Alex Blaze

Pansy-gate

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 30, 2008 2:17 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mark Easley, Maureen Dowd, North Carolina, pansy

I'm a bit surprised by the reaction I've seen to NC Governor Mike Easley's comments saying that Hillary Clinton would make Rocky Balboa look like a pansy.

A few people are debating the meaning of the word "pansy" in that context, whether it means "faggot" or "wimpy." While someone of my generation associates the word with something along the lines of "weak and feminine," I understand how many people of Easley's generation understand it to be an anti-gay slur.

Not that there's really all that much difference. It's almost as if we can say, with a straight face: Don't use the word "faggot" or any synonym, and you're alright by us. Go ahead, demean women, femininity, flamingness, conventional weakness, and whatever the opposite of Rocky Balboa is, just don't use a bad word!

This is where it gets problematic for me, the connection between what Easley said and Hillary's new image as gun-totin' hawk. She was already casting herself as Rocky Balboa in Pennsylvania....

Remember how everyone pretty much agreed that Hillary's health care plan was better than Obama's? And how she's been working on the issue for ages compared to him? And how many people care deeply about that issue? Wouldn't it, in a sane universe, make sense to run on that, instead of her saber-rattling of Iran, her childhood as Annie Oakley, and her ability to answer the phone at odd hours?

It's almost as if she's taken Chris Matthews's worship of those masculine Republicans to heart, as if she wants to be the object of the press corps' flyboy worship like that oh-so butch John McCain is, as if she thinks that Maureen Dowd has anything valid to say about politics when she's begging Democrats, for the love of God, not to be the "mommy party."

Please. Some us actually like the idea of a politician focused on making our lives better instead of killing others.

That American media understand politics as a gendered narrative in which Republicans are men, Democrats are women, masculinity favors war, femininity favors social spending, and where following your gender is expected but being masculine is better. But I'm fairly certain that's just a small class of Americans, a particularly Beltway understanding of the way "real Americans" (read: not them) know politics.

So that it's come to this, throwing around the P-word to try to get Tarheels to vote for Hillary, it's nothing more than misogynist and vapid political rhetoric as usual. And, yes, that has always been homophobic in a more abstract sense. But it was always a stone's throw away from just saying "fags suck."

(What gets my goat, though, is how many people can only talk about this in the context of the primary contest. A few months ago Jerame told me that we can't talk about anything relating to this contest separate from people wanting to get their preferred candidate through. Even if it isn't conscious, people want to see their candidate as the cooler one, so they bend and twist logic and their normal reactions to support him or her.

As loathe as I am to admit it, he's probably right. As I've seen a certain prominent Obama supporter get offended by the comment, suddenly forgetting his history and his hand in re-creating "masculine, hawkish fopo is better than social spending" to get GWB into office and get American troops into Iraq so that he can decry the use of the word pansy.)

Either way, Easley's comment didn't happen in a vacuum, and whether it's read as associating weakness with gays, women, or femininity, it's still wrong and we shouldn't accept it. Even if we're already swimming in it.

As for Easley, yeah, he should probably release a nicely worded apology about how he didn't really know that that word was associated with the gays, or, if he did, he could say that he spoke without thinking or something. I've been doing this gay blogging thing long enough to know that that's what we'll get in a best-case scenario.

And for reference, here are Easley's comments:

After touring a bio-manufacturing training center, Gov. Easley, First Lady of North Carolina Mary Easley and Clinton held a ceremony at NC State University. The Governor formally expressed his support saying that there was "nothing I love more than a strong powerful woman." Easley concluded his remarks saying Clinton -- "makes Rocky Balboa look like a pansy".


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Alex, you're not be politically cynical enough here. Assume that the Clinton campaign either pre-approved or actually wrote Easley's remarks and keep in mind that other Clinton surrogates have recently used similar slurs, like "sissy," then re-assess.

What I see is a deliberate, Marc Penn strategy at work here. Remember, he's all about micro-targeting groups. I see the Easley remark as part of a broader tactic of trying to play on the masculinity prejudices of working-class white men, a key Hillary group. Recall the Bill Clinton ads on Christian radio in 1996 touting DOMA? This is just more of the same, but slicker. The Clinton campaign is clearly avoiding the most obviously antigay epithets, like "fag" and "queer," so as to maintain plausible deniability about what they're doing. Instead, we get "sissy" and "pansy" from Hillary surrogates. Then when they get asked about it, the response is, no, no, this has nothing to do with gay people. But it's all just a more subtle way to do exactly what Bill did in 1996 - exploit prejudice among a significant group of voters. Plenty of working-class white men, especially in Hillary's over-45 target group, hear basically the same thing whether the word is "queer" or "fag" or "sissy" or "pansy." The Clinton campaign is quite aware of that and is shamelessly exploiting it.

And this from the woman who thinks she deserves to be the one to break the big gender barrier!

And this from the woman who thinks she deserves to be the one to break the big gender barrier!

Honestly, I thought that the first woman president (before 2006) would be Genghis Kahn in a pantsuit. Hillary would definitely be a pleasant surprise compared to what I thought!

You see, I don't see the same line between "gay" and "feminine" that others do, or that you might, Steve. It's all the same cabal to me - we're oppressed first and foremost because we transgress masculinity.

I don't think I've seen you around these parts before. Welcome to TBP!

it's misogyny, plain and simple. Homophobia (as it gets deployed against gay males) is an offshoot of patriarchy and a hatred of the feminine.

Bless you Alex for being so clear that this sort of anti-gay slur is NOT acceptable. I have been ashamed of how some other bloggers who support Senator Clinton have rationalized Easley's bigotry or trivialized his offense:

http://washblade.com/blog/index.cfm?blog_id=18019

( Kevin Naff "Pansies, Get Over It !")

I am pleased to say that I challenged Naff, editor of the Washington Blade, to post a link to one of the MANY bloggers who criticized Easley and Clinton ( for balance) and that he later added a link to your post.

Well done Alex. Well done !

Well, then, you're going to *love* today's chestnut - pun intended. A union leader endorsed Clinton by applauding her "testicular fortitude". No, I'm not making that up.

Clinton was standing behind him, and you need to see her face when he says that. I thought her eyeballs were going to shoot out of her head.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 30, 2008 11:02 PM

Appropriately Easley could have said "lightweight."

OK, it's time for them to suit up. I'm seeing Clinton and Obama in the ring yelling at one another: "OK, you want a piece of me, bring it on!"

It's time for all you testicularly challenged, misogynistic, effeminate, homophobic, gun toting, liberal, conservatives to show what you are made of.

Look, these are just hot button words, designed to speak to the LCD of voter who can't be bothered to read or think. What they want is a punch line and a big "thump" at the end of music so they know when to applaud.

Easley did not say "lightweight" because it does not convey the same thing as "pansy" to the sort of homophobic voters he and Clinton hope to appeal to. He could have said "faggot" instead of "pansy" but his intended audience got the message loud and clear just the same.

RE: Rory's comment @ 8:56pm.

I was going through Shakesville where the same mention of the "testicular fortitude" came up, and according to that post, it "prompted [Clinton] to note when she took the mic that both women and men could have fortitude of their own [...]".

The main point of this article and the comments to it clearly are evidence of why I can not and do not support Hillary because I do not believe she will support the LGBT community as President.
I further believe that she is really much further to the right than the majority of Democrats.

This is completely off topic, but I have a question for the new commenter, Steve, who posted comment number 1: Is use of the word, "queer" derogatory? I would be curious to see what others think. There are multiple valid schools of thought about this.

Oh, and it's already here....

This post wasn't meant to persuade anyone's vote.

It's about a tired narrative that's going to come into play no matter who's running.

And if we're going to talk about who's most cynically exploiting it, that'd be that one chill Republican dude running for president. I forget his name....

I loved this part:

Wouldn't it, in a sane universe, make sense to run on that, instead of her saber-rattling of Iran, her childhood as Annie Oakley, and her ability to answer the phone at odd hours?

Pansy? Anti-gay term unless referring to flowers.

I am fascinated by this discussion as I am a gay man and artist based in the UK. My work 'The Pansy Project' confronts homophobia in a symbolic way. I plant pansies at the site of homophobic abuse name the location after the abuse then post an image of the abuse on my website above.

In the UK 'gay' has now come to mean anything crap or stupid, anything that is not cool!...it has almost stopped being used as a description for a gay man. Though clearly it still does have that meaning.

It disturbs me that a word like 'pansy' and 'gay' can come to mean anything negative. Though in this context it interesting as The Pansy was named after the french verb penser 'to think' as the flower resembled a face which often is bowed as if in deep thought.This became associated with effeminate or thoughtful men. Sad that masculinity is associated with not being thoughtful. Do we not want the worlds leaders to be thoughful?