Sexism on display in ’08 campaign

As nauseating as the anticipation of the 2008 presidential election and its inevitable advertising is, one trend developing in this year’s race for office has proved most nauseating of all. There is an insistence by some on belittling Democratic contender Hillary Clinton for – of all things – her gender.

Senator Clinton’s speech at a campaign event in Salem, N.H. Monday afternoon was suddenly interrupted when a male audience member stood up and started chanting over her, “Iron my shirt!” and brandishing a sign bearing the same slogan. After the man was removed, Clinton remarked, “Oh, the remnants of sexism are alive and well.”

I suspect many people will rationalize that the New Hampshire incident was an isolated one far removed from what most Americans view as acceptable political discourse. Therefore, it was not a significant indication of sexist norms in society.

Unfortunately, there are approximately 500 groups on Facebook dedicated to the “discussion” of Clinton’s bid for presidency. I looked at 260 of these group pages, of which 200 were anti-Clinton, including those with such charming names as:

“Life’s a b—-, why vote for one? Anti-Hillary 08,” “Hillary Clinton Shouldn’t Run for President, She Should Just Run the Dishes,” “Hillary Clinton: Stop Running for President and Make Me a Sandwich,” “Put Hillary Back in the Kitchen” and “Hillary Clinton is a Dirty Skank.”

Popular über-conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh created an extensive faux advertisement for the “Hillary Clinton Testicle Lockbox,” a product designed so that ordinary women could “clamp down on a man’s testicles,” supposedly just like Clinton. During his radio show on Monday, Limbaugh declared: “I’m getting sick and tired of this whole notion of change. Change what? … The dirty little secret is that most of the American people don’t want dramatic change … Status quo always seems to ring true.”

It just so happens that change was the very topic Clinton was discussing when the man in New Hampshire started screaming and waving his sign.

In July 2007, perennially bow-tied political pundit Tucker Carlson of the popular MSNBC nightly talk show “Tucker,” commented that when Clinton “comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs.” Carlson, who has also worked for PBS and CNN, made his comment just weeks after he noted her “castrating, overbearing and scary” vibe on another show.

I couldn’t care less how many anti-Hillary groups exist on Facebook or which candidates Limbaugh, Carlson or any other pundits prefer. What I do care deeply about, though, is that it seems to be perfectly acceptable to degrade this woman not for her politics, performance at campaigns or even her personality, but on her biology through the use of stereotypes and misogynistic references to a woman’s place being in the home.

The New Hampshire man’s so-called humorous performance during a serious political discussion and the other examples noted are just a few in an ever-amassing onslaught of sexist crusading aimed at Clinton in a manner that would seem inconceivable if it were happening to any other candidate.

Incidentally, my first day of the spring semester was punctuated by a discussion of this very issue. At the end of one of my classes, my professor passed out an article entitled “Call her what you will” by Jonathan Tilove of the Newhouse News Service. The author discusses the pervasive use of gender and sexual slurs to vilify Clinton in a way never before witnessed in public political discourse.

“Step lightly through that thickly settled province of the Internet you could call anti-Hillaryland and you are soon knee-deep in ‘b—-,’ ‘slut,’ ‘skank,’ ‘whore’ and what might be the most toxic four-letter word in the English language,” he wrote. “No woman has run quite the same gantlet. And of course, no man, as there is no comparable vocabulary of degradation.”

In response to a female audience member who stood up at a rally for Republican Sen. John McCain and asked, “How do we beat the b—-?” Tilove uses the following quote from Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University: “Can you imagine if (the) woman had said, ‘How do we beat the n-word?'”

Surely if a candidate was constantly being ridiculed on his race, religion or perhaps a physical disability, most rational individuals in the US would be appalled. The difference, however, is that many rational – and even more irrational – individuals still refuse to see sexism as a real problem.

Perhaps most disappointing is that as America approaches the cusp of what could be its most progressive election in history, its people must undermine such an important moment by remaining steadfast to deeply rooted prejudices and superficiality.

Renee Sessions is a senior majoring in creative writing.