Tuesday, June 10, 2008

For shame.

So, the inaugural post for my swanky new blog. Why am I blogging? Because I think words have the power to change things. Because as a writer I think writing about it (whatever 'it' is) is acting. Because I think words have power, and are too often devalued, or used carelessly.

Thing is, I'm a Feminist. And I get kind of sick of people telling me that's stupid. I get sick of people saying that feminism is dead, that it is unnecessary, and can we please get off our soapboxes and go home? But feminism isn't dead, it's not finished and we haven't won. There is still a tendency in the today's media to frame conversation about women in overwhelmingly misogynistic terms. And if we complain, we are called 'hysterical' (itself a rather sexist term) or 'humourless'.

Case in point: Yesterday, June 9th 2008, The Sydney Morning Herald published this article by Paul Sheehan. Sheehan is commenting on the American Presidential Primary Campaigns - specifically, the end of Clinton's campaign, and declaration of Obama as Democratic candidate. Interesting enough subject matter, even for someone who hasn't been following American Politics with particular attention. I have, however, been following Shakesville's Hillary Sexism Watch which made me... really angry, actually. But not too angry, because I immediately assumed, smugly and incorrectly, that it was a purely American problem.

Thankyou Paul Sheehan, for making me open my eyes.

There are many articles, in many different blogs, about how sexist attacks aimed against one woman hurt all women. That isn't what I meant when I called the Hillary Sexism Watch a purely American problem. Surely, thought I, no Australian commentator is going to level sexist slurs against an American politician. Surely, thought I, we aren't that low.

Thankyou, Paul Sheehan, for proving me wrong.

I shouldn't have to explain why that article is so offensive. In a perfect world, the offensiveness of the article would see it languishing on the editing room floor. Of course, the world is far from perfect, and it turns out that Australian journos can be just as misogynistic about American politicians as American journos. Nothing to be proud off.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of my peers would see nothing wrong with the article. The (deeply disgusting) cartoon will get a brief snigger, and the misogynistic language will slip under the radar. This is a problem. In order to change sexist behaviours we need to recognise. It is not OK for any journalist of any nation to describe any politician as "the pit-bull who was loath to let go". What really gets me, though, is that the traits that Sheehan criticises in Clinton (tenacity, determination, willingness to slog it out) would be praised in any other (male) politician.

What's worse is that Sheehan seems to know he is being a sexist prick, but he tries to shrug it off as just another delusion of those damn feminists ("can we please dispense with the hoary nonsense that Hillary Clinton lost because she was a woman?") Ironically enough, I agree: Clinton didn't lose because she was a woman. If I understand American politics at all, she lost because she didn't get enough votes. I'd say, though, that the misogynistic attacks levelled at her by all sides didn't help. And these attacks would not have been levelled at her if she wasn't a woman.

After this attack though, Sheehan gets confused. He starts talking about Bill Clinton, and about how his infidelities damaged her campaign. He claims that an article on Bill Clinton "inflicted collateral damage to the political standing of Hillary thanks to all the women who have been named as having had affairs with her husband". I fail to see the link between Bill Clinton's affairs, and Hillary Clinton's campaign. Unless, of course, you're talking about the spurious link drawn by right wing pundits relying on cliched and hateful attacks in order to put the uppity woman in her place. Why talk about Hillary when you can talk about Bill? We all know that a woman is merely a reflection of her husband. He also accuses Clinton, "the feminist flagbearer" of rationalising away these allegations. Which... what exactly is his point?

Apparently that Clinton wanted power. Whilst this progression of ideas may seem clear to Sheehan they are less so to me. From this point on, Sheehan's article dissolves into a mass of muddy logic. In fact the whole thing is a mass of week supposition, stitched together with sexist cliches (and that's not even touching on his slurs against Obama). Instead of talking about actual, you know, issues, the first part of the article is a poorly stated, poorly thought out attack on a political candidate who dared to be a woman and dared to have an unfaithful husband (and the idea that was even remotely because of her is another sexist assumption I'll leave for another time.)

It's not just sexist, it's sloppy writing. For shame, Sheehan, for shame.

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