Of COURSE it’s freaking sexist

So Obama gets asked at a press conference about some negative ad that Clinton aired about him, and says this: 

“I understand that Senator Clinton, periodically when she’s feeling down, launches attacks as a way of trying to boost her appeal,”

‘Cause gals are so emotional, y’know?  They get to feeling down from time to time.  Some might even say “periodically.”  And during those times the claws might come out.  Know what I mean, fellas?

It seems to me it takes a lot of effort to argue that Obama wasn’t using standard male shorthand about women’s motivations – or rather, the unspoken, pervasive idea that men act because of motivations and women react because of emotions.

I hear that kind of shit all the time from other men.  And I think the idea is so pervasive and implicit that it can almost literally defy explanation sometimes, as now (not that I’m not going to try).  What I mean is that as I try to explain this, I know that many, if not most of my readers (all eight of you) will think that I’m straining at gnats, seeing things that aren’t there because I’m predisposed to do so ’cause I’m always trying to be all liberal and feminist and whatnot (you know, fuzzy-headed, dare I say emotional).  That I would make the case that sexism is so systemic and pervasive that this comment can just drip with it and even someone who normally spends a lot of time making the feminist case will miss it sort of pre-emptively disqualifies me from making that case.  As zuzu says, putting it in the context of a dogwhistle:

Another way to send your message to your target audience while maintaining deniability is to go the wink-wink-nudge-nudge route, where you know that many people not in your target audience will pick up your meaning, but because you’ve crafted your statement to be facially innocuous, anyone who objects will be accused of being hysterical, hypersensitive, or overreacting.

And I’d add that the meaning will be picked up a lot of the time without your intended audience even realizing they’re picking it up, because it would be like noticing that people in our culture are constantly personifying the concept of an ordered universe into a male sky god named “God.”  The luxury of not having to notice that your society is structured to your advantage is what’s been called the fog of privilege.

Please see also:

Lauren

MadKane (via Avedon Carol)

Shakespeare’s Sister:

Once again, I’ll note that the same person who is almost universally regarded as an orator of unrivaled competence, who is heralded as a linguistic maestro gifted with the talent for launching a political movement with the mere power of his well-chosen words, cannot believably claim to not have had the slightest inclination that “periodically feeling down” might be construed as having a double meaning as applied to a female opponent.

And Jeff Fecke, also at Shakesville.

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20 thoughts on “Of COURSE it’s freaking sexist

  1. Mad Kane

    Thanks for the mention! I’m glad to see that this topic is getting some serious discussion. I just wish that some of the devout Obama followers could set aside their candidate bias for long enough to see these words for what they are — deliberate sexism.

  2. Ananth

    Though I suppose crying a day before the New Hampshire primary doesn’t play into these things a little, but that’s not really here or there…

    Allow me to proffer another opinion on the use of code words or dog whistles and why most people don’t pick up on them, if they do exist. Most people don’t speak or think in those terms. Now you say a lot of men you talk to talk about how women are more more emotionally driven (I am probably in that group), but the things is that we actually say that we think that women are being emotionally irrational when we think that’s what they are doing as opposed to be subtle about it or too clever by half.

    Yeah, I know we aren’t professionals and are having a message carefully crafted, but I would assume that you would think that Michelle Obama comment about being proud for the first time was not some delibrate message or view into her soul but a misstatement in rhetoric rather than some sign of contempt towards how America has been….

  3. Steve

    Mad Kane: I appreciate your characterization of my post as “serious discussion,” even if I worry that it’s too generous. :)
    And yeah. I don’t think he’s unaware of what he’s saying at all. I voted for Obama in the MA primary, and I still think he’d make a better President than Clinton, but this sort of shit pisses me off. ‘Cause seriously? If Obama will take advantage of the sexist vote in the Democratic primary, what kind of concessions will he make in the general election? And during an Obama administration, when the Republicans stop fucking around and he learns what an opposition party is? I think it’s Digby who keeps making the point that politicians only do the right thing if they’re forced, which, I conclude because I agree, means No Deference Allowed.
    I’m not going to lie – I’m excited about the chance of Obama being the nominee, for a bunch of reasons including his inspiring oratory and the simple fact of a black man becoming President, among others. But I’m not about to defer to a savior, or gloss over my favored candidate’s fuckups. I don’t think it’s just Obama whose supporters are prone to apologetics, by any means, but in this case, I don’t mind saying that he is not only absolutely wrong, but pretty much being a prick.

  4. eric

    well, I don’t have anything terribly important to add, but I suppose I’ll comment as one of your loyal readers and someone who just caucused for the pig (what a debacle by the way, no ID check, no signature. I wrote “Obama” on a scrap of loose paper and put it in a manila envelope held by someone without any ID. good times).

    Yeah, the language is sexist. It doesn’t sound right if he’s talking about McCain. The message maybe, but not the language. I periodically talk about my female roommate doing things periodically with no implied reference to her cycle. “periodically emotional” warrants discussion at least, but I don’t think he has a history of such comments.

    I’m curious as to his reaction, if he’ll say it’s being blown out of proportion or if he’ll admit it was a poor choice of words.

    And I would say Michelle’s language was deliberate hyperbole to say she hasn’t been proud “recently”. Let’s say the last 8 yrs as a start.

  5. Avedon

    Oh, thank you. The net is full of people who claim the only reason anyone is complaining about this is that they are Clinton supporters. Well, I’m not, and I certainly found that comment sexist and offensive.

    Look, does anyone really believe Clinton criticizes him because she’s “feeling blue”? Does anyone think that’s what Obama believes? No, of course not. He knows, as we know, that Clinton is criticizing him because that’s part of her campaign strategy, just as it is the campaign strategy of anyone who is campaigning for office. So why the reference to her periodical feeling?

    Because he’s saying she only criticized him because she’s on the rag.

    It’s as plain as the nose on my face.

  6. Ananth

    If the words *in the polls* were added to feeling down, would this be a discussion? Just asking. Couldn’t that be what the implication of the statement? Not that I have a dog in this fight or anything….

    Eric, Eight years or Recently are different than her adult lifetime.

  7. Steve

    If the words *in the polls* were added to feeling down, would this be a discussion? Just asking. Couldn’t that be what the implication of the statement?

    Except “feeling down in the polls” doesn’t make sense as a phrase. And yes, that could be the implication. Part of my point, in fact, is that it’s oblique enough that you can make arguments for why there were no sexist implications to that statement, as indeed people have done. Honestly, does my post give the impression that I hadn’t considered that?

  8. Ananth

    No you considered and then dismissed it. Being aware that you may have a predeliction towards these things doesn’t mean you aren’t still going towards your natural position… Knowing you’re crazy still makes you crazy (not saying you are crazy, just making a point)

  9. Steve

    Being aware that you may have a predeliction towards these things doesn’t mean you aren’t still going towards your natural position…

    That’s too easy. It ain’t just me, a lot of women have written about this very thing, two of whom commented in this very thread, to essentially say, “Yeah, this is classically sexist.” And your reply to them would be, “But you’re a girl so you would say that.”

  10. Steve

    Seriously, don’t take my word for it; I realize your default position is to disagree with me, but read what Avedon wrote in her comment again. Read what Melissa wrote on Shakespeare’s Sister. Read Lauren’s very succinct post. This goes back to a point I’ve made a couple of times before: when people tell you what their lives are like, it is both practical and polite to believe them.

  11. Ananth

    I am not saying that they don’t think it’s a sexist remark. And I wouldn’t say they think that just because they are women. But in 12 years in corporate america, I have never heard anyone saying a women is ‘periodically feeling down’ to describe emotional behavior. It’s never that subtle. What I am saying is that just because someone takes offense to something does not make it offensive. Only Obama knows in his heart whether or not it was meant to be a sexist remark or if he was merely trying to torpedo an opponent who had gone negative when her fortunes were down. You don’t know what it is and neither does any one else.

    The big evidence in the sexist remark camp are the words feeling and periodically. It does describe the pattern of what HRC has been doing this primary season, she gets beaten up, she gets negative, it is somewhat clumsily (is feeling down as opposed to is down),

    My problem with this kind of stuff is it reminds me of the Mad Real World from the Chappelle show, when the poor white guy wants them to be quiet at 1:30, and says ‘What’s wrong with you people?” meaning the group downstairs, and they turn it into him being a racist. I think that there is enough overt sexism, racism, classism whatever ism out there that we don’t need to strain ourselves trying to look for it where it may not be.

    A simple, hey Barack, not the best choice of words there, would suffice, and probably been easier to back down from than being automatically branded as playing to gender stereo types…

    Also, I would like to point something out while we are talking about people giving women shit for hormonal mood swings or whatever. It is a double edged sword. I have seen behavior by woman that would have lead a man to have been fired on the spot be dismissed and somewhat tolerated because *they were just being women*.

    Though its nice to see you guys applying the same standard to your own people for a change. Notice I am still defending someone who’s idealogy I don’t agree with…

  12. eric

    “What I am saying is that just because someone takes offense to something does not make it offensive. Only Obama knows in his heart whether or not it was meant to be a sexist remark”

    I think anyone who spent 4 yrs on a liberal arts campus (even as a liberal) can understand where that Chappelle skit’s coming from, but a comment can be objectively sexist/racist without an intent to be so. Without commenting on Obama’s intent either way, I think part of Steve’s argument is that this sort of thinking is so ingrained that a comment about a woman being emotional (which can be periodically true) is usually loaded with the implication that it makes her inferior/irrational and to be dismissed. In this instance it was meant to belittle HRC, but ends up indirectly targeting all women.

  13. Avedon

    I think it’s nuts to think he came up with that construction naturally. If he’d been talking about a man, he’d have said, “He has to say something when he’s down in the polls.” But what he said isn’t really a natural way to talk. You bet your sweet ass he was saying she was on the rag; there’s really no other explanation for what is otherwise a really awkward phraseology.

    I don’t think he’s the only one who knows it, either. He probably sat down with someone and brainstormed it. He responded to a political criticism by going after her personally. His whole campaign is full game-playing where he offends parts of the Democratic base and grins when they react. I think he wanted to make some women (not just Hillary) react so he could deliberately remind people of what they hated about those annoying women who complain about sexism.

  14. Ananth

    I was thinking last night as I was trying to fall asleep… In fact, saying some one is feeling down is often used about men, particularly in sports. IE, the Patriots score a touchdown to Moss near the end of the superbowl, and the sideline reporter will often report something to the effect of , “I spoke to the team after the Moss touchdown, and the offense is feeling down but not out.” Since an election is a type of contest, like sports are it can be used.

    Eric, anyone who is acting emotional is inferior/irrational at the time and should be dismissed until they have calmed down. Man, women, dog. What I think is more the case is that women will get a pass for acting emotional or have it excused or whatever rather than having it held against them for the particular incident. Which is more detrimental to someone’s career,a woman crying in her bosses office about being too stressed or a man crying in his bosses office for being too stressed… I venture to guess the man’s status would be more harmed than the womans..

    I think that Avedon, that your theory is too clever and complicated to be true. There other things about this he was making a rag comment that don’t exactly jive which are
    1) I doubt seriously that the boosting her appeal comment is referring to HRC’s self esteem. If the appeal part is referring to her popularity in the polls for the election, wouldn’t the first half also be referring to being down in the polls… Because she is on the rag, she is launching attack ads to rise in the polls makes the least amount of sense.
    2) There is no chance HRC isn’t post menopausal at this age.

    2 is a joke, just in case you don’t get my sense of humor….

  15. eric

    Avedon – not implausible, but I don’t get what’s gained by pissing off those groups to remind people there are angry feminists about. I wouldn’t make the assumption they’re all hillary supporters.

    Ananth – #2 is the strongest counterargument I’ve heard yet.

  16. Steve

    2) There is no chance HRC isn’t post menopausal at this age.

    Actually, I recall that some cable-news dipstick made a more explicit PMS crack at some point earlier in the campaign, and just this fact was brought up. She’s almost certainly whatever the adjectival form of “menopause” is, but that doesn’t really mean anything. It’s not like sexism is characterized by a meticulous concern for accuracy.

    All I can tell you is that I find your explanations a little too strained. When you have a bunch of women saying that this immediately tripped their condescend-o-meter, I think it’s time to break out Occam’s Razor. Whether he sinned in his heart or not, and I think he knew exactly what he was saying, he ended up being dismissive about icky girls and their feelings.

  17. Steve

    Avedon – not implausible, but I don’t get what’s gained by pissing off those groups to remind people there are angry feminists about. I wouldn’t make the assumption they’re all hillary supporters.

    Yeah, but then you figure (or I figure the Obama campaign figures), who else are they going to vote for? As far as the primary goes, he’s gambling that more people will be for agreeing with plausibly deniable sexism than will be against it, or even notice it. And as for the general election, who else are they going to vote for?

  18. Ananth

    Why does Occam’s Razor apply for the fact that’s its a sexist comment, but a deep thought out conspiracy is the plausible?

    Of course the comment is condescending. He is being dismissive of his opponent, who happens to be a women. Does it make sexist? It’s debatable, but not at all a certainty. People are dicks to each other when competing. That’s just how it is…

    Again, just because individuals feel something is offensive does not make it so. A lot of blacks find halloween decorations with hanging Skeletons offensive, does it make it offensive? The intent on a lot of these things are what makes it an ism, and without any real evidence of motive assuming the later is just reverse sexism,

  19. eric

    “As far as the primary goes, he’s gambling that more people will be for agreeing with plausibly deniable sexism than will be against it, or even notice it. And as for the general election, who else are they going to vote for?”

    Ok, but this just means he thinks he can get away with it, it still begs the question for me why do it in the first place if it was intentional.

    And Ananth he’s being dismissive of his opponent using terminology that’s dismissive of women. Yeah, that’s sexist even if he didn’t intend to offend anyone other than Hillary. Not overt to most and not worthy of lynching (note: that was racist), but still a sexist comment.

  20. Tom

    Dude, seriously though, when my mom went through menopause she cried literally everyday. No joke. At commercials. At her soap opera. Once she cried when Megan gave her a plant and Megan was convinced my mom was super in love with her till I told her she does that shit every day.

    I don’t think it was brainstormed or is any sort of dog whistle. That seems pretty weak. As stated, that’d just be politically dumb. I think he just maybe has the same ingrained sexist-ness we all have, to which I say, ‘so what’? Sure, he’s a careful, deliberate speaker. But he speaks for hours upon hours a day. If I speak for 30 minutes in a row at a meeting odds are there’ll be something in there that could get me fired, the fact that he’s only said one extremely subjectively/arguably offensive thing at this point in the campaign is a non-issue and a non-story.

    Boo to you for perpetuating it. Boo steve. Boo.

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