Thursday, November 06, 2008

Time for Progressives to Reassess

Politics is interesting. While exercising their democratic rights, people enter a spirit of public opinionating. They scrutinize and analyze and criticize. Sometimes, in their sense of entitlement to express every opinion, some pretty sordid prejudices are exposed.

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.


4 comments: said...

I agree. I think that sexism though it does not reach the degree of fanaticism as racism, is more prevalent.


Deb Prothero said...

I predicted a couple of weeks ago that Palin would wear the loss that was apparently about to happen. Now that the loss has been realized, Palin is paying the price for the ineptitude of the entire Republican party as well as the total incompetence of the Bush government.

In a short period of eight weeks, Sarah Palin has become the scapegoat for all that is wrong. In my opinion, the Republican Party lost because of its current occupant of the White House and because John McCain sold out his principles to the rabid right of the party in order to hold onto the base in his search for power. He'd have had a better shot at the Presidency if he'd been the same guy he was in 2000.

Now, I do have to add that Sarah did seem to me to be lacking in some essential characteristics of a truly capable vice presidential candidate. I did not feel soothed at all when she came out with the "palling with terrorists" remarks against Obama. She seemed to be grasping at the low bar in political criticism of her opponent.

Her inability to rise to the occasion of her appointment as the running mate seemed to me to indicate a character flaw of tragic proportion. The mere hint of a capacity to regard her opponents in the race with a hint of human dignity would have made her a better candidate, in my opinion. And would have added a measure of calm about the prospect of her having her hand near any red buttons or phones when a world crisis may have been faced.

Nonetheless, the criticism being tossed around now does feel like it's of a particularly sexist nature. McCain earned his own loss and any criticism his camp is hurling at Palin are diversionary tactics.

susansmith said...

I agree with your take, and the characterizing of female politicians into negative frame boxes.
Leaving aside Kim Campbell (who you could say was setup to take the fall for the Prog Conservative party's demise as coming so let a woman wear it), I want to speak to Thatcher as England's Prime Minister. Her nickname was "iron woman" and thus her characteristics she projected are considered valorized positive male leadership assets, such as, being tough like a man. So she might have been a "female" but only could be successful if she wore only positive male gendered attributes.

By the way, great post - thank you.

Robert G. Harvie, Q.C. said...

Excellent post - my own comments on Warren Kinsella engaging in the same sad "piling on" is here:

And I also agree that aside from the issue of sexism, which is there, no doubt, is the broader issue of attacking people instead of their policies.. as I posted on my blog, as much as I disagreed with Dion's position on the Greenshift, you have to respect his willingness to stand up and take the shit..

Good post.