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Expressing Anger at Politicians Who Are Women

Posted by libhom Thursday, June 05, 2008

Women Politicians in a Far From Ideal Social Context

Let's face it. Our political system really bites. Wealthy and corporate interests have far too much power, and most people get their news from corporate media that propagandize for their owners' and advertisers' interests.

Under these circumstances, it should surprise nobody that the easiest way for a politician to rise to the top is for that politician to govern from the right, regardless of public positions taken during the campaigns. The presence of a large minority of militant Christian fundamentalists in our country also puts pressure on politicians to behave in a rightist fashion. A consequence of this is that in Democratic primaries and liberal districts, the path of least resistance for Democrats has been to deceive the voters and do pretty much what the GOP is doing on matters of substance.

The women's movement has created long overdue openings for female candidates to run, win, and be acceptable in positions of power in ways that would have been unthinkable to most people 50 years ago. One unintentional but far from shocking outcome has been that there are women politicians who have risen to power through policies and tactics that are indistinguishable from the most nauseating policies and tactics of male politicians. This is an indictment of the corrupting influence of corporate power and religious extremism in our country, not an indictment of the women's movement. However, those of us who are liberal or progressive need to be aware of what has happened.

Feminism's Promise Not Always Fulfilled

Feminism generally has viewed the growing role of women in politics not exclusively as a matter of justice, but also as transformational. There has been an idealistic notion that women in positions of political power would govern in a dramatically different and more socially enlightened way.

There certainly are examples of this. Barbara Lee, Barbara Boxer, Lynn C. Woolsey, Pat Schroeder, and Barbara Jordan certainly fit the bill. But, we all know about women politicians such as Hillary Clinton, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Nancy Pelosi who emulate the most appalling behaviors of their male counterparts. There are appointed officials such as Condoleezza Rice and Madelyn Albright have presided over Iraq policies that have killed over 2 million people. The problem cannot be denied in any meaninful sense by citing party registration or race. Something bigger has happened.

I think some men feel swindled by this. Yet, this implies motives feminists never had. They sincerely believed that women politicians would transform our society, yet many of those politicians have turned out to be powerful instruments of the status quo. Sometimes this belief has been consistent with the evidence, sometimes not. What some men see as a trick is merely a mistake or an overly zealous generalization, made out of idealism.

Admittedly, the situation gets more frustrating when some feminists are in denial about certain women politicians, refusing to acknowledge even to themselves how similar, for instance, Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush really are.

Anger and Gender

All of this has happened in a society where expressions of anger traditionally have been very different when the subjects of frustration are men and women. Although there are exceptions such as "prick" and "dick," most pejoratives for men are not gendered (e.g., "asshole," "shithead," "jackass"). Nearly all used for women are highly gendered (e.g., "cunt," "hag," "ho").

Obviously, this creates a nasty social context for all women, where any time any woman does something that makes anyone angry, being a woman is attacked, intentionally or not.

When we are angry at Nancy Pelosi, do we really want to make our society a more hostile environment for the courageous women in CODEPINK who have stood up to Pelosi more assertively than most men? Do we want to create generalized hostility against the members of the Granny Peace Brigade as women?

Obviously not, when we think about it.

Men, and women really, are socialized to express anger this way pretty much since birth. Words that we associate with being pissed off have cultural consequences that we should resist, not passively reinforce.

Of course, it is easy to see criticism of the words used to express anger at slimy politicians who are women as an effort to avoid the reasons for that anger. It is difficult, at least for me, to have much sympathy for slimy politicians of any gender. However, the issue here is not protecting politicians that deserve to be voted out of office; it's about changing a dysfunctional aspect of our society.

Legitimately Expressing Anger in This Context

Humans are complex because we all simultaneously function as individuals and members of groups. The distinctions between individual and group actions can get fuzzy, especially when we are, shall we say, highly displeased.

But, those distinctions are important. When Hillary Clinton threatened to "obliterate" (nuke) Iran, women as a group certainly did no such thing. Women in Peace Action are working very hard to prevent any military action against Iran, much less destroying the country.

If you are tempted to attack a woman in a gendered way, it's time to stop typing and think. What is the specific reason you are angry at that woman? Type what is actually making you angry instead of the gendered slur. You will be communicating not only in a more just manner, but also in a much clearer manner.

An Example

In order to avoid personalizing this, I'll pick someone who never has posted on my blog, probably never will, and probably has never even heard of it: Randi Rhodes.

When she referred to Hillary Clinton as a "whore," she was using a term that her listeners reminded us was something she generically used to attack bought politicians, and quite often referred to male bought politicians as "whores." Yet, even if she uses that term in a way that is applied to both genders, remember that the word's general usage is quite different. Social context matters.

Let's pretend she were going to post a comment on this blog (just pretend, OK). If she were about to refer to Ms. Clinton as a "whore" again, I would call for her to attack Clinton as a "bought politician." The latter is entirely fair, and doesn't diminish roughly half of the population of the world.

Let's hold politicians of all genders accountable for what they are actually doing. It will be far more effective in modifying their behavior.



  1. I find Nancy Pelosi irritating. I don't know why... As she is right there in my political ballpark, and she's from my hometown.... But something just bugs me....

  2. Excellent analysis, LibHom. Thank you.

    What's irritated me the most in the presidential primaries is women who have supported Clinton just because she's a woman and who have assumed that she lost just because she's a woman. No, she lost becaue she's corrupt, divisive, and angry. Those aren't qualities that I want in any leader.

  3. Jeff Says:
  4. Just wanted to second Katharine. Great post.

  5. Anonymous Says:
  6. Just echoing what others have said--great post.

  7. GDAEman Says:
  8. A hopeful sign is that a new, younger leadership of the evangelical right are taking more moderate stands. They are moving toward stewardship of the environment and away from shrill obsession with social issues. They seem embarrassed by their elder leaders.

    Ditto on the Clinton is divsive comment by Katharine. Gotta keep her off the Obama ticket (you can go to the previous link to contact Obama and voice that position).

    Gotta push for Edwards as Attorney General.

    Todd, I suspect your reaction is to seeing an establishment figure. Pelosi's husband is wealthy and corrupt.

  9. libhom Says:
  10. todd: I think your instincts may be more on the mark than you realize. Pelosi originally got into congress by gay-baiting the front runner, San Francisco supervisor Harry Britt. She is no friend of the lgbt community, though she is obligated to pretend because she misrepresents San Francisco in congress.

  11. Unknown Says:
  12. Thank you for a balanced, well-written post.



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