Hillary Sexism Watch: Part Eighty-Three


During the April 22 edition of MSNBC Live, guest host David Shuster said to senior campaign correspondent Tucker Carlson: "Before we get to predictions, Tucker, I want to present you something that actually was delivered to Chris Matthews today. But he's not here, and I stole it, and I'm giving it to you. ... It's a pen. It's 'Jabber Jaw Pens.' And when you listen to it here." At this point, Shuster pressed the top of the pen -- a likeness of Sen. Hillary Clinton's head -- and the mouth began to move as the pen began audibly laughing. After the pen stopped, Shuster continued: "[I]n honor of being on the air with you for the first time in a little while, I present to you with a Hillary laughing pen." In response, Carlson stated: "I can't tell you, David, how much I appreciate this, how much I appreciate your going through Chris' mail while he's gone and how much I'm really going to miss that cackle. I hope it goes on forever. It's brought light to my life." Carlson also pressed the pen.

Shuster then said: "As we -- to the refrain of Hillary cackling, let's start with predictions tonight. What's going to happen?"
A press release from the pen's creator helpfully explains: "Some have said that Senator Clinton's laugh is infectious, but they didn't say whether it's infectious in the good sense, or infectious in the CDC sense. ... Our recommendation is to listen to the pen a few times, check for any redness or swelling, then make up your own mind accordingly."

This context—in which women's voices are singled out as so prohibitively unbearable that they are used to dismiss a woman entirely and compared to infectious disease—is why there's a difference between saying Clinton's voice makes your hair stand on end and Bush's voice makes your hair stand on end. There is just not an equivalent context, and if you are savvy enough to understand that the sexes don't play on equal playing fields in the first place, then you ought to be savvy enough to understand that singling out Clinton's voice as horrible necessarily invokes the woman-specific sexist context, even if that is not your intent.

As I've said before, you can't divorce criticisms of women from the context of womanhood.

It's like trying to argue that it doesn't make any difference whether Obama is described as "a great speaker" or "articulate." Technically, they mean (vaguely) the same thing, but when someone describes Obama as a great speaker, we know they mean he is eloquent and inspiring and a pleasure to listen to. And when someone describes Obama as articulate, they usually mean he speaks well for a black man—because the word "articulate" has a specific history associated with it, especially as regards African-Americans. (And even if they don't mean that, they conjure that history nonetheless.)

Context matters. We can't use racially-charged criticisms (or, as above, back-handed compliments) in reference to Obama as if his race doesn't matter, and we can't use misogyny-charged criticisms in reference to Clinton as if her sex doesn't matter. And "her voice is unbearable" and/or "her laugh is terrible" are unavoidably tinged with a misogynist history older than this country, even if the person making the complaint isn't consciously or even subconsciously motivated by sexism.

The point is, you've got to be aware of your history. And there's a long-ass history of marginalizing women in this way. So if you're inexorably compelled to criticize Hillary's voice, just know that you've got to own the sexist context, too.

If you think that's unfair, well, I guarantee you it's more fair than being judged by those standards. You can always choose to keep your mouth shut. Hillary can't change her voice, or the history that compels people to judge her by it.

Media Matters has video, if you are desperate to watch this extraordinary example of modern political journalism.


Meanwhile, Keith Olbermann discusses with Howard Fineman the need for a superdelegate to "take [Clinton] into a room and only he comes out."

I don't guess I really need to say anything about that. If you don't grok why that's problematic, you probably can't understand the big words I'd need to explain it, anyway.

(Hat tip to Shaker Nona for both via email, and to Shaker GGG in comments for the second, as well.)

[Hillary Sexism Watch: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen, Eighteen, Nineteen, Twenty, Twenty-One, Twenty-Two, Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four, Twenty-Five, Twenty-Six, Twenty-Seven, Twenty-Eight, Twenty-Nine, Thirty, Thirty-One, Thirty-Two, Thirty-Three, Thirty-Four, Thirty-Five, Thirty-Six, Thirty-Seven, Thirty-Eight, Thirty-Nine, Forty, Forty-One, Forty-Two, Forty-Three, Forty-Four, Forty-Five, Forty-Six, Forty-Seven, Forty-Eight, Forty-Nine, Fifty, Fifty-One, Fifty-Two, Fifty-Three, Fifty-Four, Fifty-Five, Fifty-Six, Fifty-Seven, Fifty-Eight, Fifty-Nine, Sixty, Sixty-One, Sixty-Two, Sixty-Three, Sixty-Four, Sixty-Five, Sixty-Six, Sixty-Seven, Sixty-Eight, Sixty-Nine, Seventy, Seventy-One, Seventy-Two, Seventy-Three, Seventy-Four, Seventy-Five, Seventy-Six, Seventy-Seven, Seventy-Eight, Seventy-Nine, Eighty, Eighty-One, Eighty-Two.]

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