Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Hillary Clinton media sexism myth, continued

Continuing with yesterday's discussion of the charges of anti-Hillary media sexism ...

The criticism of Chris Matthews's statement -- that Hillary's Senate win resulted from public sympathy for her following the Lewinsky scandal -- is completely unfounded
, as my mom explained in a discussion with the pro-Clinton blogger Jeralyn Merritt (video).

Matthews tends to get very excited about whatever point he's making in a way that often causes him to overstate things. He often seems to value being vivid and blunt over being accurate. So the guy isn't perfect, and he was certainly overstating things to say that her Senate win was entirely dependent on people feeling sorry for her for being wronged by Bill Clinton. (I should note that he later apologized profusely for saying it.)

But can you really say it's sexist? Wasn't there some truth to what he was saying -- that Hillary benefitted politically by being publicly seen as the wronged spouse who had to bring her family back together? More importantly, even if you do think it's sexist, why would you think that the sexism hurt Hillary Clinton rather than helping her by adding to the self-flagellating media frenzy over media sexism?

Then there are two related complaints: the media discussed Hillary's cleavage and voice.

As for the cleavage, I'm biased because my mom (in addition to Robin Givhan) got some attention for writing about it:

I see a deliberate, controlled gesture that was exactly what she wanted to do, what she thought would be advantageous. ... Givhan uses words like 'teasing' and 'surreptitious,' but I'm thinking: subtle, deniable, diplomatic."
Now, do I agree with that specific analysis? I don't know. I don't have much of an opinion on Hillary's attire, and it's not something I would have chosen to blog about at the time. But I do have a strong opinion about this: you're allowed to analyze a politician's choice of clothing. The politician is trying to manipulate you; you're allowed to scrutinize this phenomenon at a more rational level than the politician would prefer.

But of course, many people disagree with this and say that talking about Hillary's cleavage is plainly sexist. Well ... I don't think there's anyone who knows my mom personally who thinks she's a misogynist. And whatever faults people might find in me, I don't think anyone who knows me personally has ever thought to themselves, "Oh, that John -- what a misogynist!" Would you honestly be willing to look someone in the eyes who thinks it's OK to talk about Hillary Clinton's cleavage or her voice and tell them: "You're a misogynist"? I hope not.

And speaking of Clinton's voice, I'm sorry, but she does have a bad speaking voice. I'm sure consultants have worked with her on it, because she did an excellent job of modulating it in the debates to make it more pleasant and less grating. I actually admired these performances: she had started with a weakness that wasn't really her fault, and she did a pretty good job of overcoming it. But if you watch a random clip of her giving a stump speech, it's not so good. Charisma actually matters in a president (I've written that I wish the media would talk about this more), and one's speaking voice is part of that.

Media pundits are certainly not holding back from trashing McCain for his poor speaking skills -- even the pundits who agree with his message. I'm baffled by the suggestion that they should have refrained from criticizing Clinton's speaking skills, and that includes her speaking voice.

If saying that Hillary has a bad speaking voice is sexist, then I must be sexist. Well, I don't think I'm sexist.

I'm still not zeroing in on what bothers me most about the myth of anti-Hillary media sexism, but I'll have to leave that for next week.


LemmusLemmus said...

"But of course, many people disagree with this and say that talking about Hillary's cleavage is plainly sexist."

I'm a native German speaker and we have a similarly constructed word, Sexismus. (Generally, English -ism equals German -ismus.) It used to mean something like looking down on someone because they were of a certain sex, just like Rassismus (racism) means looking down on someone because they are of a certain race. Now people use it increasingly when someone refers to an aspect of a woman's - always a woman's - sexuality, such as talking about her cleavage. Now, words changing their meaning is nothing out of the ordinary, but the problem is that it is still a damning statement to say that someone displayed Sexismus, although, in my view, talking about someone's sexuality is just as o.k. as talking about someone's intellect.

Could it be you have the same problem in the US?