Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Primary Thoughts: Violence And Sexism

Contents Warning:  I'm unwell, feverish and possibly hallucinating.  Read at your own risk.

A couple of off-the-hip (Echidne pulls her guns out) comments on recent events in the US primaries, known now as the Clown Games by most of the sane world*.

First, the Donald.  Donald Trump has lived a protected life, a sheltered life, a life where what he does wrong has no real consequences.  But in the real life, the unprotected kind, bad deeds have consequences, some deserved, some undeserved but nevertheless consequences, too.  And now Donald, at the ripe age of almost-seventy, must learn about those consequences.

Because he had rich and powerful parents he never had to learn the first and basic test we all have to pass as children:  How to play well with others.  Because he got a pass on that, we now have the mature Donald, an arrogant, empty-headed believer in his own godlike status (and no, I didn't come to goddess-status that same way),  a man who believes he can say whatever he wants and that's the end of the story.  His henchmen and henchwomen have not fought back, because he fires (or divorces) the ones who do.  But nobody can control masses of people or public opinion that way.

One of those other life tests many of us have to take at some time teaches us that public statements matter. 

It matters if you tell your acolytes that you would like to punch the protesters in the face.  It matters if you call Latino immigrants rapists, especially without proof that rape rates by Latinos actually were much higher.  It matters if you propose barring all Muslims from entering the United States simply on the basis of faith, not actual plans of terrorism.  It matters if you send tweets like this:

It even matters if you turn the Republican presidential primaries into slug-fests, and that's because you are moving the goalposts on what is acceptable behavior in the public sphere.

Indeed, everything Trump has done has that very effect.  It is true that he is not out there punching protesters or getting punched by them, but he opened the floodgates.  And what flows through them has his name on it, whether he is legally culpable or not.**

Our social contract is a fragile web.  One arrogant rich guy has stuck his stubby fingers through it, and see what happens.

Second, the Hillary.  I saw this bumper sticker over the weekend, slapped on the butt of a plumbing van, next to some-naked-women picture:

My job, as I see it, is to point out sexism in these primaries.  I haven't been vigilant enough on that, partly because I'm sick and partly because the sample size of very powerful women in American politics is exactly one, and samples of size one are not good material for drawing conclusions about the population of all women***. 

But I'm pretty sure that whoever chose that bumper sticker would also have an "anyone but (Elizabeth) Warren" sticker if Warren was running.  The generalized anger at Hillary Clinton serves to let the misogynists join in without being called misogynists. 

Now, how much of that generalized anger**** at Hillary Clinton might be linked to our ideas about how good women act (they are not ambitious) is impossible to determine, and that is because of that sample size of one:  We have one powerful woman in the politics of a giant country.  

And that should cause some concern among feminists, at least.

This take on how critics view Hillary Clinton's use of voice shows another small brick in the way sexism, whether overt or covert, builds walls against women in politics.  Some people notice problems in women's speech when similar problems in men's speech go unnoticed.  Honestly, I had to listen to George W. Bush for eight years and never saw a piece about his talking through the nose.


*  Which probably consists of my readers and a few other isolated individuals.

**  I am not taking away the agency of all those who are doing the menacing or the fighting.  They are naturally the ones directly responsible.  And as an aside, what I saw in videos suggests to me that the perpetrators are mostly if not totally men.

***  Another giant problem women's rarity in politics causes is that Hillary Clinton can now be treated as an avatar for "all women in power" or as a harbinger of the "petticoat rule."  This happens to some extent on both sides.  Misogynists hate her because she is a woman, many women identify with her because they have been treated in similar fashion.  The solution is naturally to have many more women in politics.

****  I get that primaries are heated, that it's perfectly acceptable to dislike Hillary Clinton's past politics or the policies she may have supported and I also get that it can be a rational choice to be opposed to her. 

This post is not about the Democratic primary of 2016.  It is about spotting sexism in that primary, and from that angle I'd argue that those whose hatred is most visceral might not feel the same gut-twisting hatred against an otherwise identical male politician.  And I'd call "anybody but Hillary" pretty visceral.