2016 election

I, Virginia Bergman, pledge not to vote for a male presidential candidate in 2016 just because he's male.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sexism and Misogyny Fuel the Rants of Hillary-Haters

Stanley Fish’s post at Think Again (NY Times) this morning is a bracing read for those of us who have been struggling against the continuous onslaught of sexism and misogyny directed against Hillary Clinton since the day she announced her candidacy. And make no mistake, much of the Hillary-hatred is fueled by the zeal of Obama supporters for the one they’ve evidently been waiting for.

In today’s post, Fish replies to responses to his previous column on Hillary hating:

“The responses to my column on Hillary Clinton-hating have been both voluminous (the largest number in the brief history of “Think Again”) and fascinating. The majority of posters agreed with the characterization of the attacks on Senator Clinton as vicious and irrational, but in not a few posts the repudiation of Hillary-hatred is followed by more of the same. Lisa (No. 17) nicely exemplifies the pattern. She begins by saying “I agree that there is a rabid nature in the manner in which numerous conservative groups attack Hillary Clinton,”, but in the very next sentence she declares that “most of Hillary’s reputation is well earned” and then she spends nine paragraphs being rabid. A significant minority of posters skipped the ritual disavowal of hatred and went straight to the task of adding to it.

“These Clintonphobes said things like “there’s nothing to like about her”(394) and wrote at length about her clothing, her voice, her laugh, her arrogance, her “countless plastic surgeries” (an inference it would seem from the fact that at 60 she still looks good), her insincerity, her stridency, her ambition, her love of power, and her husband. In their view, the hatred they expressed was not irrational at all, but was provoked by a record of crimes and character flaws they are happy to rehearse. Their mirror image on the left objected to my saying that President Bush fills the same role for liberals that Clinton fills for her detractors. No, no came the protest. However free-floating hatred of Clinton may be, hatred of Bush is firmly grounded in the record of a disastrous presidency that has left us at war, in debt, and in bad odor throughout the world. The two groups differed only in the bad qualities they attributed to their nemesis. Bush haters derided him as stupid. Clinton haters complained that she is too smart (the word “brilliant” is used as a pejorative), seems to know it all, and makes those who hear her speak feel they are less intelligent than she is.”

As I recall, Fish didn’t name the Hillary hating in his earlier column as sexism or misogyny, but this time around he takes sexism into account:

“Comments like these would seem to lend support to the view (voiced by many respondents) that sexism is what ultimately motivates the Clinton bashers. “A woman who doesn’t apologize for who she is. What’s not to hate?” (79). “Any woman who is anything more than a wallflower will always be attacked” (105). “People just can’t tolerate a woman in power” (111). “Why not get right to heart of the matter? It’s sexism. Most women on this planet face it every day” (168). If so, they face it from women as well as from men, at least on the evidence provided here. Carol Maloney (158) reports that many of her intelligent women friends are unable “to discuss Hillary in a logical manner.” Kat (23) wonders why “women seem to be on the Hillary hatred bandwagon.” Carol (359) says “What I find most disturbing is the amount of hatred spewed at Hillary by those who are so much like her … It is very odd. Is it really self-hate?

“One might ask, can it really be sexism if it is women who are practicing it? Sure it can. If sexism is defined as the conviction that women are unsuited by gender to perform certain tasks or hold certain positions, that conviction is as available to women as it is to men. Still, sexism doesn’t seem an adequate explanation of the Hillary-hating phenomenon if only because so much of the venom in the comments is directed at the Clintons as a team. The idea is that nothing but evil can emanate from them; they are a moral blot on the nation’s escutcheon, a canker-sore on the body politic, and they must be removed (perhaps by any means necessary). No doubt sexism is a component of such sentiments–a number of women respondents accused her of riding on her husband’s coat-tails and lambasted her for not leaving him–but sexism doesn’t really account for an anger that sometimes borders on the homicidal.”

Homicidal? Well, yes, what sentient being could ignore the rage manifest in the comments of hundreds of Obama supporters swarming the internet 24/7? In response to Fish’s contention that sexism is an inadequate explanation for the hatred directed at both Clintons, more needs to be said.

In the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s win in New Hampshire, Chris Matthews was forced to apologize to her for his sleazy on-the-air comments. In addition, many in the media were forced to eat crow for having been eager to write Clinton off based on poll numbers. As if looking for another target, the day after the New Hampshire results were confirmed, the media turned its wrath on Bill Clinton and soon began attacking the Clintons as a couple.

I’m also a little disappointed that Fish fails to mention the contradiction I addressed in yesterday’s post at Katalusis between Obama’s image as a political messiah and the behavior of his Hillary-bashing followers. However, Fish does describe how Obama panders to the obvious vilification of Clinton by his numerous supporters in the media (from both the left and the right) and his zealous fans in cyberspace; I urge you to read more of Fish’s post at Think Again in today’s NY Times.

Note: According to his bio, “Stanley Fish is the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and a professor of law at Florida International University, in Miami, and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has also taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins and Duke University. He is the author of 10 books. His new book on higher education, "Save the World On Your Own Time," will be published in 2008.”


  1. An interesting article. There are certainly rabid elements on both sides of the argument which are muddying and bloodying the democratic nomination playing field. I think any reasonable person (I realize the definition has to be stretched a bit) can filter most of the frenzied from the factual in the political discourse.

    Personally, as a white male, I could be labeled either racist for not supporting Obama, or sexist for not supporting Clinton. I happen to support Obama, though I think either candidate would make an excellent president.

    Most of the sparring between the candidates has been way over-blown by all outlets of the media, and I barely give them a second thought. There are some very legitimate gripes I have with the way Clinton is running her campaign. These are simple, fact-based issues, and have nothing to do with gender, merely character:

    1 - Declaring 'victory' in Florida and Michigan, then pressuring the DNC to count those votes. It's underhanded and comes across as a little desperate. I have no issues with both of those states holding Caucuses for their delegates to be reinstated, but Clinton skirted the edge of her vow to 'not campaign' there, won handily (Barack wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan), and then tried to change the rules after the fact. This is a transparent and low move on her part, and does not speak well when we're trying to rid the White House of shady politics.

    2 - The lawsuit over Nevada Caucus rules. Technically, Clinton's camp did not initiate the lawsuit, but they were certainly vocal supporters of it. Again, working every angle to tilt the process in her favor. This one proved unnecessary, but the Clinton campaign had months to voice concerns about perceived unfairness in the process. The call went out only when the race started to tighten after Iowa.

    3 - The Jesse Jackson comparison in South Carolina. This one's pretty trivial on the surface - a glib comment tossed out by an unleashed Bill - which ultimately backfired. It's really not worth getting bent out of shape over, but it was truly a glaring reminder that the Clinton camp will happily, brazenly go negative. Negative campaigning has its place, and should be engaged when a glaring weakness in an opponent should be brought to the attention of the electorate, but attempting to box one's opponent in to a demographic pigeon hole based on race (or gender, or any other coincidental demarcation) is flat wrong.

    To the best of my knowledge, the Obama campaign hasn't engaged in political tricks at anything approaching the level of the points listed above. I'm not saying Clinton shouldn't do these things because it's unbecoming of a woman, I'm saying she shouldn't do them because it's unbecoming of a President.

  2. Mark, thank you for your comment. I disagree with several of your charges against Hillary Clinton and her campaign as detailed below:

    1.Florida and Michigan:

    Clinton did not campaign in either Michigan or Florida, although Obama did run ads in Florida.

    Clinton appeared in Florida after the primary was over and the votes were counted to thank the thousands of Floridians who made the effort to support her even though they had effectively been disenfranchised.

    Question: Why is it okay for Obama to now be insisting that the rules be changed regarding superdelegates so as to benefit him, but it’s wrong for Clinton to suggest that the votes in Michigan and Florida be included in the final count?

    2.Nevada Caucus

    You seem to feel that although the Clintons did not initiate the lawsuit in Nevada, they had no right to express their right of free speech in support of those people who would be disenfranchised by the process.

    By the way, I notice you didn’t mention the Spanish-language ad run by the parent of a union backing Obama in Nevada, that said Clinton did not respect Hispanics. Obama bluntly refused to denounce the ad.


    Your language on this issue betrays your hostility. “An unleashed Bill?” To suggest that Bill’s mention of Jesse Jackson’s earlier win in South Carolina was racist is just wrong. The Clintons have an unimpeachable record on human rights.

    And why does Obama get to scream racism over the slightest perceived offense, when Hillary Clinton is subjected daily to an onslaught of sexism and misogyny from Obama supporters swarming 24/7 across the internet?

    Most recently, I was appalled to read comments by Obama supporters defending MSNBC’s David Shuster while verbally assaulting Clinton for being offended by the word “pimping” in reference to Chelsea’s campaigning for her.

    4. You said, “To the best of my knowledge, the Obama campaign hasn't engaged in political tricks at anything approaching the level of the points listed above.”

    The Obama campaign presents their leader as morally pure and above the fray. Although the American media has more or less given Obama a free ride, an occasional glimpse of reality is offered from the international press.

    In an article on the Democratic primary, Mike Costella of the “Australian News” wrote: “He {Obama} showed the same vindictiveness and lack of magnanimity after his victory in South Carolina. The first part of his victory speech was a deeply unpleasant attack on the Clintons. No graciousness there. And how did he handle defeat in New Hampshire and Nevada? With a combination of denial, petulance and the launching of a successful campaign to persuade the American media that the Clintons were engaged in a campaign of lies about him and, even worse, in a campaign of surreptitious racism.”

    What concerns me at this point, Mark, is that you, along with many of Obama’s supporters, seem oblivious to the unremitting sexist, misogynist attacks Obamaphiles make on Hillary Clinton. It’s time Obamaphiles became as sensitive to the nuances of sexism and misogyny as they are to the nuances of racism.

  3. Thanks for your article. I have been fighting the battle against rabid Obama-ites on a Prime Buzz blog run by the Kansas City Star. Just because I do not swoon over Obama I am repeatedly called a racist, which I am not. I rarely read the Washington Post anymore and never watch MSNBC anymore due to the blatant bias. Again, thanks again for the article.

  4. I think we could likely argue the nuances of which campaign instigated which infraction until we're both blue in the face. I'm happy to do so, though not at the moment, because it's 2AM and I haven't the energy for it.

    I will say that I concede some valid points; I would also stipulate that we get our news from slightly different sources, which is an entirely different and equally interesting discussion.

    At any rate, I'd like to cut to the quick. I made no claim that Obamaphiles, Obamanaics, whatever people are calling us these days, are all angels. What concerned me was the assertion that "sexism is what ultimately motivates the Clinton bashers." This is a blanket assertion that rides dangerously close the the narrow-mindedness that spawns the vitriolic, ad hominem attacks on both sides of the debate.

    Perhaps I am reading too much into the article, but it seems to be a central thesis. If I read something that suggested that "All attacks against Obama are racist" I would be equally suspicious.

    Ultimately, legions of bigoted bloggers, spammers and 'mainstream' pundits do untold damage to everyone involved. There is a strong case that subversive sexism is easier to get away with than racism, even among 'credible' news outlets, but I don't think it's the only motivation for those who are against Hillary, even the over-zealous.

  5. Hi Bootenany,

    Thanks so much for your comment, and I look forward to hearing from you again. You’re always welcome at Katalusis.

    Best wishes,


  6. Mark,

    I appreciate your willingness to consider both sides of this debate.

    I encourage intelligent supporters of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to hereafter abstain from personal attacks and focus on legitimate policy differences. Hopefully, those who are old enough to vote are also capable of engaging in civil discourse online or otherwise.

    Also, please bear in mind that since women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are harmed by sexism and misogyny, everyone would benefit by much needed consciousness-raising in this area.

    And I would add, whatever the motivation, the mindless bashing of another human being can never be justified.

  7. I found this post via TN Guerilla Women, and it is TERRIFIC! I am an ardent Clinton supporter, and am always looking for new allies here in the blogosphere!

    I'm working with a group of women on a grassroots fundraising and support network for HRC - we have a blog that I hope you'll all visit. It's got links to contribute to Clinton, but also lots of links to positive Clinton coverage, her achievements, and other friendly bloggers.

    Check us out and spread the word!