Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Gender Speech That Never Was (Or Will Be)

"It is possible, indeed it is probable, that just as women have faced barriers and obstacles and derision, so have Hispanics, so have blacks, and so have men. No one in America can corner the market on suffering. Who the hell wants to spend their life in a corner, anyhow?

If we in this country are ever going to move beyond Hooters, beyond date rape, beyond the wage gap and the glass ceiling, beyond Girls Gone Wild, and bulimic 12-year-olds, we need to start working together. We need to work with men on the gender signals called out by the media and with business about the value of women workers. We need to talk to one another respectfully and listen to one another's complaints."

Could you imagine those words coming out of the mouth of HRC? Well neither could the two female Slate writers who wrote them. Last week, in a fantastic critique of Clinton's gender politics (or lack thereof), they contemplated why she would never be able to give a gender speech to match that of Obama's on race.

In my oh-so-humble opinion, the true mark of a natural leader occurs when seemingly-insurmountable obstacles, like adversity in public opinion, are seized upon by a politician that knows how to position him/herself in a role of great power rather than victimization. Time and time again we have seen how Clinton responds to negative press. Unlike Obama, she chooses to further victimize herself.

Her moment to elevate the public discourse on gender roles was blatantly thrown at her, much in the way it has for Spitzer's wife and countless other politicians' wives, with a public shaming as a result of a philandering husband. Sometimes a woman needs to be strong enough not to "stand by her man." So today, we have this type of discussion when it comes to the topic of cheating men in the public sphere. The way Clinton handled her husband's affair(s) is chillingly telling. From Slate:

Her biggest supporters are the women who see themselves in her and who feel that she is/they are owed this; after all she has/they have endured. But she won't give that speech because those women don't have as much in common with her as they think. Sure, her husband's behavior has humiliated her. But she has also helped him humiliate the women he's been involved with.

According to Carl Bernstein's A Woman in Charge, as her husband prepared to run for president, she pushed to get sworn statements from women he'd been rumored to have been involved with, statements in which they were supposed to say they'd had no relationship with him. She even interviewed one of these women herself, at her law firm. She also led efforts to undermine Gennifer Flowers, whom she referred to as "trailer trash."

In an interview she gave after the Monica Lewinsky affair became public, Hillary spoke about how horribly her husband had suffered in his childhood as the result of being torn between the first two women in his life—his mother and grandmother. (Note: Again, in this scenario it's the women who are victimizing the poor little guy.)

Hillary Clinton can't give the speech because she has not always been so sisterly, and if her biggest fans knew who she really blamed—other women—they might not still be fans.

One of the most laudable things about Obama is that he always elects to rise above the politics of victimization. One of the most troubling things about Hillary Clinton is that she is never above cashing in on it.

I hate to be hypercritical of a woman who has come so far in her career, so very far in a world where women's rights are lumped into the category of "special interests" despite the fact that women make up the majority. But I don't want an ineffectual, status quo woman unaware of her own misogyny in the White House, one whose brand of mudslinging and dirty politics mimic those of the patriarchy that came before her. Leave that game to the old, white men.

(This post is dedicated to Linda).

No comments: