Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Playing the Gender Card in Politcs

To begin this article, I should state my views on Hillary Clinton. One, I don't know yet who I am going to vote for. Two, I won't automatically vote for Clinton just because she's a woman. I will vote for the candidate whose policies best exemplify what I believe in- balancing feminist, gay-rights, environmental, healthcare, and responsible foreign policy values. And right now, Dennis Kucinich fits that bill.

That Hillary Clinton is a woman is something I balance along with the totality of her positions on different issues.

Some people of particular influence in the media, however, are seemingly unable to get over the fact that we finally have a serious female contender for president. Much of the media politely ignores our nation's history of white, male presidents, and instead does one of two things. First, they ignore Clinton's gender and, talk about her "electability," a vague term referencing whether Clinton actually stands a chance in the general election. And instead of wondering how many people will or will not vote for Clinton because she's a woman, they wonder how many people will not vote for Clinton because she's supposedly too polarizing.

Secondly, when the media does discuss her gender, it has often been in the context of whether Hillary Clinton is "playing the gender card," another vague term that insinuates that Clinton is doing something unfair. And further, when pundits discuss this magical gender card, they don't talk about how male candidates have been playing it forever (more on this below).

Clinton has particularly been accused of "playing the gender card" after her speech at the all-women's college she attended, coming the day after a debate where other candidates and "moderators" spent much of the time singling her out, criticizing, and questioning her policies, statements, and history.

Here are Clinton's "incriminating" gender taboo statements:

"In so many ways, this all-women's college prepared me to compete in the all-boys club of presidential politics."

"When I came to Wellesley, I never in a million years could have imagined I'd one day return as a candidate for the presidency of the United States," she said. She added that the idea of a female president would have been met with derisive laughter in those days.

The first statement: Clinton is pointing out a truth that politics is dominated by men. She is also pointing out that her college (yes, a women's college) prepared her to compete in this male-dominated arena.

The second statement: Acknowledgment that there has never been a female president and, another truth, that such a high-falutin' notion would have been laughed at years ago.

Yet, commentators and other candidates have gone to lengths to describe these statements as unfair. As playing a game, a gender card game. And worse, they characterize these statements as an example that Clinton is acting like a weak little girl.

For instance, Roland Martin compares Clinton to a screaming little girl who needs her daddy to explain to her that "when you hit boys, sometimes they hit back."

As though Clinton, one of only a handful of female senators and the only female presidential candidate, is not already aware of how boys play the game. As though she has not already been playing the game for a long time.

Of Martin and Clinton, the only person I see turning Clinton into a little girl is Martin.

Even some of her opponents are in the "Clinton is playing the gender card" game. After the above-mentioned debate, this supposedly happened:

"Barack Obama mocked Hillary Rodham Clinton Friday for playing the gender card -- accusing her of crying "don't pick on me" after her first major campaign setback. In a TV interview, Obama ridiculed Clinton for invoking her sex as a political liability -- saying he won't use his race as a shield and Clinton isn't fit to be president if she hides behind gender every time she's attacked." [my emphasis]

I could find no source directly quoting Clinton as saying "don't pick on me," although I found many sources playing the "Obama said that Hillary said" non-contextual quote game.

In fact, Obama and Martin could probably produce a more accurate "story" about Clinton if they remembered that she actually said this:

"I don't think they're piling on because I'm a woman. I think they're piling on because I'm winning."

And it's true. It's customary to go after the front-runner in an election. You ignore those who do not stand a real chance. You know, like Kucinich.

See, what I think is happening is that some of the boys are playing their own little gender card game. You know, the one where Clinton is simultaneously a scary feminazi who went to a women's college and a crying girl who can't hack it with the big boys. (See how even her identity "flim-flams"?)

And yes, let's talk identity for a minute. Note how above Obama says he would never dream of using his race as a "shield." I'm sure that pleases some white guys who, you know, hate "identity politics" because they believe that since they are (supposedly) without identity, everyone else is too. And furthermore, they believe that characteristics of one's identity don't play a role in politics or policy. Which explains why we've had so many black, Latino, Asian, and female politicians in this country.

But moving on. I have been particularly unimpressed by pundit Chris Matthews' "analyses" of Clinton, the campaign, and the debates. He just can't get over that Clinton is a woman. Although I'm sure he'd never admit that. But who would?

For instance, Matthews has created a segment where he plays continuous clips of Clinton applauding at various events while he says things like "There she is clapping again" and asks if she is Chinese (because, I wonder, Chinese people clap a lot?? Somebody help me out with that one).

One could just as easily find tapes of male candidates applauding, so it is interesting that Matthews is obsessed with Clinton's applause, which the implication goes, is a submissive, and therefore feminine, phenomenon. Presidents don't applaud, by George, others applaud them! Looks to me like Matthews is playing a gender card of his own here.

But alas, Matthews is also one of the prime accusers that Hillary Clinton is (wrongfully) playing the gender card in her campaign. In fact, he does more than merely accuse her of doing so. He accuses her of pandering to the feminist all-women's college crowd by playing up the "anti-male thing" and that if male voters catch a whiff of the "woman-against-male thing," they won't vote for her.

Because by daring to point out that politics is male-dominated and that her all-women's college prepared her for that is somehow an "anti-male" statement? Because it's anti-male for men and women to be reminded of this truth about our nation's history? Does Matthews see men as so fragile that they view the truth as a "woman-against-male thing"? Are men this fragile? I certainly hope not.

But my final point is this: The implication in many of these statements is that male candidates never play up their maleness, their "macho-ness," if you will, in a campaign.

But then again, since every major presidential candidate thus far in our nation's history has been a man, acting like a manly man, or a rough and tough cowboy perhaps, is not technically playing the gender card. It's just par for the course at the presidential boys' country club. And men's actions are the standard for so many things, that when others do not follow suit, they are characterized as "not playing by the rules."

Digby says it well:

"Every presidential candidate, and most other politicians, since 1980, have been bowing and scraping before this constituency. But for some reason, the hunting trips and codpieces and brush clearing and all that metaphorical crotch measuring isn't considered playing 'the gender card.' It's just considered the normal political pander to an aggrieved minority vote: the poor white males who've been treated terribly by all those powerful women and minorities and gays. What could be wrong with that?"

Indeed. Male politicians effectively play the "average joe" gender card and fool all those average white males into thinking that they really aren't that different from each other after all- once you get past the privileged private-school millionaire lifestyle. Average joe voter mistakenly believes that George W. Bush really would grab a beer with him and watch Nascar (if he weren't tied up with that being-the-president business). They want to believe that VP Dick really would take average joe on his next huntin' trip if average joe only lived a little bit closer to the Cheney family compound.

See, most politicians do play the gender card. Matthews, Obama, Martin, and others are playing their own little gender card by playing into male fears that a feminist is going to take over the white house and ruin everything for average joe. And, if these guys' strategy works, who wins? The same people who have always been winning in this country. And we all know that person isn't average joe. (Nor is it average jane for that matter.)

Just remember that the next time you hear Chris Matthews et. al. "analyze" Clinton. And realize that while Matthews and company do their little touchdown dance, bump chests with each other, and go shake with fear in their no girls allowed treehouse at the very real prospect of a woman president, they are just scared little boys at heart.

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