Alex Blaze

Almost every trope of sexism

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 20, 2008 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Barack Obama, gender, Hillary Rodham Clinton, John McCain, narrative construction, sexism

Watch this video about McCain:


iPhone users: Click to watch

Consider it in conjunction with pretty much the Platonic ideal of the gendered political narrative I was talking about this weekend (Democratic men are prissy, women in politics are bitches, and Republican men are upright and appropriately gendered for political leadership), after the jump.

Thanks to zythyra in the comments:

It has been a rarity in modern political life: a wide-open race for the nomination of both parties. But whatever happens from here on out, this campaign will always be remembered for the emergence of the first serious woman candidate for president: Barack Obama.

Obama is a female candidate for president in the same way that Bill Clinton was the first black president.

It was Toni Morrison who first had the insight. In a 1998 essay in the New Yorker, the Nobel Prize-winning author described Bill Clinton as "the first black president," commenting on his saxophone playing and his displaying "almost every trope of blackness."

obama baby.jpgObama doesn't play the sax. But he is pushing against conventional--and political party nominating convention--wisdom in five important ways, with approaches that are usually thought of as qualities and values that women bring to organizational life: a commitment to inclusiveness in problem solving, deep optimism, modesty about knowing all the answers, the courage to deliver uncomfortable news, not taking on all the work alone, and a willingness to air dirty linen. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is taking a more traditional (and male?) authoritarian approach.[...]

Clinton proposes policy solutions to every problem. She has the answers, fulfilling our expectations of an aspiring authority figure and the brightest person in the class. Obama often proposes process plans, without specific policy solutions, such as bringing together all the interested parties on global warming and having them hash out their differences in a transparent forum, taking the risk that what they come up with will not be his preferred outcome.[...]

While Obama has tried to combine optimism and realism, John McCain is the only candidate in the race who has consistently delivered messages that his constituents did not want to hear. He is the only one who has regularly gone in front of hostile crowds and been willing to stand and defend positions--on immigration, the Iraqi war, ethanol, restoring jobs in Michigan, and campaign finance--that were certain to offend people whose votes he was trying to secure. Despite the gender-bending styles displayed by Obama and Clinton, McCain's manner of exercising leadership is an androgynous and rare activity.

These narratives aren't just stories that get thrown around to entertain; they have actual power, as is evident in that article. No matter how many specifics Obama gives on his policy prescriptions (far more than McCain), he's the fluffy blonde with his head in the clouds. No matter how warm, personable, and real Hillary Clinton is, she's a tough-as-nails, overly-ambitious bitch who wants you to take out the garbage. And no matter how much McCain lies, panders, and flip-flops, he's straight-talker shootin' straight from the hip.

It's pretty amazing the power that narrative has on people. I was talking to a generally aware, intelligent, and cynical liberal recently and he said that he at least liked McCain because he's not a standard Republican, he breaks from the party line and tells it like it is.

This columnist obviously fell for it too - he didn't even feel a need to provide any evidence that McCain is a stand-up guy, McCain just is, dammit. I'm not really surprised, either, that he said McCain's leadership style is "an androgynous and rare activity" instead of culturally masculine - it's appropriate and "universal," so it's not worth noting. It's a way of saying he's done good, and good for a man is masculine, because there's no way McCain is androgynous.

The photo that accompanies the article (above) is just as silly - Barack is holding a baby. That means he's a woman. Because only women can care for children, and "kissing babies" isn't such a stereotypical activity for a political candidate that it's become a figure of speech.

This wouldn't be a problem at all if it didn't start from idiotic assumptions about masculinity (in this article, masculinity is working alone, pessimism, arrogance, being afraid to tell it like it is, working along, and being afraid to tell it like it is; yes, the author's "five important ways" are actually three - one wonders if he was paid by the word) and end with the conclusion that masculinity is better than femininity, either because it's more appropriate for a male politician or that it's just better.

This article doesn't get much into that, but when the "feminine" candidate, Obama, is being called "prissy" and being told on the teevee and in print by more candid commentators that his gender performance won't gel with "real Americans" (as if millionaire pundits have any idea what working class Americans are like), it's not an empty definition or a silly feature story. It's an attempt to push aside those features they read as feminine and the resulting policy, which is somehow always progressive.


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I was talking to a generally aware, intelligent, and cynical liberal recently and he said that he at least liked McCain because he's not a standard Republican, he breaks from the party line and tells it like it is.

I often wonder what happened to the "Straight Talk Express" McCain. When he ran against Bush in 2004, I'd have considered voting for him (considered). Maybe he just seemed like the lesser of two evils.

Either way it goes, both Clinton AND Obama are better choices this time around.