Monday, June 23, 2008

Soft, Cuddly Wives and Mothers.

Most progressives would agree that Hillary Clinton was on the receiving end of a great deal of sexism in the Democratic primary. This was mostly manifested in the media coverage of her as illustrated in the focus on Clinton's appearance, mannerisms etc. But almost as quick as anyone could say c-o-n-c-e-d-e, other troubling signs of sexism have surfaced in the campaign.

What has been disgusting is that we have reverted into the oldest stereotypes - namely that women should ONLY depicted as wives or mothers.

The responsibility doesn't just rest on the media, which I'll get to in a minute. The campaigns themselves deserve some of the blame as well. Do the Obama's and the McCain's want to play into the stereotypes of first ladies that are only sweet and cuddly? Is Michelle going to quit giving her husband the fist-bump because it comes across as too strong? Does Cindy have to submit any more of 'her' cookie recipes so people can relate to her?

Media stories breathlessly ask:

'Where do they buy their clothes?'

'What types of food do they cook?'

'Which one can be compared to Jackie O?' – they are wives and mothers. But guess what? Both are highly accomplished and intelligent women and are OTHER THINGS TOO.

In a New York Times article covering Michelle’s stint on The View, they further this meme:

Early on, Mrs. Obama was likened to Jackie Kennedy for her youth and fashion style, but lately, the strong and assertive African-American career woman is experiencing the kind of antifeminist hazing that Mrs. Clinton endured in the 1992 campaign when she made her “baking cookies” faux pas.

Mrs. Obama distanced herself from that model on “The View,” describing herself as a mother and not mentioning her law career or her views on policy.

The question is, how does mentioning her career or policy positions make her more palatable? Is the writer suggesting that America cannot handle a strong woman? Or that Michelle’s policy positions are unimportant?

This new focus on Michelle and Cindy’s hair and dresses comes right at the end of the gender-biased way the media covered Clinton's campaign. And instead of letting this go - AGAIN - we should be holding the media accountable for perpetuating stereotypes. If a white woman is strong, she's considered cold - as the coverage of Cindy has shown. If a black woman is strong, she's obviously angry - so go the accusations about Michelle.

While I am by no means trying to minimize both the beauty or personal accomplishments of these women, there is far more to them than those things. And seeing as how the 2008 election cycle thus far has turned conventional thinking on its head, this is an opportunity to change the way women - and first ladies - are represented. If we let the narrative about the potential first ladies converge on the role and status of the conventional "little lady" then we have lost the chance to reframe gender and marriage dynamics.


Anonymous said...

I disagree on only one thing. Many progressives don't believe that Hillary was a victim of sexism. They think it's all in our heads, hence Obama's, "They'll get over it" comment at his meeting with Hillary's supporters in the CBC.

canadian gal said...

huh? what's cbc?

Anonymous said...

Congressional Black Caucus

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