I think the topic of sexism and misogyny is important and interesting, especially in the context of the presidential race. But I think there is a lot of sloppy and aimless discussion going on, too. It pays to lay out some different areas of focus and to try to analyze the issue in a compartmentalized way. For example, a central premise of the Clinton camp is that antipathy for Clinton’s candidacy is driven in large part by antipathy for women. That antipathy can be of the mild sexist variety or the hard misogynistic variety, but it’s a factor. We should make a distinction between lazy sexism and hard misogyny, and we should also make some effort to decide whether these factors were in any way decisive factors in the failure of her campaign.
We should also distinguish between the sexism and misogyny in the traditional media. And we should ask how that may have influenced the outcome. And when discussing the blogosphere, we should distinguish between the front-pages and the diarists, and between the front-pages and the comment sections. We should also take note of which bloggers permitted sexist and misogynistic comments and which bloggers made efforts to discourage or punish them.
And a last topic is whether the blogosphere was sufficiently active in condemning examples of sexism and misogyny that came up in the traditional media.
On this last point, I remember approving of the suspension of David Shuster when he said that the Clintons were ‘pimping out’ their daughter. But I don’t really remember having much else to say about sexism in the traditional media. My consumption of cable news is sporadic at best, and I let Media Matters and Crooks & Liars, and other video based bloggers do most of the work on watchdogging those programs. I’m a more print based consumer and critic. But I probably didn’t do enough to speak up about some of sexist things people were writing in the newspapers. Having said that, I spoke up and condemned any sexist language I noticed on this blog. I know other bloggers made no such efforts.
My overall view is that Hillary Clinton succeeded in convincing the American people that she was the presumptive frontrunner, which means that people were able to picture a woman president without much resistance. That frontrunner status was so ingrained that I think it actually hurt her campaign, as people rejected a coronation. Meanwhile, the black community displayed a lot of resistance to the idea of a black president. This was evidenced by the slowness with which they rallied around Obama. Prior to his victory in the overwhelmingly white state of Iowa, the polls showed Clinton running even or ahead among blacks in South Carolina. In other words, Obama had a harder time getting people to accept the idea of a black president than Clinton had getting people to accept the idea of a female president.
The Clintons have consistently tried to convince people that a black man is unelectable (whether they sincerely believe it or not), while the Obama campaign has never to my knowledge tried to convince people that a woman is unelectable. The Clinton campaign has used a million and one excuses for their losses, including that certain states have too many black people in them. The Obama campaign did not make the converse argument to explain why they lost any states until West Virginia.
I don’t think there is any comparison between the two candidacies in terms of who was willing to employ identity politics. The traditional media has been more of a mixed bag. There has been plenty of overtly sexist language and very little overtly racist language. But, at the same time, the media saturated the airwaves for over a month with Reverend Wright outtakes. What was that other than an effort to test whether a black man can be elected in this country? On balance, a few sexist comments did much less damage than an effort to vilify the black church and crucify Obama by proxy.
I haven’t seen a single example of a high profile blogger in the left-wing blogosphere using overtly sexist language, let alone misogynistic language. But there have been examples of racist language. So, on the whole, I do not think the case has been proven that Clinton suffered more for her gender than Obama suffered for his mixed race. And I see no convincing evidence that sexism played a big part, and certainly not a decisive part in her losses. In fact, I think her gender is probably the main thing sustaining the high level of support she currently has. I don’t think Chris Dodd or Joe Biden would still be getting donations and votes if they were facing the same math as Clinton has been facing for the last three months.
Those are my thoughts on the matter. What are yours?