Now, I wouldn't assert for a second that sexism is extinct. It, like racism, is real, and one would have to be purposely oblivious not to notice it in our culture. Further, there are plenty of unhinged Hillary haters out there. And whatever the motivation, we've also seen some exceedingly silly media stories about Clinton. High among them rank the deconstruction of her laugh and the attention focused on a Clinton outfit that showed a bit of cleavage on the Senate floor. (How that must have shocked the chaste and ascetic monks who have long inhabited that storied chamber!)And then comes the big BUT.
People are right to decry boorish anti-Clinton comments, offensive jokes, and the bilge, bile, and billings-gate of the talk-radio blowhards, as well as occasional over-the-top utterances from cable commentators.
But let's not mistake the Bruegelian sideshow for the political mainstream.(If Lehigh thinks this shit ain't mainstream, he ought to try reading the first ninety-one parts of this series.)
Even allowing for all that stupidity, the notion that sexism is primarily to blame for Clinton's woes doesn't pass logical muster.Ooh, see what he did there? Doesn't pass logical muster. So anyone who suggests that sexism might be primarily responsible for "Clinton's woes" is illogical. Well, isn't that just like a girl? Someone tell Mr. Lehigh we can't help it—it's all the estrogen clogging our brains.
Lehigh then goes on to prove his case that sexism isn't as bad as all that, and, for someone who values logic so highly, he really shouldn't spend so much time torturing it:
Consider: Last fall, Clinton was widely judged the prohibitive front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. In early October, she led Obama by a staggering 53 percent to 20 percent in the Washington Post/ABC News poll. At that point, her average lead in national polls was 20 percentage points.Actually, no—one would merely have to posit that as soon as there emerged a viable male challenger to Clinton's status as presumptive nominee, there also emerged a reason to target Clinton with sexism. On paper, Obama, the first-term, relatively unknown junior senator from Illinois, did not look like a viable challenger. Edwards, despite having been the #2 on the last national ticket, was largely written off, too. And none of the other also-rans were ever thought to have a chance against Clinton. So it was only when someone was able to successfully mount any challenge at all that there was reason to go after her.
Therefore, if gender bias really were the cause of her primary problem, one would have to posit that a [sic] epidemic of resurgent sexism suddenly infected the country late last year.
Based on Lehigh's logic, if Clinton had sailed through the primary and become the nominee with no significant challenge, as was originally predicted, sexism would not have inevitably been an issue during the general election; we would have had to see an "epidemic of resurgent sexism suddenly infect the country" first. Anyone think that sounds right?
A more easily digestible example of this concept is this: I once worked for a man who used sexism against me. Now, if I were just sitting in my office, doing my work, he didn't walk in and hurl sexist epithets at me. But the moment we butted heads on anything, the moment I presented him with a challenge, out came the slurs and insults.
Sexism, when used as a tool to try to diminish an uppity woman, is only useful and necessary when there's a challenge to male authority or status. So sexism only became operative as a tool to use against Clinton when there was a man who seemed capable of besting her. If it hadn't been in the primary, we would have seen the same thing in the general. No epidemic of resurgent sexism necessary.
Lehigh then goes on to list what he considers the major failings of Clinton's campaign—some of which are spot-on, some of which less so—and concludes "Bluntly put, it wasn't sexism that has brought Clinton to her current plight." It's a statement certainly more blunt than his original starting point, which was, as you'll recall, "the notion that sexism is primarily to blame for Clinton's woes doesn't pass logical muster." We've seemingly gone from sexism not being primarily to blame, to sexism not being to blame at all. Funny how that happened.
The thing is, one of the things about sexism (or any other bias) is that so much of it is invisible, making it impossible to see all the ways it can undermine the people it affects. Holding men and women to different beauty standards, for example, means Clinton spends "an hour and a half getting ready for each day's campaigning. She didn't mean studying her notes and making sure she knows the name of the mayor of McKeesport. She meant doing her hair, putting on her makeup, deciding what to wear or at least thinking about it even if she has someone else to decide for her. And so on." Let's say it takes Obama an hour to shower, shave, and throw on a suit. Over the course of a year of seven-days-a-week campaigning, that's 182 extra hours—more than a full week—of time to spend campaigning, or relaxing. If he can get ready in a half hour, double it.
And one cannot possibly quantify what it means that the "not official" supporter of Barack Obama, MSNBC, allows its employees to call Clinton a she-devil, accuse her of pimping out her daughter, have a laugh over offensive kitsch in her likeness, and suggest she be murdered by a superdelegate, just for a start.
One cannot possibly quantify what it means that subtle prejudices play out in the choices of what photos accompany stories about the candidates—and that photos of Clinton are frequently very unflattering, while photos of Obama are generally the opposite, despite both of them being photogenic and attractive.
There are dozens and dozens of these manifestations of "invisible sexism," things that are all too easy to simply not consider. Especially if you're determined to make the case that sexism doesn't matter, that's it's not "the political mainstream."
Ultimately, though, there's one quite obvious consideration Lehigh failed to take into account: Sexism is the mainstream, full-stop. Manifestations of sex inequality are everywhere, from the continuing pay disparity to the dearth of female leadership in the vast majority of professional environments to the still-disproportionate household labor in most two-salary homes to portrayals of women in media to sexual assault statistics and on and on and on. Sexism is the mainstream.
What makes Lehigh think the political mainstream is any different?
It's not some magical place that the realities of the rest of the world don't penetrate. In fact, despite 52% of the population being female, only 16% of the US Senate and 16.3% of the US House of Representatives is female.
In the 232-year history of this nation, we've had one—one—female contender for the presidency who had a serious chance.
The political mainstream is, as it happens, a more sexist place than most.
Tell me again about your fancy logic, Mr. Lehigh.
[H/T to Shaker Corinne.]