Clinton, Palin & Feminism

Lydia Sargeant at Z Magazine on Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, sexism and feminism in the 2008 Presidential campaign:

The whole bait and switch from Clinton to Palin seemed so schizophrenic in a way. On one level, it was yet another act by the evangelical right to reduce any progressive feminist inspiration Clinton’s candidacy may have generated and to take back their power to define women—how they look and behave and what role they should play in their idea of the proper “order of things.” That is, the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is head of the church (Ephesians 5:22-24). To Falwell and the whole Moral Majority gang, and their future followers, the women’s movement was “a satanic attack on the home” (Falwell), “a philosophy of death” (Schafly).

This trend was made even more horrifying because it was on a national scale, aimed at the power of the White House, and it used a redefined feminism as a way to continue trying to move towards what the right wing’s Family Protection Act had tried (and failed to do) since it was introduced in Congress in 1981. Its proposals included: eliminate federal funding laws supporting equal education; require marriage and motherhood to be taught as proper careers for girls; deny federal funding to schools using textbooks portraying women in nontraditional roles; repeal all federal laws protecting battered wives from their husbands; ban federally funded legal aid for women seeking abortion counseling or a divorce; offer tax incentives to induce married women to have babies and stay home; a complete ban on abortion, even if it meant the woman’s death; censor all birth control information until marriage; revoke the Equal Pay Act and other equal employment laws; defeat the Equal Rights Amendment.

Ironically, this attempt may backfire a little. They must have panicked, these reactionary evangelicals, when a TV news program interviewed two evangelical youth. The young man quoted the Bible to support the view that women shouldn’t run for public office. The young woman, when asked why she supported Palin, given this biblical prohibition, smiled and said, “Well, I’m a sinner.” It would be redemption indeed if masses of young evangelical women started demanding equal participation—perhaps an overthrow of the Church gender hierarchy and sexist teachings—even at the expense of “sinning.”

On another level, the Palin candidacy served to reveal how much mainstream feminism has become a benign politics of difference, rather than a revolution to overthrow a system of patriarchy embedded in and perpetuated by the Church, the family, the workplace, and so on. The politics of Men are from Mars, Women from Venus posits the problem between the genders as one of communication between beings from different planets, a difference solved by better communication and understanding of what each gender wants. Like the right-wing gender agenda, it too claims the right to define each gender’s looks, brain functions, and behavior. Hillary Clinton did not fit the Venus profile, Palin did. She seemed part of the “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man” so-called feminism. Perhaps her lipstick came from Revlon, whose one-time commercial promoted “a revolutionary make up. We’re changing the world one face at a time.”

Read the whole thing here

The entire December issue of Z Magazine is available online here

Note especially “Neoliberalism and Bottom-Line Morality: Notes on Greenspan, Rubin and the Party of Davos” by Edward S. Herman

and “Obama’s Economics: Which Will Emerge? Obamanomics 1 or Obamanomics 2?” by Jack Rasmus

On the “Bitch” & the “Ditz”

From Amanda Fortini at New York Magazine:

In the past few weeks, Sarah Palin has been variously described as a diva who engaged in paperwork-throwing tantrums, a shopaholic who spent $150,000 on clothing, a seductress who provocatively welcomed staffers while wearing only a towel, and a “whack-job”—contemporary code for hysteric. Worse, she was accused by a suspiciously gleeful Fox News reporter named Carl Cameron of not knowing Africa was a continent, of being unable to name the members of NAFTA, indeed of being unable to name the countries of North America at all. (“But she can be tutored,” Bill O’Reilly told Cameron, as though speaking of a small child.) More significant than the dubious origins of these leaks, or the fact that the campaign that cried “sexism” at every criticism of its vice-presidential nominee was engaging in its own misogynistic warfare, is the fact that all of the allegations were so believable. After all, Palin had earned herself a reputation as, in the words of one Fox News blogger, “something of a policy ditz.”


It’s hard to get too worked up on Palin’s behalf, of course; she was complicit in her crucifixion. But it is disappointing to watch what some have called the “year of the woman” come to such an embarrassing conclusion. This was an election cycle in which candidates pandered to female voters, newsweeklies tried to figure out “what women want,” and Hillary Clinton garnered 18 million votes toward winning the Democratic nomination. The assumption was that these “18 million cracks in the highest glass ceiling,” as Clinton put it, would advance the prospects of female achievement and gender equality. It hasn’t exactly worked out that way.

Read the rest here

Bill Ayers

Part of William Ayers’ response to his villification by just about everybody:

McCain and Palin demanded to “know the full extent” of the Obama-Ayers “relationship” so that they can know if Obama, as Palin put it, “is telling the truth to the American people or not.”

This is just plain stupid.

Obama has continually been asked to defend something that ought to be at democracy’s heart: the importance of talking to as many people as possible in this complicated and wildly diverse society, of listening with the possibility of learning something new, and of speaking with the possibility of persuading or influencing others.

The McCain-Palin attacks not only involved guilt by association, they also assumed that one must apply a political litmus test to begin a conversation.

On Oct. 4, Palin described her supporters as those who “see America as the greatest force for good in this world” and as a “beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy.” But Obama, she said, “Is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America.” In other words, there are “real” Americans — and then there are the rest of us.

In a robust and sophisticated democracy, political leaders—and all of us—ought to seek ways to talk with many people who hold dissenting, or even radical, ideas. Lacking that simple and yet essential capacity to question authority, we might still be burning witches and enslaving our fellow human beings today.

Maybe we could welcome our current situation—torn by another illegal war, as it was in the ’60s—as an opportunity to search for the new.

Perhaps we might think of ourselves not as passive consumers of politics but as fully mobilized political actors. Perhaps we might think of our various efforts now, as we did then, as more than a single campaign, but rather as our movement-in-the-making.

We might find hope in the growth of opposition to war and occupation worldwide. Or we might be inspired by the growing movements for reparations and prison abolition, or the rising immigrant rights movement and the stirrings of working people everywhere, or by gay and lesbian and transgender people courageously pressing for full recognition.

Yet hope—my hope, our hope—resides in a simple self-evident truth: the future is unknown, and it is also entirely unknowable.

History is always in the making. It’s up to us. It is up to me and to you. Nothing is predetermined. That makes our moment on this earth both hopeful and all the more urgent—we must find ways to become real actors, to become authentic subjects in our own history.

We may not be able to will a movement into being, but neither can we sit idly for a movement to spring full-grown, as from the head of Zeus.

We have to agitate for democracy and egalitarianism, press harder for human rights, learn to build a new society through our self-transformations and our limited everyday struggles.

At the turn of the last century, Eugene Debs, the great Socialist Party leader from Terre Haute, Ind., told a group of workers in Chicago, “If I could lead you into the Promised Land, I would not do it, because someone else would come along and lead you out.”

In this time of new beginnings and rising expectations, it is even more urgent that we figure out how to become the people we have been waiting to be.

I don’t know what Bill Ayers did or didn’t do forty years ago, but I’m hearing him now.  I am frankly sick of people judging “the ’60s” and “the boomer generation” and finding it and them entirely wanting.  There were contradictions in what people were doing and in the results; but a lot of people tried.  Sometimes, I wonder why people aren’t doing now what they did then.  I try not to come up with “answers” that would blame another whole generation.  It’s worth looking at some of that history with a clear and critical, but fair, eye.  Someone might learn something helpful.  The ’60s was by no means a dead loss.  If the election of Barack Obama is recognized, at least in part, as the result of the struggle for civil rights undertaken by white and African Americans of that time, perhaps there was also something of merit in the struggles for civil liberties, peace, justice and economic equality both within America and beyond it.  Not that those struggles can be separated.

Bill Ayers’ full statement is here

UPDATE:  One day I’ll change my smelly socks and sandals, dye my grey hair another colour, pick up my saggy ideals and uncool slogans and respond to this piece of sloppy, ahistorical misunderstanding.

Wherein Barack Makes Hysperia Cheer

“[John McCain] is a man who has looked in the face of evil and not flinched…he’s earned our support and confidence and the time is now for him to be our next president.”—Vice President and Dark Overlord Dick Cheney, endorsing GOP nominee John McCain in Wyoming, today.

“I’d like to congratulate Sen. McCain on this endorsement, because he really earned it. That endorsement didn’t come easy. George Bush may be in an undisclosed location now, but Dick Cheney’s out there on the campaign trail because he’d be delighted to pass the baton to John McCain. He knows that with John McCain, you get a twofer: George Bush’s economic policy and Dick Cheney’s foreign policy.”—Senator and Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, on the campaign trail this afternoon in Colorado.

Yeah baby!  More of this please.  Dick Cheney is well-qualified to speak about evil.  Embodying it as he does.

via Shakesville

Socialism USA

At the Globe and Mail, the always insightful Rick Salutin asks how the US election came to be about socialism.  I have to laugh when I hear Americans using the “S” word – not since the Wobblies has an American had a clue what they mean by the word (over-generalisation for the purposes of drama).  Salutin suggests it was never the nasty socialists who kept the idea of socialism alive but rather, capitalism itself:

Karl Marx wrote relatively little on socialism, just a few evocative hints in his callow (or not so callow) youth. But he exhausted himself analyzing capitalism. His argued that capitalism leads inevitably to crisis – a terse term for massive human wreckage – that leads inevitably to a search for better ways to organize economies, which will be, in some form, socialist. It’s all dialectical as hell (Marx said), and if there’s not a socialist in sight, capitalism will still continue to produce the spectre of socialism along with its nightmarish crises.

Since the spectre arises, yet there are now few regimes, leaders or theorists to give it voice, it’s as if it seeks to channel itself, inhabiting any presence it can – like a dybbuk, the spirit of one person migrated into the body of another. So it speaks from the throats of John McCain, Sarah Palin, a Florida TV anchor, The Washington Post or Alan Greenspan, confessing he was mistaken about capitalism all his life.

And what is socialism? Well, Mr. Obama said this week that he expects to be called socialist because he shared his toys in kindergarten. It was a clever deflection of the charge but it’s also a good start. Maybe the dybbuk speaks through him, too. Socialism is essentially social. It’s based on a belief that we’re responsible for and indebted to each other – including past generations. So sharing isn’t a choice, it’s our nature. Therefore, roughly speaking, everyone is equally entitled to basics such as jobs, homes, health and education – especially kids. State intervention in the service of that vision would count as socialism. There might be non-governmental forms, too. Eventually, the state might “wither away,” as Marx said, but that mutual responsibility never would.

An Obama victory would be a stunning event, like Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and election as South African president. I never expected to see either. On the other hand, I felt I had seen socialism and would see more of it – in Canada, for example. This has led to some disappointment, I admit, but it’s also nice to have got it wrong, and know that future surprises still await us.

Marx gets blamed for many things but rarely for not knowing enough about capitalism.  There has likely never been anyone who understood it so well, particularly given that he was writing at a time when prediction had to be the greater part of the deal.  Biggest predictive failure:  the ability of capital to adapt, adopt, co-opt, shape-shift and survive.

Epitaph on my grave:

From each according to his [sic] ability, to each according to his [sic] need.

K. Marx

 Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875

Far too “Christian” for most folk.

Palin Porn

From Cara at AlterNet:

Via Sociological Images — a truly great blog I discovered recently — comes this story about a Sarah Palin lookalike contest held at Vegas strip club (oh, sorry, “gentleman’s club”). Lots of bikinis, sexualized use of guns and sexism abound. You can view more photographs of the event here.

The saddest thing is that it’s not the most offensive display of sexualized misogyny that has been directed a Palin. The sex doll came close, but I’d say that award goes Naylin’ Paylin,” the Larry Flint pornographic film starring yet another Palin lookalike, the existence of which all of us should have seen coming. 

There are two problems with both the porn film and this strip club contest, and neither one of them is about porn and stripping in general. The first issue is consent. Sarah Palin did not consent to having her image used in this way. Portraying her sexually like this without her consent is a violation — and contrary to what many people apparently think, existing as a woman in public is not the same as consenting to use of your body as public property. This isn’t satire or parody; it’s just sexist and degrading. 

Which brings us to the next issue. The entire reason that anyone gets to hide behind the parody and “all in good fun” arguments is precisely because portraying Sarah Palin sexually is intended to be mocking towards her. It’s taking a powerful woman and working to make her non-threatening by turning her into a sexual object. And it’s the very opposite side of the coin as calling Hillary Clinton ugly and denying her sexuality. Both reinforce the ideas that women exist to sexually pleasure men, and that sexuality is the only power we have (or should be allowed). Whether revoking or affirming that “power,” the result is an attempt to render the woman inferior and powerless.

We still live in a world where women seemingly cannot be seen as sexual and at the same time be taken seriously. We still live in a world where sexuality itself is seen as degrading to women. That is the purpose of these types of exercises — to debase Palin by reminding everyone that she (presumably) has a vagina and is therefore only good for fucking. I truly believe that if sex was not still viewed as inherently degrading to women, we wouldn’t be seeing these sorts of displays at all.

Read the whole thing here

Edited to repair a link

Social Action

Howard Zinn:

We have gone through an insufferable 8 years with the Bush administration, probably the worst administration in history. In this situation we are desperate for a change. So even though Obama doesn’t represent any fundamental change he creates an opening for a possibility of change. That is why I am voting for Obama. That is why I suggest to people that they vote for him. But I also suggest that Obama will not fulfill that potential for change unless he is enveloped by a social movement, which is angry enough, powerful enough, insistent enough, that he fills his abstract phrases about change with some real content.

Zinn at The Real News Network

Sarah Palin, Annie Oakley and “Liberal Values”

I’ve been having conversations with friends, and in the blogosphere, about the meaning of Sarah Palin’s candidacy in terms of feminism and “gender equality” if that is taken to mean equality as between men and women.  One of my friends, who has done decades of thinking about politics and feminism and sexism, said this:

 … note how the Republicans are using liberal values of gender equality to promote Sarah Palin.  Yes, it’s mixed in with conservative values about abortion and family, but second wave feminism did make some headway into sexist ideology.

I don’t think I agree that the Reprobates are using liberal values of gender equality to promote Sarah Palin.  I should put it this way:  the Reprobates are using liberal values insofar as that appeals in some twisted way to liberals.  It’s not necessary to use liberal values to situate Sarah Palin for conservatives.

There have always been exceptions to the rules of gender roles, even in more completely patriarchal societies than the one in which we live.  You could see those women as embodying proof that there is nothing about women, per se, that makes them more fit for one role rather than another.  Or you can simply see it as proof of the norm.  I’m inclined to think that women like Elizabeth I, Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher, for instance, don’t signify a true challenge to patriarchal norms, at least in part because they do such an excellent job of adopting personnae that fit fairly easily into those norms. 

Elizabeth I became the “virgin queen” for many reasons, no doubt.  But I suspect that a few of those reasons were to take herself out of the category of gender altogether in some way, like becoming a eunich for a male.  Gender is off the table and “the body” is enabled to enter arenas of power without threat.  Marriage signified a loss of power and Elizabeth may simply have been too politically smart to fall for it.  There’s also evidence that she was well aware of the loss of personal power that marriage entailed:

“If I am to disclose to you what I should prefer if I follow the inclination of my nature, it is this: beggar-woman and single, far rather than queen and married!”

The virgin role also played powerfully into Christian madonna symbology, the virgin being human but not like any other woman, and this at a time when the status of the Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic tradition was being wiped out by the Church of England.  The “cult of the virgin” played a powerful role in the lives of the simple people who formed the basis of the economy, going back to pagan times, and a credible alternative to the cult in the form of a ruler had significant results in terms of pacifying the people.

Golda Meir got to be Prime Minister of Israel by “playing” very strongly to the myth of the Jewish mother, who is allowed to protect her children fiercely and by any means when they are threatened [whether she did this consciously is another matter], although she may otherwise be not much more than a terrible nag.  

It’s difficult to imagine any man making this statement made by Meir after the Yom Kippur War:

When peace comes, we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons. But it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.

Meir’s personal warmth and “motherliness” allowed her to be a woman with nerves of steel in the political arena without threatening traditional gender roles:

Golda Meir was a poster woman for the feminist cause in the 1970’s. Her picture as Prime Minister appeared with the caption: “But can she type?” However, many feminists felt that she could have done more to help other women. Golda overcame many personal hardships because she was a woman: as a child she fought with her parents to continue her education and as a married woman she made a difficult choice between her family and her career. However, she failed to recognize that many of her personal struggles were universal problems faced by most other women of her time. Golda did not use her position of power to address women’s needs (such as child care or equality in the workplace), to promote other women to aspire to public office, or to advance women’s status in Israel. Thus she was an inspiration and source of pride to women, yet, simultaneously, a disappointment and source of frustration to twentieth century women who were fighting for social change.



If Golda Meir was a “poster child” for liberal values of sexual equality, it certainly wasn’t because she actually embodied them.

As for Margaret Thatcher, she was seen as being asexual and so, once again, a very different kind of woman.  Perhaps in some ways she harkens back to Elizabeth I, the “Iron Lady” appellation so often attached to her name is reminiscent of strength, but also of a chastity belt.  Thatcher adopted the term herself to indicate a strength and resolve not traditionally associated with women.  It’s clear that many powerful woman have had to “de-sexualize” themselves in order to maintain that power.  The “iron” qualifier is often applied to women with political power, to distinguish them as extraordinary: Wikipedia:

Many male politicians have to define themselves as “ordinary” in order to appeal to “ordinary” voters in order to be successful.  In America, it’s the “regular guys” who have risen by virtue of their work ethic who appeal to voters and, though many powerful men may be far from ordinary, they nevertheless attempt to establish personal narratives that appeal to “everyday” Americans in order to achieve success – witness the attempts of Barack Obama to fit himself and his wife into that story, whether successful or not.  Chris Matthews loves the fact that Joe Biden is “just a regular guy”. 

As a “Jewish mother”, Golda Meir was able to exploit an abundance of emotion.  Thatcher, on the other hand, was not known for displays of emotion at all, which is very “un-womanly”, but fits with an alternate narrative of “the woman who is ‘really’ a man”.  These are no ordinary women, nor are they allowed to be if they are successful.  They are “irregular” women and that allows them to circumvent their status as women.
As for Hillary Clinton, she got absolutely murdered by sexism, not only in the media, but also among Democrats!  Mostly Democratic men, of course.  Unlike Sarah Palin, she got hammered for not being a “real woman”.  She was too old and baggy and wrinkly and shrieky and “post-sexual”, postmenopausal and too much a ballbreaker who had nevertheless made herself a doormat for her husband who cheated on her and she then capitalized on her “victim” status to get elected to the Senate.  She was critisized if she showed her cleavage (expoiting her sexuality?  behaving like an ‘unchaste’ woman?) and critisized for wearing pants (too much like a man?  not ladylike?) and critisized if she complained, because that was whining.  And ain’t all that just like a woman?  Not even liberals have liberal values!  They’re certainly confused and contradictory expressions of attitudes toward women, which shouldn’t surprise us and, indeed, does not surprise many feminists.
Sarah Palin breaks the Clinton mold AND the Thatcher mold so it is true that she is a new version of a woman with at least potential political power.  Time will tell whether there is a need to construct her place in as complex a way as in the cases I’ve been talking about.

Thus far, Palin has described herself as “a pit bull with lipstick“.  Her audience has seemed not just willing, but delighted to accept that definition.  She is far from de-sexualized.  Chris Matthews wants to wake up in bed next to her and that seems to be a good part of the appeal – they’ve accepted a total stranger, those Reprobates, because somehow, they can see her as a version of Annie Oakley.  Sarah Palin hunts and rides a snowmobile and shoots – she’s a modern day American cowgirl.  Not many people can sling guns the way those broads can!  I bet Annie Oakley voted Republican.  She didn’t align herself with the feminists of her day either. 

I came up with the comparison to Oakley all by myself but I’m not alone.  Here’s what Joan Walsh said about Palin:

By the time Palin took the stage, she no longer seemed like an Alaskan Annie Oakley, a gun-toting, hockey mom biker-gal; she’d become pioneer victim girl, Pauline tied to the train tracks by mean Democrats and the liberal media. But Palin shook off the victim mantle by coming out swinging, first blasting “the pollsters and the pundits” for writing off McCain last year, then tearing into Barack Obama with glee, teeth bared like a Rudy Giuliani in heels.

See?  Palin isn’t a woman.  She’s McCain, Obama and Giuliani in drag!  Not even Joan Walsh can resist describing Palin in terms “other”.

The fact that Palin was momentarily “tied to the railroad tracks” by sexism, visions of that “Alaskan Annie Oakley” still apply – Palin came back swinging and untied those knots, just as our girl Oakley would.

I’m trying hard to find male commentators who don’t refer to Palin’ssex while at the same time bending the gender narrative to take her outside the realm of ordinary women.  Some comments from an article by Rick Moran:

There’s steel behind that beautiful smile that Democrats belittle at their peril

… a huge smile creased John McCain’s face as he gave her an affectionate peck on the cheek and looked at her as a father might see a daughter on her wedding day …

… There also appears to be a high level of confidence that the six-term senator from Delaware will make mincemeat of the little lady from Alaska when they debate in a few weeks.

If I were a Democrat, I would not be so sanguine iIf Joe Biden is seen as being condescending in the slightest toward Palin during that debate, he is likely to get clipped.

… in my appraisal of the relative strengths of Mr. Biden vs. Mrs. Palin. This is one tough lady …

… they grow them “Tough in Alaska.”

“Them” being women.

In addition to the Oakley qualities, Palin is a Mom of a great big family, she’s “pro-life”, rabidly anti-abortion, pro-marriage, anti-gay, blah blah blah.  She’s no threat at all the the status quo and I just can’t see how she’s in the position she’s in because of liberal values.  American males want to screw her for gawd sakes.

 Golda Meir once said “There is a type of woman who does not let her husband narrow her horizons.”   [Neither Meir nor Palin let their children narrow their horizons either].  Such women have always existed.  They have little to do with liberal values.  In the case of those values, the Reprobates may find it convenient to appeal to such them when it’s convenient.  Or perhaps they are just “read in” to the narrative by others.  But those are not values that are likely to hit the mark for those who will vote McCain/Palin.  And they are far removed from feminist values, of any wave.  As Bart Motes said at The Huffington Post, “Women may love Sarah Palin, but she doesn’t love them back.”

Multiple narratives are used to explain the success of a small number of women who have achieved political power.  Powerful women themselves have been savvy enough to appeal to whatever narrative helps them achieve and maintain that power.  Sometimes, no amount of savvy works, as with Hillary Clinton, who found herself in the unenviable position of believing that an appeal to her gender would lose voters while at the same time finding herself unable to defeat the sexism of which she was the target.

While the fact of competing narratives may be an indication of competing values and material interests, it’s also proof of the lack of success of “liberal” equality narratives in terms of achieving dominance.

Remember Boadicea.

Democratic Misogyny

There’s an absolutely GREAT post at Anglachel on the misogyny some Democrats have demonstrated toward Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin and yes, even Barack Obama.  Here’s just a bit:

The “progressive” blogosphere has exposed its own fundamentalist tendencies this electoral cycle, wielding misogyny like a sledge hammer to achieve its political goals. To try to claim innocence on this count is insulting to the readers’ intelligence. The Blogger Boyz (and the women frantically trying to prove they are really just Girlz so they can stay in the club) have damaged the campaigns of every female Democratic candidate, legitimizing use of misogynist tropes. The reproductive history of our women candidates is now fair game. In performing this violence against female candidates and public figures, they have validated its continued use by the Right and have cast into doubt their progressive claims.

You just gotta read the rest