Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Are We Equal When

Women can be openly misogynist, too? It's a question well worth thinking about. Consider our main representative among prestigious political pundits: Maureen Dowd:

A Media Matters for America review of Maureen Dowd's New York Times columns between January 1, 2007, and June 8, 2008, reveals that Dowd has frequently characterized this election cycle's leading Democratic candidates -- Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards (NC) -- using gendered language, specifically characterizing Clinton as masculine, and Obama and Edwards as feminine. For example, Dowd wrote on March 3, 2007: "If Hillary is in touch with her masculine side, Barry [Obama] is in touch with his feminine side." On June 4, Dowd asserted: "Barry [Obama] has been trying to shake off Hillary and pivot for quite a long time now, but she has managed to keep her teeth in his ankle and raise serious doubts about his potency. ... Hillary's camp radiated the message that Obama was a sucker who had played by the rules on Florida and Michigan, and then reached an appeasing compromise, and that such a weak sister could never handle Putin or I'm-A-Dinner-Jacket." Besides characterizing Clinton as masculine, Dowd often portrays the New York senator and former first lady as domineering, having called her "Mommie Dearest" and "Mistress Hillary. Dowd also often compares Obama to a child, calling him "boy wonder" and "the Chicago kid." By contrast, Dowd rarely feminized the all-male Republican field, and, during the period Media Matters reviewed, has never feminized Sen. John McCain, whom she has referred to in one column as a "tough guy[]."

My usual reaction is to feel sorry for women who suffer from such immense self-loathing. But I actually doubt that Dowd loathes herself. It's the idea of femininity that she loathes, the idea of all that "womanhood", that enormous mass of weakness, moistness, vulnerability, scatter-brainedness, cattiness, stupidity, or whatever characteristics the popular culture has assigned to women over her lifetime.

Those messages are there still and they were there much more strongly a few decades ago. It's almost as if most young girls of Dowd's generation got a nice wholesome glass of cold misogynistic milk most days of their childhoods. No wonder that many of them accept the societal misogyny without really stopping to think that it applies to themselves, too. You don't get a pass just because you think you do. You don't get a pass even if your misogyny is all about your mother or those catty girls in your high-school or that woman who stole your sweetheart or those bitches at work. Other people will still apply that same misogyny to you.

Perhaps that is the first step into feminist class awareness, the awareness that if you are female you will often be treated according to the cultural rules which apply to that "womanhood", whether those cultural rules are fair or not and whether they reflect the kind of person you actually are.