay attention to Douglass’ example. No matter the mistakes Clinton has made in her campaign, we fool only ourselves if we do not understand how deeply this campaign’s sexism has hurt and angered women (I would like to have said “and men” but I have seen too much “Oh well” dismissal of the abuse from men) and how, at no fault of Obama any more than former slaves being given the vote and not women, this could hurt Democratic chances in the fall.

At some point before November, I believe Obama will have to speak as directly and clearly about sexism as he did in his great speech on racism. That, and his actions, will not erase the casualties of the attack on women in this campaign, but both are necessary. The rest of us males of the species need to find our voices of outrage at both sexism and racism. If we do that, November can be one this nation’s finest hours.

- Milo


OhioTex said...
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JHayes89 said...
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Milo Thornberry said...
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