Sunday, September 14, 2008

Editorial: Raw emotions (Ava and C.I.)

[Jim note: This was a feature article we asked Ava and C.I. to write. It became something much more and we've decided to make it the editorial. We're posting it early so something is up and I'll go into it more in my note to the readers this edition.]

Last week's edition featured the following articles: "Editorial: The Sour Grape Girls," "The Palin effect" and "Whose Media Center?" and we (Ava and C.I.) were assigned the update.

In terms of updates, last week Women's Media Center highlighted Republicans for Choice's Ann E. W. Stone -- a good move towards ensuring that sexism is not seen as a partisan issue. Last week also saw Feminist Wire Daily call out sexism against Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton:

Donny Deutsch recently made sexist comments about Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin and former Democratic Presidential contender Hillary Clinton. Deutsch appeared on CNBC's Squawk the Street (Watch the video here) and made several misogynistic comments including praising Palin for earning respect through her ability to make men 'want to mate with her' and calling Senator Clinton's loss in the Democratic Primaries a direct result of the fact that she 'didn't put a skirt on.'"

Before we forget, Jess asked us to highlight "Sarah Palin socks it to the prigs" which was noted in an e-mail from a reader.

Which brings us to "The Palin effect" and how, as published last week, was not what was written in full. The piece cuts off. (You'll note the computer jargon in the last paragraph published. We have no idea why that happened. It happens from time to time and, when it does, it wipes out everything typed after.) Jim's "A note to our readers" refers to a highlight sent in by Dee Dee being in that article. It was in the now lost section. The highlight was Leela's "Bullshit Feministing - Sara Palin was an Excellent GOP Choice" (Feministing).

A few comments on that. First, thank you to Dee Dee for finding that post and e-mailing to ask that it be highlighted. Second, read what Leela's saying. We don't agree with her view of Democrats. We do, however, know where's she's coming from on that view. Her view is the sort of thing that can start a conversation. It may never bring feminists into one political party's tent (we don't think that should be a goal of the feminist movement short of a feminist party being started), but conversations can illuminate and increase our understandings.

Leela is obviously upset (first hint, her title), so even though we disagree with her view of the Democratic Party (re: Socialism), we would have first registered that she was upset and then attempted to engage. That didn't really happen on the thread and we'll assume that was due to the anger/ill will her view caused others.

But here's the reality: some people do see the Democratic Party as a Socialist Party. Some people see the Republican Party as an Evangelical Party. Neither belief is accurate but to understand each other, we need to understand where we are all coming from.

If we had been posting comments to Leela's article, we would have asked her to expand on the whys of her views. We're fully aware we wouldn't have changed her mind (nor would that be our goal). We're also aware we would have understood her a little better and she would have hopefully understood where we come from across the aisle.

Leela wrote a great piece and we applaud her for it.

It wasn't pretty, it wasn't gather 'round the campfire. And, you know what, sometimes those type of pieces are the last thing the feminist movement needs.

With the exception of one comment, we thought we could gauge where the ones leaving comments were coming from and could understand them.

With the exception of one?

What does Rebecca say? Isn't it always a man?

Well isn't it?

A man posted a comment and (at least two Saturdays ago) not one of the women called him out on it. He spoke of how he'd hook up with a "welfare queen" and have a bunch of kids and then get her elected to office and blah blah blah. Now maybe everyone was operating under the Don't-Feed-The-Trolls motto, but his comments were the only thing objectionable that we saw.

We saw Leela very upset (and we can understand that) and we saw a number of women very upset with Leela (which we can also understand) but mainly we saw an attempt at an honest feminist discussion.

Regardless of whether this is true at Feministing or not (we don't go to the site), across the country there is very real anger among feminists of all ages over what has gone down in 2008. If feminism is going to make strong strides in 2009 (feminism never dies but some years it makes small strides and some years it make great strides), it's really going to require what Leela and the feminists leaving comments did. It's going to have to leave behind the notion that we're all going to agree on everything and it's going to have to leave behind the idea that, feminist-to-feminist, we can't talk openly and on our own terms (even terms that aren't 'pretty' or 'nice'). Feelings will get hurt. But, feminist-to-feminist, we're going to have to expect that and learn to hear each other out.

The mood in the country (among feminists) is too raw for the conversation to be elevated to the highest tone. All that will be gained from that is a band-aid over a gaping wound.

And guess what, all of us, at some point or another, make a very non-feminist statement. And, feminist-to-feminist, that can be pointed out. What should not happen is saying, "Oh, you said that, so you're not a feminist!" If we're smart, we'll grasp just how raw the emotions are right now and allow -- in feminist spaces -- that somethings need to be said and that when things are suppressed (as they have been for most of 2008), they don't always surface for the first time in the prettiest of language.

The power of what's known as "the second wave" of feminism (more like the 400th wave) came from "clicking," from women trying to put words to their experiences and feelings and, in doing so, talking about something supposedly 'just personal,' setting off recognition in other women that established it wasn't a personal or individual issue, it was an issue that effected many women. To get to those moments, there had to be a very real freedom in the language. It offended some (like The Ego of Us All who loathed that women discussed, for example, the clitoris) but it was needed.

And the calls for equal representation in employment and in the media (and the very real actions which included occupying magazine offices) were built on the foundation of recognition that the raw sharing provided.

Last week, Barack Obama's comments got some attention but a number of people (including some women) rushed in to declare that Barack wasn't being sexist. It was just words, it was just common expressions.

That's really not honest.

We heard that "lipstick on a pig" was just an expression. And, you'll note, we didn't hear the other comment. We rarely heard it in the coverage and women denying that Barack had used sexism certainly didn't include what followed "lipstick on a pig." The next comment was, "'You can, you can, wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change, it's still going to stink after 8 years. We've had enough of the same old thing." That's an ugly thing to say and we can understand a reluctance to go there.

But, as Trina notes (and as Ruth noted with regards to another working in 'fish' when 'discussing' Palin), we all know what it means. We've all heard the 'joke' in one variation or another.

We can all play dumb and all pretend we don't know what that was about.

But the reality is we do know what it was about.

Let's all take a deep breath and admit that, unless you've never broken a sweat in your life, at some point any and every part of your body has smelled bad, including, yes, your vagina.

And if we're all breathing deeply, and not freaking out, straight women can also admit that men's penises? They don't all smell like roses. And if we can be really honest, straight women can admit that more than once we've gone down on a man (or attempted to) when we've nearly gagged -- no, fellas, not from your size, from the intense Crackatoa order.

But there aren't a lot of Crackatoa jokes and, heaven forbid, any straight woman point out that not all penises smell the same as the rest of a man's body. All women, however, have been the butt of fish 'jokes' forever. Why did one gender become the butt of jokes and another get off with a pass? Who's been allowed to define the norm? Which gender created the 'standard'?

Now in this round of truth or dare, we're fully aware some women want to throw up goose eggs right now and insist "Not me." So let's go on record as saying, there have been days when not only have our vaginas not smelled so-fresh, they've flat out stunk. So if it helps you, you can say, "Well, it's never happened to me, but Ava and C.I. -- and I'm sure other women -- have had this problem . . ."

But pretending what happened didn't happen isn't accomplishing anything.

As we long ago noted, Barack is the uh-uh-uh king and that may have led some to believe he was just tossing out remarks off the top of his head. Now we got a heads up before the remarks and were told (by a friend on his staff) that Barack was "cutting loose" and it would be "funny" (and certainly the audience present found it funny). But for those who want to believe that Barack was just talking off the top of his head, you need to realize that, as Joseph (Cannonfire) explains, "His comments were cribbed -- word for word -- from a Washington Post cartoon. Why is Obama allowed to plagiarize when others are not?" The remarks leading up to the lipstick and fish remark were, word for word, from a cartoon. Not only were they from a cartoon, but Barack (as he always does) trips up in speaking and gets ahead of himself, at which point, he has to back it up:

Exc-and-and so I guess his whole angle is 'Watch out, George Bush. Except for economic policy, health care policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy and Karl Rove style politics, we're really going to shake things up in Washington."

Catch it? He started to go to "Except for . . ." before it was time to. He caught himself and backed it up to include all of his well rehearsed lines. It was scripted and it was rehearsed. But for those of you who want to ignore that, there's also the issue of playing field.

When Sarah Palin became the v.p. nominee of the GOP, the playing field changed. Just as it did when Barack became the Democratic nominee. On that, Republicans know (or should) they cannot refer to "dark plans" or "voodoo economics" or utilize any number of phrases they might with a White candidate. Whether they intended to be racist or not, the GOP is (or should be) aware that phrases involving color, stereotypes or what have you will be judged with the context of Barack's race. By the same token, Palin being a woman means that Barack and Biden's remarks will be judged with an eye on her gender.

So for those who need to insist the remarks were unscripted and that no harm was intended, too bad. The playing field changed.

Now Barack has a long history of insulting women. To deal only with 2008 we've already had to endure his sexist comments about Hillary ("the claws come out," "periodically when she's feeling low," etc.). Since Palin was announced as John McCain's running mate, Team Obama (including Barack) has belittled her as a "mayor" when she is in fact a governor. They started that nonsense the day of the announcement.

It has continued.

Barack declared September 4th, "I think she's got a compelling story, but I assume she wants to be treated the way guys want to be treated, which mean the records are under scrutiny. I've been through this for 19 months, she's been through it for what - four days?"

He assumes she wants to be treated the way guys want to be treated? If one of Barack's opponents had said of him, "I assume he wants to be treated the way White men want to be treated, which means records are under scrutiny," you think people wouldn't have rightly called that remark racism? If you're missing his attempt to 'man up' against Palin, he followed that by declaring, "I've been called worse on the basketball court." Oh, you big, strong man!

"Barack Running Scared"

If you're not grasping what he was doing then, you might want to review the comments to Kenneth R. Baznet's New York Daily News report which include, "this crazy bit*h got some nerve," "light weight heffa" and "Can't even keep her own kid legs close. How in **** is she going to run a country." One thing that most can agree is that Barack knows the power of words and knows how to utilize them for a response. He got the response he hoped for. (Or as his team declared after deploying homophobia in South Carolina, "We got what we wanted.")

And you can ignore it or even condone it because Barack's so damn important to you, or you can admit what's happening and grasp that the fish and pig 'jokes' did not come out of nowhere.

Feminism would be better off grasping what's going on. As offensive as Barack's 'assume she wants to be treated like a man' comments were, Friday's NOW on PBS, featured Drew Westen proposing that Joe Biden open with something similar in his debate with Palin, that he point out to everyone that Palin is a woman and then say that he's going to treat her the same as he would a man. Drew Weston thinks that's 'progressive'? It's sounds like sexism to us.

[Note this coming Friday's NOW on PBS will be an hour long special broadcast and will examine women -- in the electorate and in office.]

Now maybe everyone's decided to take Katha Pollitt's stated oath which she revealed when she felt 'forced' to call out Tom Hayden's latest sexism last April: "I want to do my bit for Obama, so I vowed I would give up attacking Obama-supporting progressives for the duration of the presidential campaign." Guess what, Katha, we don't do our "bit for" feminism by staying silent.
That was in April that she broke (and announced) her vow -- one she's gone back to. So, basically, at the start of the year, Pollitt's admitting, she decided to let sexist attacks from Barack's campaign and his supporters slide until after the election. Wow.

Note that she wasn't planning to bite her tongue for just one week or even one month, she was planning to bite her tongue for nearly a year to do her "bit for Obama." Maybe Katha needs to redefine herself? She's no longer a feminist, she's an Obamist.

In the lost portion of "The Palin effect," we talked about how some women aided the sexist attacks on Hillary. They did that in two ways. First, there was the group that launched them -- thereby allowing men to join in and say, "Hey, it's not sexist. ____ said the same thing." Second, there was the group that stayed silent.

Hillary's feminist credentials were repeatedly ignored (or dismissed by the likes of Laura Flanders -- you know, the lesbian who couldn't call out Barack for using homophobia in South Carolina though she could write a 'plea' to him to stop embracing torture). To be honest, Sarah Palin's not our kind of feminist. But she does self-define as such and with the feminist movement so eager to be inclusive and so reluctant to set down basics (for those who've forgotten, feminist 'voices' treated it as a victory when Laura Bush self-described as such), Palin not only has the right to use the term, she has the right to be seen as such.

When you think of feminists online, you may think first of the site that hates feminists: The Daily Toilet Scrubber whose owner soiled his Fruit-of-the-Looms when he was called out for featuring sexist advertising and dismissed all those "women's studies" majors. A curious side of the Barack groupies in the press is their repeated insistence that people complaining about the treatment Palin's received are seeing things that just aren't there.

While we'd prefer to never speak of it at all, silence isn't doing good. So, briefly, The Daily Toilet Toilet Scrubber launched attacks on Palin (picked up and amplified elsewhere) that insisted her son Trig Palin was not her son but was her grandson and that she was lying. She'd faked the whole pregnancy! Not content with that lie, last week they started spreading rumors about who was the father-to-be of her teenage daughter's pregnancy.

They certainly are concerned with the fertility of the Palin family but sexists usually are, now aren't they?

Palin doesn't believe in abortion and states that is due to her religious beliefs. The Daily Toilet Scrubber has attacked abortion rights and his site's actions with regards to Palin indicate it has nothing to do with religion but has everything to do with control of women's bodies.

Why else put a non-adult through the crap they're putting Bristol Palin through?

Do grown adults really think it is either their right or duty to repeatedly discuss the pregnancy of a young girl they neither know nor care about?

What's really going on is someone is hissing "slut" at you as you walk down the hall in high school. Let's not kid and let's not pretend.

Barack hasn't called any of that out. He's made his weak-ass statement that families should be off-limits but when his biggest online supporter (support group?) regularly traffics in sexist attacks, he just acts like it's not happening and so do his groupies in the press.

Barack didn't discover sexism this month. His campaign was run on it. Michelle Obama was making snide remarks in November 2007 about how could Hillary (left unnamed) run the White House if she couldn't even run her own house (referring to Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky)?

The most innocent (and accurate) remarks results in Team Obama screaming racism such as when Bill Clinton rightly called 'anti-war' Barack Obama's self-presentation on the Iraq War a "fairy tale." And yet a mountain of sexism on the part of Barack, his campaign and his supporters never gets pointed out.

That's why nerves are so raw around the country.

Feminists keep waiting to see our 'leaders' take action and we're still waiting. To stick with NOW on PBS, they did cover what Hillary's run meant for women (they featured a mother and daughter with one supporting Hillary and the other supporting Barack). Ask yourself what other program even acknowledged the historic nature of Hillary's run? Bill Moyers Journal? No. Week after week, America got superficial segments on race and non-stop praise from Moyers about Barack's historic run. (It really was historic -- he is the first bi-racial person we're aware of that's run for president. It's a real shame he refused to claim that history. But it's been a slow walk away from bi-racial -- which he once claimed -- as he's advanced in elected office. It wasn't all that long ago that he was explaining to Columbia's alumni newsletter that he was "African American" as opposed to "African-American" because he was honoring both countries and both races and explaining that he "identified" with both.) But despite having an hour each week, Moyers never (not even during Women's History Month) found time to explore Hillary's historic run.

As we noted in June, frequent Moyers' guest Dr. Kathy (Kathleen Hall Jamieson) wanted to tell The New York Times that "the problem" (sexism) was confined to "cable and the blogosphere" and yet the reality was not only did Bill Moyers choose to re-broadcast one of the most offensive moments from MSNBC (Jesse Jackson Jr. calling Hillary vain and implying she was a racist and a fraud) but Dr. Kathy was present to provide 'expert analysis' when Moyers did so and she didn't say a damn thing. Moyers had already declared that he didn't know whether the moment where Hillary's eyes moistened ("moisty" he called it) was genuine or not and then decided to let the audience decide for themselves -- not by playing video of that moment but by playing Junior's attack on her. Moyers really wanted to let viewers decide? In what world is that believable? And in what world does Dr. Kathy just sit there (as she did) and not call out the attack on Hillary?

Not in response to voters -- not in response to Katrina, not in response to other issues that have devastated the American people, the war in Iraq, we saw tears in response to her appearance. So her appearance brought her to tears, but not Hurricane Katrina.

That's the lies of Junior's from MSNBC. Dr. Kathy didn't call out. Moyers didn't play the actual moment. (If he had, viewers would have seen Hillary's eyes moisten when she was speaking about the direction of the country.)

Yes, MSNBC is a sewer. No, it is not the only one that utilized sexism. And feminists around the country are wondering what is the point in a "feminist media" when everyone's playing Katha Pollitt and biting their tongues?

Last week saw many call out sexism. And the response was appalling. Barack gave a lousy, brief remark where he indicated that the topic was so unworthy, he shouldn't even have to address it.
From CNN (text and video), this is Barack: "We have real problems in this country right now. The American people are looking to us for answers, not distractions, not diversions, not manipulations. They want real answers to the real problems we are facing." Sexism isn't a real problem?

We guess it's just something in our heads, huh? We're imagining it. Maybe we're just moody because we're on the rag, is that it?

Barack's comments offended some people and instead of apologizing for them, he had to insist it was a "distraction." Not surprising after Katharine Q. Seelye and Julie Bosman (New York Times) reported in June that Barack defender and US House Rep Debbie Wasserman Schultz was saying Barack wasn't going to address sexism, "She said Mr. Obama had no specific plans for a speech on sexism, partly because he already incorporates themes of discrimination as a societal problem into his speeches." Of course he had. If you believe that sexism doesn't warrant a discussion.

Think about PBS and all their commentaries on racism this year -- going far beyond Moyers. And think about how sexism wasn't a topic, wasn't a mini-series. There's never time to address sexism and it's just a "distraction" according to Barack. And he gets away with it.

Not only does he, but Ralph Nader showed up on Friday (and we're not participating in any Ralph feature -- if one is done -- this weekend in protest to his comments) to declare, "What was the number one issue in the Presidential horse race for the past couple of days? Answer: Lipstick."

No, Ralph, it wasn't about "lipstick," it was about sexism. And you run off supporters when you come off dismissive. (That's not to suggest that we're voting for Nader. We have not said who we will vote for. We will not vote for Barack or McCain. That is noting there has been fallout from Ralph's remark.) Not only was it dismissive, it was flat-out stupid for a campaign attempting to get media attention. Had Ralph said something, anything, to call it out, he would have gotten some media attention. You had the McCain camp swearing it was sexism and the Obama camp insisting it wasn't. When another campaign wades into the waters on something like that, it can get attention if they make strong remarks. Ralph chose instead to dismiss it.

Why is it a raw nerve around the country? For reasons like that. For reasons including Laura Flanders' idiotic appearance on KPFA last week where she insisted White women voters who had been supporting Barack or leaning towards him now supporting McCain were racists. They've never addressed the sexism in 2008 and keep going in circles crying "Racism!" over and over. And White women they attack non-stop.

You saw that take place in January. It continues. Women of color get rendered invisible which might strike some as kinder but it has pissed off Latinas and Asian-American women who supported Hillary in large numbers and had to repeatedly hear from Flanders and other crackpots at The Nation that Hillary's support was all White. (Hillary won the Latino community in every state but Barack's home state and there she just barely lost it.) They can't be honest about that because they're not usually comfortable calling Latinos and Asian-Americans "racists." (They made an exception when Hillary won Puerto Rico and Amy Goodman and others launched an attack.)

Laura Flanders could babble on about racism (the White, British Flanders) yet again and yet never say a word about sexism. No surprise, this is the woman who went on KPFA as an 'analyst' for Barack and Hillary's Texas debate and repeatedly referred to Hillary's laugh as a "cackle." (She also refused to inform listeners that she -- like all the other 'analysts' on the program -- had endorsed Barack publicly.) Now that everyone's ignoring Grit TV, Laura's showing up in any women's media that will have her to promote her bad TV show. But the reality is she's used non-stop sexism in 2008 and it's really appalling to read about her in various women's media without seeing that point made. She needs us (women) to make her show something other than a failure but it's a one-way street she's offering: Support me because I'm a woman but don't count on me to call out sexism.

Again, emotions are raw and they're raw for a reason. Sexism has been repeatedly dismissed throughout 2008 and not just by men, by women as well. It's not a worthy topic. Or at least, while doing your "bit for Barack," it's not important enough to call out. Funny, we believe feminism has changed and will change the world. And we don't go into self-imposed exiles for any candidate.

[Illustration Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Barack Running Scared"]
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