Monday, December 28, 2009

A Brief History of Sexism in Politics

While many feminists condemn the sexism thrown at Sarah Palin (when it is actually legitimate sexism and not just a criticism that any politician would face), Palin and her supporters unfortunately appear utterly unconcerned about the sexism that other- that is, liberal- female politicians face. When the McCain campaign breathlessly announced the choice of Palin as running mate, sexism suddenly became a Very Big Deal to those great allies to feminism otherwise known as Republicans and conservatives.

Perhaps because those who were crying sexism were Republicans, and not whiny liberal feminist types.

In light of these Palin Neo-Feminists (I just made that word up!), I found this New York Times opinion piece interesting. In it, biographer Sally Denton recaps Helen Gahagan Douglas's 1950 Senate loss to Richard Nixon.

I have written before of how one of the privileges of being male is being assumed, both by others and by oneself, to be competent and authoritative whilst Speaking About Things. Although I question the narrative that posits that it was only Republican men who were responsible for creating the sexist "dirty tricks" that are used against women, the article demonstrates how Serious and Important Men can easily denigrate women because of the weight of their authoritative male voices and because of the longstanding idea that femininity is lesser than masculinity. Denton writes:

"Believing that women universally and biologically functioned on an emotional rather than cerebral plane, [Nixon] held special enmity for Douglas and was affronted by the sheer audacity of her ambition. Her gifts threw him off balance, and he reacted with a vengeance, refusing to treat her as an equal.

'Not only was Nixon contemptuous of women's intellect generally, but he was also oblivious to women as individuals,' his biographer, Fawn Brodie, wrote. He expected women to be pleasant adornments who shored up their husbands, and he was notorious for his dismissal of his wife, Pat, if she dared to inject herself into 'the man's world of politics.' In that male sphere, according to Henry Kissinger, Nixon's alter ego, Pat, 'was a silent patriot ... a loyal and uninterfering female ... speaking only when spoken to and not sullying the cigar smoke with her personal opinions....'

For his part, Nixon injected gender into the dialogue at every opportunity. Referring to Douglas as his 'female opponent,' he made crass sexual remarks if he were in an all-male gathering, smirking and hinting that Douglas was sexually involved with President Truman. Years before the women's movement, the innuendo fostered little if any outrage. Even when Nixon made the most bizarre remark of all -- that Douglas was 'pink right down to her underwear,' a crude allusion to her liberalism -- he received no condemnation."

How much farther have we and have we not come from this?

And also, anyone else find it fitting that groups of powerful men who exclude women from Important Things sit around and smoke cigars whilst doing so? Real Men smoking phalluses cigars together with other Real Men, is like the perfect metaphor for stroking the power and significance of that one special piece of anatomy that they believe makes them more competent, more authoritative, and more intelligent than people who lack that apparatus.

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