Sunday, December 09, 2007

Fear of Women in Politics: Vilification of The Other

Hillary Clinton Nutcracker
and let's not forget theHillary Clinton Voodo Kit
Their Motto: Stick it to her, before she sticks it to us

Oh, yes. We women can run for political office, just like the men. But as Hecate notes, we must be prepared for all the sexist claptrap that will come out of the closet if we really are a contender.
Politics 2.0
or She's A Witch!
Excerpt of interview from Bill Moyers Journal on PBS, Dec. 7th, 2007 -
full video and transcript is here
(See also updates below on media "fears" that Oprah will emasculate Obama).

BILL MOYERS: But there's a very dark side to this, too, right?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: There's a dark side as well. The misogyny that is present on the Internet right now about Hillary Clinton is, I think, something worthy of public discussion. There are Internet sites, for example, sites on Facebook--

BILL MOYERS: Because of the language, the words that are used.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Because the words and because the graphic images, the images that are manufactured to be placed in these sites are such that you wouldn't want to be associated with them in any way, nor would I. And they contain such things as graphic representations of what a donkey should do to Hillary Clinton. They contain language suggesting various sexual acts in relationship to Hillary Clinton. They reduce Hillary Clinton to various sexual body parts. They engage in characterizations of her in relationship to her policies. They're nothing but name calling in relationship to all of those categories of language. And so if you came home when you were, oh, say, a 15-year-old boy from school. And you said to your mother "Let me give you some of my language for the day," and you repeated any of those words, you know, your mother would have been shocked.

BILL MOYERS: Here are some of the entries from Facebook, you know? "Hillary can't handle one man; how can she handle 150 million of them? Send her back to the kitchen to get a sandwich. She belongs back with the dishes, not upfront with the leaders." It goes on and on like that. I mean, and it is fairly misogynist, but it isn't just the Internet. I mean on Rush Limbaugh, he talks about Clinton's testicle lockbox. MSNBC's Tucker Carlson says there's just something about her that feels castrating. One of his guests, a former spokesman from the Republican National Committee, Clifford May, says that if Clinton is going to appeal to women for support on the basis of her gender, at least call her a vaginal-American. I mean, in fact, isn't the sexist vilification of Hillary Clinton being set by the mainstream media?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It's being set by both. The mainstream media has a much larger audience. When you look to the size of the groups that have this sort of vulgar, gross language on them about Hillary Clinton, their membership is actually very low. Where mainstream media can reach that number of people with the first second that it's articulated. Underlying this is a long-lived fear of women in politics. For example, we know that there's language to condemn female speech that doesn't exist for male speech. We call women's speech shrill and strident. And Hillary Clinton's laugh was being described as a cackle--


KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: --and why we're looking at a laugh and whether it's appropriate or not is of itself an interesting question. We also know that underlying many of these assertions is the assumption that any woman in power will, by necessity, entail emasculating men and, as a result, a statement of fundamental threat.

So, why shouldn't you vote for Hillary Clinton? Well, first, she can't be appropriately a woman and be in power. She must be a man. Hence, the site that says Hillary Clinton can't be the first woman president; Hillary Clinton's actually a man. But also explicit statements that suggest castrating, testicles in lockbox. She's going to emasculate men. It's a zero-sum game in which a woman in power necessarily means that men can't be men.

BILL MOYERS: And you can't use your uterus and your brain. That's the old argument, right? You can't be caring and tough. That's the old argument against women, right?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, and at one time there was actually an argument that if women became educated, they would become infertile. There was also, for a long period of time, serious penalties for women who tried to speak in public. And the residue of this is a language that suggests that women in power cannot be women and be in power. And as a result, as Hillary Clinton certifies herself as being tough enough to be president, competent enough to be president, these attacks say then she can't be president because she's not actually a woman. And you can't trust someone who is that inauthentic. So underlying this and underlying the vulgarity and underlying the assertions of raw sexual violence is deep fear about a woman holding power.

But I'm not sure that it's only about that with Hillary Clinton because Hillary Clinton has been attacked as long as she's been in the public sphere. She came into national public awareness with the candidacy of Bill Clinton. Some of this coincides with attacks on liberals and Hillary Clinton as a liberal woman. Some of this coincides with original attacks when she was in the White House and what was framed as exercise of unelected power. And one of the questions that-- I find interesting is this hypothetical. Let's say if Elizabeth Dole was this far along in the polls for the Republican nomination. Would she be subject to the same kinds of attacks? And I think the answer is no.

BILL MOYERS: Let me show our audience some of those attacks. But let me also say that you can, as a scholar and historian and a journalist, discuss this avalanche of misogyny directed at Hillary Clinton without endorsing her campaign, right?


BILL MOYERS: And you're not endorsing any candidate, as I understand it--


BILL MOYERS: --nor am I.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yeah, actually, I've been studying the way in which women are characterized when they move into leadership positions before Hillary Clinton moved into leadership position.

BILL MOYERS: And what was that book you wrote?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Book was called Beyond the Double Bind: Women in Leadership. And these kinds of attacks have actually been deployed against women as they began to run for public office in the United States before. So the assertion that a woman would have to be childless or she couldn't be voted into office because if she were in office, she would neglect her children. But a man elected to office would not neglect his children. Men were supposedly going to be taking care of children. Long-lived attack.

BILL MOYERS: Some of these attacks on her on the Internet actually exploit the Bible in order to reinforce old patriarchal ideas. Look at this one.


BILL MOYERS: When they talk about men, they have Ronald Reagan, cowboy. When they talk about Hillary Clinton or they depict Hillary Clinton, it's Hillary Clinton the witch.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: There's also, however, another way to read this piece. What is Hillary Clinton actually doing? Frightening Reagan conservatives a whole lot. One of the things I think that happens with many of these visual depictions is that the people who are producing them are trying to attach what scholars call negative affect to Hillary Clinton. And I know that's an odd concept for non-academics.

BILL MOYERS: Negative?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Affect. To the extent that you have negative feelings, have basic affect when you see something. If I can attach that to something, I can make you feel uneasy about it. I can increase the likelihood that you're going to vote against Hillary Clinton. So we know, for example, that if I show you a picture of someone who's smiling and feels comfortable and it's a pleasant video, that's that Reagan-


KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: You think more positively of the person, even if you don't know who the person is. Then I show you a scary picture, an off-putting picture. You react negatively. You respond negatively. I can increase the likelihood that you'll say you'll vote against that person even if you know nothing about them.

So some of this is what we used to call visual vilification. But it's also attaching an emotional response to the picture to say feel uneasy, feel uncomfortable. And as a result, keep that emotional tag tied as you hear her explaining positions on issue. Keep that discomfort. Hold onto it till you go into the voting booth. Stay with that comfortable issue and comfortable image of Ronald Reagan.

BILL MOYERS: This is why some women whom I know and respect say, as much as they admire Hillary Clinton for her role all these years, they would rather see her not run next year because it's going to open up all of this animosity, vilification, and vituperation.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: One of the complications of this is we're moving into new linguistic territory. And we haven't found a way to discuss this. When a woman stands up and asks Senator McCain, "How do we beat the bitch?" and there isn't a clear statement by Senator McCain that that's not the way one characterizes, you know, my opponent on the Democratic side. And there's not a public commentary that surrounds it the way there was a public commentary about the statement by Imus or about the comedian from SEINFELD. Essentially what we say to the culture at large is that must be appropriate discourse to apply to a female candidate running for office — or at least this female candidate.

BILL MOYERS: It's okay to talk this way.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It's okay to talk this way.

BILL MOYERS: Let me show the audience that particular-- it's at real time. It happened. Senator McCain was at public meeting. And this woman stood up and asked-- woman. Wasn't a man who asked him this question. Look at it.

WOMAN: How do we beat the bitch

MCCAIN: May I give the translation?

BILL MOYERS: I know people don't like that word. I don't like that word. I'm using it only because it is out there. It's in common discourse on the Internet and you know, Senator McCain had the chance to say, "That's out of bounds. Don't ask me that question. Ask the question you want to ask differently and I'll answer it." But he didn't. He laughed. And he, in effect, gave it legitimacy.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, he looked uncomfortable and then he tried to find a way to reframe it, and he didn't reframe it very artfully. But those first seconds that you're showing on camera, you can see he's not very comfortable in that moment. And I wonder why the national audience didn't see that moment and feel that discomfort and ask the question, "Would you be comfortable saying about the woman who teaches your child, the woman who is your doctor, the woman who heads this corporation, you know, 'Well, how's the bitch doing today?'"

You know, where are the boundaries of when you will use that language and what does it mean? Was this a Hillary-specific comment? Or is this about women who get this far seeking the presidency? Or was this language that has been circulating in private circles for a very long time and now erupted into public? The people have heard it so often that they're not surprised by it? And as a result, they don't think we need to talk about it.

I think one way to reframe this is to ask: How would you ask a comparable question about a male candidate you really wanted to defeat? Where would you find comparable language to use?

BILL MOYERS: And where would you? There is no language of degeneration like this that describes men, is there?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, you could say, "How are we going to beat the bastard?" But it wouldn't carry all the same resonance of that word in the context of its use now.

BILL MOYERS: And you couldn't say, "How are we going to defeat the nigger?" How are we going to-- which is the word that was so common when I was growing up in the South. "How are you going to defeat the kike?" referring to Jews-- you wouldn't do--- that woman would not have done that, I don't think.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, and we have language is constantly open for discussion. We know what's appropriate and what's inappropriate by the way in which society responds, what our peer group responds, the community we turn to responds. And so when someone uses language that is considered inappropriate and there is a national discussion, we dampen down that use. That's what happened with Imus, who is now just coming back on the air. When something like this happens and we don't have the discussion, we move it in to acceptable use.

BILL MOYERS: But some of this stuff on the Internet about Clinton is just downright pornographic. Words are used, toxic words-- are used that I can't use and wouldn't use on the air. I mean, let me just show you some of the stuff we pulled off-- a montage we strung together from the web with using some of the worst comments about them, which would be offensive to people if we didn't bleep them out and still may be offensive. But take a look.


BILL MOYERS: I want to say how would I write this off as just Internet graffiti, the kind of stuff you'd find sometimes on the subway or you found on your high school gym wall. But I have to say it seems to me to have reached far beyond that.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: When you look at the number of members who identify with the sites that post these sorts of things, they're actually fairly small. One question is: How much social disapproval of this actually is there? Another is, within these communities, where is the capacity to talk back and ask where the boundaries of appropriate discourse would be? That is, is there a way to engage productively in the disagreement they want to express and have some substantive content attached instead of simply, you know, ad hominem, in this case I guess ad feminem, name calling?

BILL MOYERS: How does this make you feel as a woman?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I think most of the professional women who see this happening have had enough professional experiences in their lives to realize that these sorts of sentiments are actually out there and have probably experienced some of these sorts of things. And the question it raises for me is, you know, as this happens nationally and as moderate Republican women become more aware of it, do they increase their identification with Hillary Clinton or not?

BILL MOYERS: Which came first, the episode with McCain from the woman who asked him that question or all the pornographic stuff about Hillary Clinton on the Internet?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The material was on the Internet long before the McCain question. And these kinds of characterizations of Hillary Clinton go back to her emergence in the public sphere as the spouse of the Democratic candidate in 1992.

BILL MOYERS: So this is really unusual?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It's un-- this amount--

BILL MOYERS: Unprecedented?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: This amount of content is unprecedented. But because the medium of the Internet is new, we don't know what would have happened with previous candidacies of women. So we can't go back and actually study it. The way we find that these kinds of characterizations of Hillary Clinton have been out there is to look to other forms of media throughout the 1990s where we do, indeed, find them. Hillary Clinton as dominatrix, for example, is one of the ongoing themes and one of the parodies on Rush Limbaugh.

BILL MOYERS: We share the same floor here with the BBC. And a BBC producer, I was talking about this with him the other day. He said, you know, this did not happen when Margaret Thatcher rose to power. Of course, the Internet was not a phenomenon then. But it did not happen even in the pubs, it wasn't said about Margaret Thatcher. What's different about the British culture and the American culture?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: What I remember being asked about Margaret Thatcher is who wears the pant in the family? And her husband, you know, basically is suggesting that he did. So a kind of light joking tone about - the question, you know, what is it like to have a female assuming power? But you've got to remember that Britain had a history of female leadership. You know, Elizabeth Rex is, you know, the queen that we all turn back to as, you know, the monarch that is an exemplar of exercise of power, including in times of war. The United States doesn't have a tradition, except an indirect one with Edith Bolling Wilson. And then with very strong first ladies with Rosalyn Carter, with Nancy Reagan, with Hillary Clinton.

BILL MOYERS: I covered the campaign in 1984 when Geraldine Ferraro was the Democratic vice-presidential running mate. I do not recall these kind of attacks on Geraldine Ferraro. There's something, as you say, unique in this present experience.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Or there's another possibility. There's a possibility that these kinds of attacks have always been there, but they were never posted in public space before. Is it possible that in these past environments, for example, with Margaret Thatcher in Britain or, for example, when women were running for governorships. When, you know, you saw, for example, Jean Kirkpatrick emerge as a Republican leader or Ann Armstrong, earlier than that. Perhaps these things were being said. But perhaps we didn't have any way of seeing them.

Perhaps the comments that you're reprising from public space elsewhere, largely on cable or on talk radio, were actually out there but we only had network evening news as a way of getting access to the political world. And they never would have gotten into that forum. So it's possible that nothing has changed except our access to a window on a part of a world. And that we haven't found a way to create boundaries around it and say within it, "Don't you want to have a different kind of discourse here? Do you really want to conventionalize this?"


Kathleen Hall Jamison

Update 12/12:
And the hits just keep on comming.....
See: Is Oprah Making Barrack a Mamma's Boy?
Excerpt: I am tired of the fine line African Americans, women -- and anyone who is from outside of Washington, D.C. -- must straddle to run for public office. Basically, Fineman is trying to say that Obama is a mama’s boy because he is surrounded by strong black women. Whatever.

From the Daily Kos:
This media obsession with manly men, whether from Fineman, or from Chris Matthews, or from whoever, is both ridiculous and pathetic. What, would Obama have scored had he strode out in a wife-beater shirt, clocked his wife and pushed Oprah off the stage? Would that have salved their pathological craving for musky man-scent and testosterone?

1 comment:

Angela Raincatcher said...

Thank you for posting this interview. It gives me the language to articulate something I have been trying to articulate about Clinton's candidacy for a while now.