Bringing Sexism Back


In his goodbye to Hillary Clinton, the always entertaining Michael Moynihan writes:

The Democratic primary was a lose-lose proposition for the image of American tolerance: If Senator Obama lost, ours was an irredeemably racist country. Senator Clinton lost, and we are infected by sexism. But whether viewed through the prism of radical gender feminism or a boy's club media conspiracy, the truth is considerably less complicated. The vaunted Clinton machine—devoid of fresh ideas and facing a dynamic, inspirational opponent—simply couldn't compete.

But we need not choose between these two conclusions. It's probable that Clinton ran an inferior campaign, as Moynihan argues. And unless Hillary nutcrackers are somehow emblematic of gender equity, it's blindingly obvious that Katha Pollitt was also right: This campaign inspired myriad public displays of misogyny, many of them deeply dispiriting. Perhaps another woman wouldn't have prompted questions like "How do we beat the bitch," or calls to iron the shirts of hecklers. There is a tendency to dismiss sexism against Clinton because "it's just her." But sexism is no more particular to its object than racism. Surely it matters that instead of saying "I disagree with this policy proposal," Tucker Carlson chose to say of the would-be candidate: "There's just something about her that feels castrating, overbearing and scary." Unless you think there is something new about comparing assertive women to castrators, saying "but there is!" really isn't an excuse here.

There is no need to overplay the relevance of Facebook groups like "Hillary Clinton: Stop Running for President and Make Me a Sandwich"; the misogyny that matters is more subtle. The tacit biases Kristof mentions are quite real, as any social psychologist will tell you, and they suggest that most people are disposed to perceive a woman as either likable or competent–not both. There is tradeoff, and Clinton's noted lack of likability is at least partly attributable to her strength. That's not to say that some women won't be able to strike a balance, somehow coming off as assertive without being tagged a robot, a school marm, or Lorena Bobbitt-esque. But it's a huge disadvantage, and five seconds of watching Chris Matthews sputter through a broadcast should only make that more obvious.

Anyway, this seems like a good time to link to Charles Johnson's wonderful post on what Hayek teaches us about rape. I wrote about sexism and the Clinton campaign here, here, and here.