Saturday, February 23, 2008

Meet Fred Flintstone

Warning: Rants ahead. Long post, few links, hardly any jokes. Enjoy the eye candy. It's the only treat you'll get here today.

(Photo Credit: Random search of internets on "Fred Flintstone")

Tough week here in Roxie’s World, kids. Emotions are running high. Nerves are raw, frayed, exposed. Everything feels slightly off kilter, a little out of joint. It could be we’ve entered into the fourth stage of our grief over the apparent implosion of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president – depression – though there is evidence some of us may have jumped back to stage two – anger. We’re glad y’all are here for us. We need our extended pack of happy political animals right now.

I pause here to note that there are no crybabies in Roxie’s World – or “whiny-heinies,” as they were called in the colorful Texas of Goose’s girlhood. We don’t see the junior senator from New York as the tragic victim of a vast sexist conspiracy. We recognize that the campaign itself is responsible for much of the pickle in which it currently finds itself. For example:
  • We’ve thought for a long time that Clinton should fire pollster/strategist Mark Penn and dump the middle-of-the-road strategy he and the Democratic Losership Council have been advocating for so many years.
  • We doubted the wisdom of running on experience in a year when voters were clearly eager for change, in part because it made it harder for the campaign to capitalize on the exciting, history-making aspects of Clinton's candidacy.
  • We are shocked that the campaign didn’t have a game plan for contesting the nomination past Super Tuesday, having obviously assumed that their girl would wrap things up on that day.
  • We give the Obama campaign major props for the brilliance of its ground game – the plan to rack up wins in small states and caucuses and keep the big states close enough to prevent Clinton from opening up an insurmountable lead in the delegate count. If he gets the nomination, it will be in large part because he and his team ran a nimble race that was strategically much smarter than the one run by the seasoned veterans of team Clinton.
Fine, so by some measures Clinton is getting beat fair and square. Then why do we feel as if she and to some extent we – her doggedly loyal supporters – have been kicked in the gut as she has morphed in the public imagination from the inevitability candidate to the vanquished witch who refuses to melt despite the buckets and buckets of water that have been poured on her? Why are we finding it hard to gather ourselves for the moment when she graciously steps aside and we are expected – as good sports and loyal Democrats – to switch out the yard signs, cover up the bumper stickers, and officially declare Roxie’s World a pro-Obama zone?

Because even if we don’t believe Clinton has been done in by a vast sexist conspiracy, the toxic levels of sexism and misogyny that have been released in the course of the primary campaign have saddened and sickened us. We reject the claim that the resistance to Clinton is not resistance to the notion of a woman president per se but merely resistance to the notion of this woman as president. As our pal the Gregarious Victorianist pointed out in a recent e-mail exchange, that is the logic of sexism pretending not to be sexism: I don’t have any problems with women, such logic goes, just this woman. And this one, and this one, and that one, and that one . . . We’ve seen that logic in action too many times to pretend it isn’t still very much with us. We’ve seen it in hiring and promotion decisions at the university, in the bitchification of women who too strenuously assert themselves in leadership positions, in the marginalization of women’s issues as narrow, special interests (even though women comprise a majority of voters). Consciously or unconsciously, such biases persist and have manifest themselves in a number of ways throughout the campaign. See, for example, the collected screeds of the venomous Maureen Dowd or the mountains of articles written that focus on aspects of Clinton’s person or body (hair, clothes, cleavage, laugh, tears) rather than on the substance of her campaign.

The men of MSNBC, led by Tweety himself, Chris Matthews, are in a class by themselves as the true Fred Flintstones of this campaign, for turning coverage of a woman candidate into what felt at times like a high-tech gang rape, so pronounced were their prehistoric masculinist biases and so gleeful and one-upping were they in the venting of them. Matthews may think he can redeem himself by “tough” (but long overdue) questioning of an obscure Obama supporter who clearly wasn’t ready for prime time, but his foaming-at-the-mouth excitement over every setback suffered by the Clinton campaign betrays an animus toward women’s aspirations to power that can’t be covered over by pointing toward his allegedly strong wife Kathleen. Matthews would be an embarrassment to his profession if the profession of cable network talking-head show host were in any way capable of embarrassment.

Tweety is not, of course, the only Flintstone to rear his obnoxious head in the course of this already long campaign. Jonathan Kaufman had an article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week on the battle for the votes of working-class white men. Not all of the men profiled in the story expressed sexist opposition to Clinton (some, alas, expressed racist opposition to Obama), but such resistance to her candidacy is widespread enough that one Ohio political strategist flatly declared, "For a lot of blue-collar guys over 40, Hillary Clinton is a poster child for everything about the women's movement that they don't like -- their wife going back to work, their daughters rebelling, the rise of women in the workplace.” On the other hand, Dan Leihgeber, a steelworker, tells the reporter that he supports Senator Clinton for her experience and positions. Kaufman reports of Leihgeber:
He carries a book bag to work every day with his lunch and a newspaper inside and a Clinton button pinned to the outside. Some days, he says, he turns the bag around so the Clinton button doesn't show; he says he doesn't like dealing with his co-workers' derogatory comments. Mr. Leihgeber says he wouldn't be heckled so much for an Obama pin.
Mr. Leihgeber then offers one of the saddest yet most illuminating comments we’ve seen on the Democratic campaign of 2008:
"People don't want to speak out against Obama because of the fear of being seen as racist," he says. "It's easier to say you want to keep a woman barefoot and pregnant . . . .You can call a woman anything."
Moose can identify with Mr. Leihgeber’s story of the Clinton button on the book bag. She was in the hallway at school on Wednesday (the day after the latest string of Clinton defeats), rushing to get to her office before class, with her similarly festooned book bag thrown over her shoulder. A colleague came up behind her and said, in a voice thick with sarcasm, “Whoa, that’s dedication to the cause. Did you go out to Wisconsin to vote again?” “Yeah,” Moose tartly replied, “and you see how much good it did.” Her colleague – a good guy and actually a pretty good friend – went on to taunt her with some remark about Clinton’s vote on Iraq. She countered with something about Obama’s votes to continue funding the war he claims so much wisdom for opposing, and then she realized she needed to disengage – in part because she had to get to class but in truth because she realized she was deeply, viscerally angry.

Why did her colleague need to gloat about his candidate’s victory and needle her about her candidate’s defeat? Why has the left found it necessary in this campaign to turn Hillary Clinton into an evil power-grabbing bitch who must be driven from the field, her reactionary ideas consigned to the dustbin of history? Why must her supporters be mocked and ridiculed as sellouts, fuddy-duddies, and agents of neoliberalism – when there are, in fact, no substantive policy differences between Clinton and Obama?

People have worried a lot about Obama’s supporters staying home if Clinton manages to “steal” the nomination by winning Ohio and Texas, sewing up the superdelegates, and enfranchising the voters of Michigan and Florida. No one seems to worry at all that Clinton’s supporters might get mad enough about the way they and their candidate have been treated to sit out the election. If Obama gets the nomination and does not choose a woman as his running mate, we will know he is taking women’s votes for granted. He’s counting on them to be good sports, to be gracious in defeat, to be placated by a few more rallies with Oprah.

Or he knows what Dan Leihgeber knows: You can call a woman anything.

What would it take to consign that sad assertion to the dustbin of history, sweet denizens of Roxie’s World? What kind of change would we all have to be to make those words unthinkable? You tell me, beloveds. Your favorite dog blogger is one tired old bitch tonight.

9 comments:

  1. RutgersAlumna8:01 AM EST

    Roxie,

    The strange thing is that women acquire a sense of their great power, by way of that monumental fear of women they constantly witness in men. We are at times so empowered by it, that out of some unconscious sense of compassion for the male struggle with our gender, we find ourselves inadvertantly giving place to their needs, the way all creatures instinctively give themselves up to care for their young.

    I had a thought which is not meant to demean anyone (in fact, it makes me feel more love for them all), but it just struck me that this Democratic primary election is a remake of Bull Durham! Obama is that tall gangly pitcher, who finally comes of age, through the teaching of his catcher Kevin Costner (John Edwards), along with the wildly delightful sexual guru magic of Susan Sarandon (Hillary Clinton). Now who would you rather be, the pitcher, the catcher or Susan Sarandon? Wouldn't most men choose the catcher and most women Susan Sarandon, even though those two are the ones left behind in the minor leagues, and only the pitcher makes it through to the big time.

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  2. Great post, Rox, and great comment, RA (hey, I forgot to thank you for your Dickinson riff earlier this week -- that makes this Goose SO happy). And I'd definitely rather be Susan Sarandon. . . .

    Anyway, I've been flabbergasted by the toxic levels of sexism, coupled with the lack of compunction about unleashing highly negative insinuations about Senator Clinton's motives and actions by men I have considered reasonable (see Frank Rich's recent columns in which he draws conclusions about Clinton from "facts" he has made up -- it's truly astonishing, and he would rant rant rant if he heard Limbaugh doing it. . .but it's a Limbaugh tactic if I ever saw one). And then there's The Nation's endorsement of Obama which made me laugh out loud (it goes something like. . .he's too conservative for us, he really hasn't done anything that we can point to, and Senator Clinton is the one who has the plan to get us out of Iraq and a healthcare plan that will work, but we like the Prom King and are going with him rather than the Valedictorian). And then there's the NYTimes itself, puffing up little negative bits about the junior Senator from NY and putting it on their front page (yesterday).

    The sad fact is that if Obama were an African American woman whose rhetoric inspired, she would have dropped out of the race by now (it's no surprise that one mantra with Obama campaign staffers is to remember that, yes Roxie, you can say anything about a woman; and thanks to one of our dear friends who has been raising this point for weeks).

    I think I beg to differ with you Rox about the sexist conspiracy business -- sure, there haven't been meetings in back rooms where agreements to "take the bitch down" were made, but there have been implicit agreements among interested parties acting together and exploiting residual sexism to win. Think about it, from McCain's query--"who's going to take the bitch down"--to the adolescence-on-parade gleeful guffaws when Mama gets beat (after all, Mama would make us eat our vegetables: formulate plans that, yes, might require SACRIFICE for everyone to have health care, for us REALLY to bring the troops home) to Obama staffers knowing you can say anything about a woman, we have witnessed some of the most immature expressions of hate (yes, hate) that we've ever seen. AND it's ye ole politics of distraction again: NO ONE IS DISCUSSING THE ISSUES. Well, Hillary keeps trying to discuss them, but Obama supporters just keep swooning and singing "Don't worry, be happy, the details don't matter and thinking about them just makes your head hurt anyway."

    Neoliberal candidate? He's Barack Obama. He won't require any real change on our parts. We can, as so many have done in academe, simply pontificate about the need for change, cast brutal judgments on those with whom we disagree, and all will remain the same, just as it has in the university. Consider this: in my field more white men are hired for tenure-track jobs every year though women have the far better track record on PhD completion. Mmm. . .is that really because the men are doing substantially better work? Also, often in academe, powerful women are indeed bitchified through whispering campaigns (all conducted under the guise of "confidentiality" so the woman in question doesn't stand a chance of addressing those rumors). Thus one presidential or chancellor cabinet after another, all across the land, is primarily white male. And have you noticed that where there were feminist/women's studies that became gender studies, there's now masculinity studies that are of broad interest and application (rather than the "special interest," too narrow women's studies).

    If he wins the nomination, Obama is not going to have sexism to help him out in the general campaign. He's going to need much more clearly drawn plans. His first answer in Thursday's debate was simply embarrassing and then ended with "my economic plan is like Hillary's"; and then there was his incoherent rambling after his answer about plagiarism that made his supporters laugh. . .do they know that his answer--"he's my friend and adviser and said I could have those words and use them as my own"--would NOT have satisfied the Honor Council of my own university?

    But, as one of our dear friends wrote, we live in a cut-and-paste world and he's the cut-and-paste candidate. We live in a world where most don't want to think and so we go with anything that makes us feel. To that I'll add that we live in a land of very lazy journalists--very few want to evaluate the claims and proposals of candidates. 'tis far easier simply to feel and jump on the bandwagon of the moment.

    Oh, as I said earlier, I fear we are in big trouble. And I admire Senator Clinton more every day. She is not letting the journalists write her script, and she doesn't do, as the liars have said, the cynical thing. Yesterday she gave up a half day of campaigning because a Dallas police officer in her motorcade was killed. She spent time with his family, and she spent time with the officers who are his colleagues rather than campaign, and at a time when there's no time or energy to spare. Thank you, Senator Clinton, for your empathy and your care and for not turning feeling good into fodder for your own campaign.

    In Peace & Possibility,
    Goose

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  3. There are two issues: men are afraid of strong women so they discount them and many women don't want to be strong, because they doen't want to take respoonsbility for their lives.

    The first is just the Good Old Boy's club transforming itself to include minorities so they don't completely die out. I find it amazing how the good old boys in media keep telling her to quit because there is no way for her to win--at the time she was 26 deligates behind. There are still enough deligates in play that she can still stay in the game. However, if the Michigan and Flordia deligates are put back into play, the balance will be tiped back in her favor, which is why the boy's club is fighting it.

    Secondly, let's face there are some women who would prefer to be second class citizends. They can stay home with the kiddies and play house while letting someone else make the decisions. If women stuck together and voted as a block, we would have smashed through that glass ceiling decades ago. It just takes a majority of us to decide to do it.

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  4. I have to say that I agree with everything said in this post and have been rethinking my own unconscious bias towards the kind of charisma that Barack embodies as a holdover from the influence of patriarchal Southern politics. I also am increasingly concerned about Obama's lack of substance on the issues since my own partner was just diagnosed this week with a potentially terminal illness and denied his outpatient treatment by his hospital physicians because he lacks health insurance. When your wasting partner is lying in bed crying "they're going to let me die" the health care crisis in America becomes horrifically real. This country no longer guarantees our most basic right to life.

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  5. Oh, Sarah, I'm so sorry to hear about your partner's illness. Your friends in Roxie's World send good thoughts your way. Your comment remind us that in a very real sense, lives are at stake in this election -- lives made precarious by lack of health insurance, lives on the line in an unending war, lives thwarted by poor schools or lack of economic opportunity. Pretty speeches won't count for much if we can't find the will and the way to begin addressing the country's long-neglected problems.

    We hope your partner's situation improves, Sarah. Big face licks to you and to him.

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  6. Dudley the beagle10:10 AM EST

    Sarah's comment makes clear just how sick our whole country has become. If there is by chance a reader of Roxie's World who hasn't seen "Sicko," you need to do it now.

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  7. Dudley the beagle10:50 AM EST

    Yeah, yeah, Chris. Your wife is a strong woman. Look, Tweety, this is Roxie's World, and it's inhabited by lots of people who have had training in understanding language, self-presentation, text, subtext, and the psychology of sexism. We all know that "My own wife is a strong woman" is a common rhetorical technique used by guys who've been caught doing or saying sexist stuff and who are aware, at some level, that that's not OK. It's an attempt to deflect the claim they are, in fact, like, um, y'know, sexist.

    That particular line has been used by such luminaries as G. Gordon Liddy and William Bennett, as well as any number of proponents of wifely - submission - like - it - says - in - the - Bible.

    In addition to trying to ward off accusations of sexism, it is also a display, a piece of self-presentation that says, "See, I have a strong wife. I must therefore be tougher, stronger, and more manly than the average man." (Liddy in particular likes to present his wife as the second coming of Genghis Khan, but in skirts. Wait a minute--Genghis Khan did wear skirts. OK, the second coming of Genghis Khan. Note that this presents him as the guy who could have whupped Genghis Khan. [Actually, that's a matchup we'd like to see. But then, Liddy has some chops. Matthews, not so much.])

    Anyway, leave the tougher-than-thou self-presentation to us dogs: we're better at it. And we also know when we should just look ashamed and resolve to try better next time.

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  9. Thanks for helping my Mom define her sad mood, Roxie, et. al.

    Yesterday she took a chance (based upon your post) and wore her "OUT for Hillary" Campaign button around town. Like your Mom, Rox, she received some stares, but the longer she wore it, the stronger she felt. She said that it feels good to declare, openly, who you are and who and what you stand for. Then later in the day, she was taken down to her knees by my her partner's son who looked at my Mom's button and said, "Out?" Do you mean like "out of the running?". The conversation didn't last long, but it was enough to remind her of how young boys (whose attention span consists mainly of the time it takes to play a GAMEBOY game) who try to emulate their fathers.

    No prosaic wit or wisdom today. Just a little news from the suburban curb.

    Oh Sarah ... me and my Mom are sorry (even though we don't know you) about your partner's situation. I hear this phrase A LOT around here. Damn Health Insurance companies!!! My Mom's partner works in the field and required a specific type of blood test because of her possible exposure to an infectious disease. After she had the test done, she found out that it wasn't covered by insurance. Odd. This is a health care worker who could potentially expose patients and she HAS insurance and yet they don't cover a test for an infectious disease. Something is terribly wrong here.

    I think that my Mom's sadness is justified.

    sds

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