The recent US election made many people feel that they could get away with some very nasty behavior. Most recently it was Sarah Palin who brought out the worst in people. There was plenty to criticize about the governor from Alaska, but the over-the-top elation with which some people piled on her went way beyond criticism. Now that she's lost, the sport of kicking the loser has begun. Not aimed at McCain - oh no, of course not: the theme of this 22-month electionathon was woman-bashing.
From the start many of the attacks on Palin were fictitious. She never tried to ban any books; her record on taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Alaska is actually quite good; her stance on polar bears is well-informed and responsible; her actions as governor to protect gay rights were actually quite good (not because of any conviction about human rights, but because she was determined to follow the constitution). She is not an Alaskan separatist. As governor, she really did reduce waste and corruption. There is no indication that she has tried to force her private religious views on her constituents. She is not as inexperienced as her detractors like to say and was the only one of the four in the race with executive experience (although her knowledge of facts and issues is poor).
Now the gossips are crowing, based on already-discredited third-hand accounts, that Palin doesn't know that the US free trade agreement includes Canada and Mexico and that she doesn't know Africa is a continent. It's not just that they pass on any preposterous bullshit about Palin as truth; it's the glee they take in bashing her.
The last time we encountered this phenomenon was just a few months ago, when the same crew was bashing Hillary Clinton. In fact, the ravenous dogs barely had time to catch their breath before U-turning to their next prey. With Hillary, the form of attack was different. They couldn't call her stupid, so they claimed she was a rich bitch, had a sense of entitlement, was hypocritical, nasty, mannish, a ball-breaker.
Do you see the pattern? In both cases we have a woman who is extremely competent, wildly successful, and powerful: almost at the top of two male-dominated heaps. One was a US senator, the other a governor. The caricatures of them go to the heart of society's dismissal of women as either inferior or evil.
The ferocity of the attacks border on sexual predation. They expose a need in some people to dominate women, belittle them, humiliate them, crush them - and then mock them. They expose a fear of powerful women, as well as a deep-seated belief that leaders must have traditional male, paternalistic, alpha dog characteristics.
I foresee the reactions of some readers. I've written a number of much milder posts about prejudice against female politicians and received comments that ranged from dismissive and condescending to angry. One older man said I was making a fool of myself by writing about feminist issues. Those comments just further expose the misogyny of their writers.
It's wonderful that Obama was able to break the race barrier and become the first black president. It's clear that the gender barrier is going to be a lot more difficult to bust. At this point, fielding a female candidate is an invitation to character assassination.
It's not just an American thing: think also of Sheila Copps and Belinda Stronach. And unfortunately, prejudice against women in politics has manifested itself mostly in the center and left. Canada and Britain have had female prime ministers, both Conservatives. But recently, it's American grassroots Democratics who have exhibited the most shameful behavior towards women in politics, in terms of savaging women who put themselves forward and attacking female politicians on the basis of their gender.