Friday, August 22, 2008

The press, misogyny, racism and political leadership

This week, as many of us are preparing to go to Denver for the Democratic National Convention, Slate magazine decided to publish one of the more misogynistic pieces of journalism related to Senator Clinton's supporters - not Senator Clinton - that I have yet to read. Offered up by Senior Editor Dahlia Lithwick, this piece is entitled "The Madwoman in the Blogosphere: The disturbing Rise of the 'Hillary Harridan.'" If you find the title inviting, you can read the story here.

Before I go any further, time to explain what misogyny is: fear and hatred of women. Ms. Lithwick's headline and column certainly display both. And yes, women can be misogynists too.

Ordinarily I would ignore this piece of writing. But as more and more questions arise about whether Senator Obama is in fact a progressive, is in fact interested in representing the voices and interests of all who stand against misogyny, I am drawing attention to it because Senator Obama ought to be speaking out against this sort of characterization of Democratic voters who simply support a different candidate and seem to be drawing fire from a bigot like Dahlia Lithwick because these voters are women.

There was another period in American politics when hatred and bigotry were commonplace in the press. During the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s as people fought for the civil rights of African-Americans, newspapers, especially in Mississippi, regularly published news items and editorials that displayed true racism: hatred and fear of African-Americans because of the color of their skin. So their is nothing new about the press being party to vile attitudes. The question is, how do would-be political leaders, especially those who claim to be progressive, respond? Do they stand idly by? Or do they speak out and say, that while the First Amendment guarantees absolute grant people the right to express these attitudes, they are, nevertheless, reprehensible and should be resisted.

Here are some headlines and quotations from the Jim Crow era, from newspapers that at the time were regarded as at least as reputable as Slate is today. [All quotations come from the excellent and comprehensive reference book, In a Madhouse's Din: Civil Rights Coverage by Mississippi's Daily Press, 1948-1968]

For example, in the 1940s as Harry S. Truman proposed anti-lynching legislation, The Laurel Mississippi Leader newspaper columnist Ms. Gibbons wrote: "The Leader is now and forever opposed to lynching. But the the anti-lynch law is aimed at the South and 'this is not fair'"

Another Mississippi journalisms wrote, "Anti-lynch, anti-poll tax, and anti-segregation are all aimed at negro votes and the death of white supremacy..These measures do not better the condition of the negro. They place them in in greater jepardy for they will certainly inflame and alienate the very people who for decades have been the negroes' best friend." Another newspaper published an editorial, "For Fight-We Must!," railing against anti-lynch and anti-poll tax laws.

I could reprint more disgusting examples, but my point would remain the same. A leader like Harry Truman made it clear that people who wrote with hatred and fear about African-Americans were not people whose ideas he respected and he repeatedly introduced legislation opposing this sort of bigotry.

I know that Senator Clinton is paying attention to misogyny and to women's rights. I wonder if Senator Obama is. One way he could make it clear is by specifically addressing somebody who would call voters "harridans" simply for supporting a candidate they prefer. "Harridan", by the way, is an epithet along the lines of certain racial ones that I for one will not use.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for discussing that article. I read it and was very concerned about the way it portrayed those of us who were unwilling to "fall in line."

August 22, 2008 at 2:26 PM  
Blogger Ricki said...

When things like this were said or done by those on the right, it was easy to dismiss them as ignorant, nutty and worse. But when trash and abuse come from those with whom we should have common cause, it is especially disheartening.

And when leaders, or those who claim to be, such as Obama and Pelosi and Dean, stand aside and do nothing or even abet, where is our moral compass?

At the convention in Denver, there is a correction to the terrible distortion and corruption of our political process - selecting Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee, the person who represents the majority of the Democratic Party, the electable Democrat to beat McCain and whose progressive values and empathy for all will help us restore our moral compass and leadership in the world.

HRC delegates, please hold firm in the face of huge pressure to abandon your constituents and principles. Super Delegates, your only job is to select the electable Democrat, and she is HRC.

It is all about November, not Mile High Stadium.

August 22, 2008 at 2:27 PM  
Blogger Admin said...

Cinie has left a new comment on your post "The press, misogyny, racism and political leadersh...":

Heidi Li, longtime lurker, here. I appreciate and greatly respect all your efforts on behalf of HRC. Thank you.
I too read the Slate piece. To use real issues as a smokescreen for the ineptitude and lack of qualifications of a mere politician, any politician, is completely unacceptable. To do so for Barack Obama not only angers me, it makes me sad. I say that as a black woman, insulted by him and his surrogates, official and self-appointed, for demeaning, and therefore diminishing issues like rac- and sexism, that they should be dedicated to eradicating.

August 22, 2008 at 3:05 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

ugh... I knew better than to read that. I wish I hadn't. Who was it that said "there is a special ring of hell for women who refuse to support women"? Wasn't it Madeline Albright? Whatever, thanks again Heidi for saying what I would like to say.

August 22, 2008 at 3:14 PM  
Blogger madamab said...

Heidi - Great post. I am so inspired by what you and Marc are doing, and so wish that I could be with all the other PUMAs in Denver.

Unfortunately, to a great extent, women must "play the game" in order to gain media success. They have to be willing to tear down other women so that the males in power can remain unthreatened by female solidarity. You see this all the time with creatures like Lithwick, MoDo, Randi Rhodes, Gail Collins and Rachel Maddow (who is going to take over Dan Abrams' show tonight).

At least now American women are awakened to the hidden misogyny that lies below the surface in our society.

August 22, 2008 at 4:40 PM  
Blogger Runa said...

Thank you,Thank you,Thank you .

I read that awful article and was so upset at the bandying about of phrases like "harridan" that have been traditionally used to squelch any woman with a mind. The Slate - and most disappointingly - its all -women election blog "The XX factor" have been the most egregious offenders when it comes to misogynistic attacks on HRC ,losing any pretense at journalistic objectivity. Its a sad day in America when Ms.Lithwick and her ilk attempt to quell any opposition to the anointed One by resorting to perpetuation of sexist stereotypes couched in semi- intellectual terms

August 22, 2008 at 4:55 PM  
Blogger ST said...

Heidi -

I am a fan of yours and greatly appreciate you for inspiring young women like me to stand up for what is right.

August 22, 2008 at 6:53 PM  
Blogger Still4Hill said...

Thanks Heidi. I wish you could be on MSM saying this because all I hear there is what Hillary "has to do." It's about time somebody suggested what Obama should do. I'm a linguist and I do genealogical research as a hobby. My great-great grandaunt was 14 when she arrived in NY from England. Her brothers, 10 & 12 I think were listed "child." She was listed "spinster." There appears to be no male form of that word, and it's unusual due to that <-er> inflection. I wonder if there's a male form of harridan. I never really thought about that word before - something I have to look into. I mean, what would you call Howard Dean? Hmmmmm. Thanks for the post.

August 22, 2008 at 9:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I won't even waste my time reading anything that trashes women. I am sick to death of women being treated this way even by other women. I mean WHAT IS THEIR PROBLEM?? I see women all the time put up with this mistreatment at the hands of friends, family and boyfriends and husbands. I just don't get why. I go to sleep each night comforted knowing I am my own person and I allow no one to mistreat me-NO ONE.

Obama does not care anything about this treatment of women because during the entire primary he sat by and said NOTHING while a respected, hardworking and compassionate Senator Hillary Clinton was TRASHED. Sounds to me like some certain people will vote for him anyway.

August 23, 2008 at 7:15 AM  

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