By Jessica Englund
Here is another one of my papers entitled “Responses by the Feminist Blogosphere to the Sexism Towards Hillary Clinton’s Campaign.” I am aware that the writing is not very good, but I think it makes a point.
In what ways should the feminist blogosphere address the sexism directed towards Hillary Clinton’s campaign for presidency? Not many have truly endeavored to answer that question. In my essay, I will offer a comprehensive definition of feminism, the significance of the feminist blogosphere on feminist movement, and begin to address the above question. I chose to include only three feminist blogs in this analysis, but this is not a negative aspect. I intend to illustrate the difficulty of battling sexism for a woman candidate, especially for the highest political office in the United States.
The first step to understanding the feminist blogosphere’s reaction and action regarding the sexism directed towards Hillary Clinton’s campaign, is to define feminism. Bell hooks, a feminist theorist and activist, wrote Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center in 1984. Although in the ‘80s she was quite revolutionary, many feminists today view her perspectives as slightly outdated. Regardless of this critique, I appreciate her definition of feminism. Her theories are certainly more inclusive and educated than what Jennifer Baumgartner and Amy Richards suggest feminism is in their book, Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future. They write as third wave feminists who are trying to rally younger women back into the feminist movement. They suggest that feminism is “the movement for social, political, and economic equality of men and women” (Baumgartner & Richards 56). Although I agree that feminism is a movement, I take issue with their suggestion that feminism is solely about equality between men and women. First of all, they work solely within the gender binary, which many feminists are trying desperately to undo, and secondly, they do not acknowledge any other aspects of oppression than sexism and the inequality between men and women. I adore bell hooks’ argument that gaining equality with men is merely a “bourgeois white woman” definition of feminism. She argues, “women in lower-class and poor groups, particularly those who are non-white, would not have defined women’s liberation as women gaining social equality with men, since they are continually reminded in their everyday lives that all women do not share a common social status” (hooks 19). The “bourgeois white woman’s” definition ignores class and race factors and identities that play a major role in feminist discourse as well as daily oppression and exploitation. In an effort to be all-inclusive and more accurate, I adopt bell hooks’ definition of feminism as “a movement to end sexist oppression” (hooks 33). Even though hooks’ definition also only discusses sexist oppression, she offers that, “sexist oppression is of primary importance not because it is the basis of all other oppression, but because it is the practice of domination most people experience, whether their role be that of discriminator or discriminated against, exploiter or exploited” (hooks 36). For this reason, I support bell hooks’ definition and will be the guiding force behind my arguments.
The three feminist blogs that I chose were for multiple reasons. Feministing, Feministe, and The Curvature are three of the most popular and highly cited blogs within the online feminist dialogue. But, most importantly, these three are self-identified as feminist. In analyzing any topic through a feminist lens, the support one uses should be self-identified as feminist. This idea is critical for the discussion of the Hillary campaign within the feminist blogosphere. These three blogs also are more than simply feminist, they address political issues as well.
So, who exactly are behind these blogs? Jessica Valenti is the mastermind behind Feministing.com. She is the creator and the executive editor. The mission of Feministing is that “young women are rarely given the opportunity to speak on their own behalf on issues that affect their lives and futures. Feministing provides a platform for us to comment, analyze and influence” (Feministing: About Us). She also has written a book for young women entitled Full Frontal Feminism that is meant to include these younger women in the third wave. Feministe is very similar in mission and content as Feministing and has three main contributors: Jill, Zuzu, and Piny. There is no specified mission or anything ‘about’ this particular blog. The Curvature
is a feminist blog about politics and culture. It primarily deals with U.S. events, but also discusses international issues when a feminist analysis is pertinent. Although written from a white, heterosexual, middle-class perspective, The Curvature aims to include and bring attention to issues effecting women of color, low-income women, and the LGBTQ community. It welcomes and encourages perspectives from all these groups.
Cara is the sole contributor to this blog and occasionally cross-posts her blog entries on Feministing. These three blogs have amazing women (and men) who seem to catch everything that falls through the cracks in the media and address all events from a feminist perspective. I understand that the credibility of these bloggers can be a tricky subject and is very important to the discussion of their ideas. I move to suggest that although it is impossible to truly know if these bloggers are credible sources of information, one should look past that issue and focus on their opinions and the questions and critiques that they raise. Hooks argues that, “politically, the white supremacist, patriarchal state relies on the family to indoctrinate its members with values supportive of hierarchical control and coercive authority. Therefore, the state has a vested interest in projecting the notion that feminist movement will destroy family life” (hooks 39). This is one of the ways that feminist movement must not only be strong, but must not implode on itself by criticizing its own credibility. Radical, I know, but trusting these feminist voices is more important than asking who has the right to speak from a feminist lens.
What exactly is the influence, or significance, of examining sexism from a feminist blogosphere perspective? I argue that the dialogue from the feminist blogosphere is rarely looked at or analyzed. These bloggers offer interesting perspectives on feminism, sexism, and societal norms that one may not find elsewhere. One benefit to observing this dialectic is that these people do not need to censor themselves nearly as strictly as those who write for newspapers, journals, or even in books. The posting of blog entries is instant gratification and the responses are uncensored and quick to criticize. According to bell hooks, “the significance of feminist movement…is that it offers a new ideological meeting ground for the sexes, a space for criticism, struggle, and transformation” (hooks 35). I fully agree with this argument. The space created by these feminist blogs is critical for feminist movement and for creating a new dialogue and a new agenda. Any voice can express itself in such a space.
Hillary Clinton declared her candidacy on January 22nd, 2007. From that day, I begin my analysis of the feminist blogosphere response to sexism against her campaign. Although Hillary is a woman, she is not a feminist. That must be clearly understood, otherwise one will be quite disappointed in her policies! The basis for most of Hillary’s criticism comes not from her policies or ideas, but from the fact that she is a woman. One major question for feminists, especially throughout the blogosphere, is whether or not feminists should support Hillary for president simply because she is a woman. In a January 31st post entitled “Official candidate of the sisterhood?,” one Feministing contributor, Jen, states:
As women sign up to work with anyone but Senator Clinton, of course, they’re being asked why. That’s the bad news. The good news is they’re all giving the same answer. Being a woman does not get you the automatic support of women. There’s no vagina litmus test, people. For the rest of you out there, am I wrong? Should women, especially feminists be supporting Hillary by default? (Jen 1/31/07).
The overwhelming response from commenters and feminist bloggers is no. Although many feminists support Hillary for running, they do not support her as a candidate. Most feminists are torn between trying to get any woman into the presidency and waiting for a feminist woman to get elected. This question has put some feminists in a difficult position, but they continue to respond that “being a woman does not get you the automatic support of women.”
So when did the sexist comments start? To be politically correct, Hillary has always been confronted with sexism ever since she has run for office. It was not until around June that the feminist blogosphere started documenting the sexism directed specifically towards Hillary. In a June 4th entry, Vanessa from Feministing wrote the entry, “Sexist Prick of the Week” discussing Carl Bernstein’s new book on Hillary, “which reeks of sexist ‘commentary’ on her intelligence (or lack thereof), femininity (or lack thereof), and yes, her fat ankles” (Vanessa 6/4/07). Her response to these quotes of sexist remarks regarding Hillary’s fat ankles was simply: “Why people like this actually get book deals is beyond me” (Vanessa 6/4/07). Cara, from The Curvature, posts “Surprise, Surprise: Misogynist Jokes at Clinton’s Expense” on June 5th regarding Hillary’s campaign song. She rants at the end of the post stating that criticizing Hillary’s campaign song is, “not criticizing Clinton, that hating the fact that she’s a woman and doesn’t behave in a demure obedient, waif-ish manner. It’s hating on all women who don’t see the need to take shit from men or starve themselves skinny just because they happen to possess a uterus. And therefore, it’s insulting to me” (Cara 6/4/07).
There are two main events that all three blogs covered: the McCain ‘bitch’ event and the ‘diamonds or pearls?’ event. As an explanation, during one of McCain’s campaign meetings, a random woman supporter asked McCain, “How do we beat the bitch?” His response was even worse than the question. He answered by saying “May I give the translation?” when another supporter chipped in by saying, “John, I think she was talking about my ex-wife.” [Laughter] McCain continues, “But that’s an excellent question. You might know that there was a poll yesterday, a Rasmussen poll, that identified…that shows me three points ahead of Senator Clinton in a head to head match-up.” [Applause] He goes on to say, “I respect Senator Clinton. I respect anyone who gets the nomination of the Democratic Party.” Jill, from Feministe, posted this video on November 14th. She responds by saying:
Most interesting to me is the roaring laughter in the room after the question is asked…McCain is fielding questions, and one woman asks, “How do we beat the bitch?” Everyone laughs, and some guy shouts out, “I thought you were talking about my ex-wife!” Republicans insist that they aren’t a party reliant on sexism and racism. They lie. (Jill 11/14/07).
She not only points out the horrendous response by McCain, who does not address the sexist comment made by one of his supporters, but also the comment made by another supporter referring to his ex-wife. Not only did this video show sexism directed towards Hillary, but also towards women in general. Jessica from Feministing addresses McCain’s response, “That’s an excellent question.” She asks, “Really? Is it? Or are [you] just an asshole too afraid to call someone out on their completely inappropriate language?” (Jessica 11/13/07). Cara from The Curvature addresses this event as well. She writes, “ ‘bitch’ is a highly sexist term, and Hillary Clinton is participating in [a] presidential race that is highly sexist. When used in the context that it was used here, it was high[ly] derogatory, and yes, a direct comment on her gender” (Cara 11/13/07). I admire Cara’s response the most because not only does it address McCain’s incredible insensitivity and sexism, but she addresses the issue as an attack on Hillary’s gender and not merely the fact that she’s running for president. What all three of these women have addressed here is the fact that the term ‘bitch’ in the way it was utilized is sexist, derogatory, and completely inappropriate. Although there are many feminists, including Jennifer Baumgartner and Amy Richards, who personally embrace the term ‘bitch’ because they feel as if they have utilized it in a way that reflects positively on themselves. I appreciate that these women did not approach this statement from that perspective as it was meant to be offensive.
The other main event is from the November 15th CNN democratic debate. The last question asked during the debate was for Hillary Clinton, asking her whether she preferred diamonds or pearls. She answered, “Now, I know I am sometimes accused of not being able to make a choice. I want both.” Ann from Feministing doesn’t offer much criticism except to say, “Addie notes that, no, the dudes were not asked, “Boxers or briefs?” Robbed of their ability to play their gender cards! How unfair” (Ann 11/15/07). Much like Ann, Jill from Feministe doesn’t criticize except to say:
So Sen. Clinton gets asked yet another dumb girly question, and all the other candidates get to act indignant about her being tossed softballs at the debates. I would have loved to see Clinton use the question as an opportunity to say something about the brutal and exploitative diamond industry, but that wouldn’t have been a “fun” answer to a “fun” question. Apparently, the voters want fun” (Jill 11/17/07).
I don’t quite understand how it is that such a sex-motivated question was asked and not one of the bloggers suggested contacting CNN and raging.
One of the major themes throughout these blog entries are the bloggers’ anger or irritation at these sexist comments, but then not doing anything about it or offering a means for readers to do anything about it. In posts regarding natural disasters or human injustice, especially Hurricane Katrina, these blogs offer means to contact people and to donate money to help causes. In a most recent example, on December 11th, Jessica from Feministing posted an entry regarding junior girls’ panties being sold at Wal-Mart. The underwear were pink and said “Who needs credit cards…” Jessica writes, “Contact customer service here and corporate offices here: let them know that preteen vaginas aren’t commodities” (Jessica 12/11/07). The next day, on December 12th, Jessica posts again writing that “the gross “Who needs credit cards…” panties have been pulled from Wal-Mart” (Jessica 12/12/07). Why is it that the feminist blogosphere is offering no means to contact persons responsible for the sexist comments? Is it because these feminist bloggers don’t support Hillary Clinton as a candidate?
One would think that with all of this anger and irritation at the sexism directed at Hillary, that these bloggers would not criticize her because she doesn’t support feminist policies. Wrong. Cara, from The Curvature, cross-posts an entry on Feministing entitled “Girl Power?” regarding Hillary’s comment, “I’m your girl.” Cara writes,
Wait, what? Forget the part about how Clinton says that she stands up to right-wing machine when she actually has a history of caving in (*cough* Iraq War). “I’m your girl?” She’s 59-years-old! I bring up her age not to make her sound “old”– I’m 23, and I bristle at being called a “girl” as much as any 23-year-old man bristles at being called a “boy.” I resent the cultural phenomenon of infantilizing women, as well as the social practice for men to be called men the moment they turn 18, while women have to wait at least until they’re 30 to be regularly called a woman, and even then are encouraged to put off the change as long as possible. (Cara 8/9/07).
I am well aware of the debate within feminism regarding people calling women ‘girls’ and in the process, infantilizing these women. However, I sincerely doubt that Hillary Clinton knows of this debate or even considered the backlash she would be causing by this simple statement. Anyone can see that Hillary is by not means a girl. By calling herself a ‘girl’ is not exactly politically correct, but no harm is done. In a June 7th post by Jen entitled, “Faith and abortion, of course,” she addresses a quote by Hillary Clinton from a forum hosed by Sojourners. Hillary stated, “In talking about abortion being safe, legal and rare, I mean rare. The pro-life and pro-choice communities have not been willing to find much common ground.” Jen’s response is, “Uh, Hil, you’re listening to too much anti-abortion rhetoric. The pro-choice community is the common ground position. Fighting for access to sex education and birth control, including Plan B, does precisely what you claim to want. The leadership in the pro-life community wants to control what women do with their bodies” (Jen 6/7/07). Rather than simply understanding Hillary’s stance on an issue, Jen criticizes her for not agreeing completely with the typically feminist abortion position. When feminist bloggers take positions like this and attack Hillary based on her non-feminist positions, they are being just as judgmental and harsh as some of the people who direct exceptionally sexist comments at her. She has made it perfectly clear that she is not a feminist and in expecting her to agree with feminist politics merely because she is a woman is unacceptable.
The feminist blogosphere, although addressing some very important sexism issues surrounding Hillary’s campaign, is not doing a very good job of objectively looking at her policies and addressing her stances. I understand looking at Hillary’s record and disagreeing with her there, but it is simply not all right for these bloggers to judge Hillary from a feminist perspective when she is not a feminist. Do not expect her to be one. Also, just because Hillary does not jump on the feminist bandwagon does not mean that these bloggers shouldn’t offer opportunities for readers to engage in feminist activism to help stop the sexism that is directed towards Hillary. I suggest these two remedies to the feminist blogosphere and commend it for its coverage of the sexist comments and declaring it inappropriate and unacceptable. The feminist blogosphere has some things to work on, but that does not mean that it does not good. The way they have directly addressed the sexist remarks directed towards Hillary Clinton’s campaign is commendable.
o Baumgartner, Jennifer, and Richards, Amy. Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.
o hooks, bell. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Cambridge: South End Press, 1984.
o Jill: “Diamonds or Pearls?” [Weblog entry.] Feministe. 11/17/07. (http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2007/11/17/diamonds-or-pearls/).
o Jill: “An excellent question” [Weblog entry.] Feministe. 11/14/07. (http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2007/11/14/an-excellent-question/).
o Cara: “Offensive Remark of the Week: John McCain Wins by Proxy Edition” [Weblog entry.] The Curvature. 11/13/07. (http://thecurvature.com/2007/11/13/offensive-remark-of-the-week-john-mccain-wins-by-proxy-edition/).
o Cara: “Girl Power?” [Weblog entry.] The Curvature. 8/9/07. (http://thecurvature.com/2007/08/09/girl-power/).
o Cara: “Surprise, Surprise: Misogynist Jokes at Clinton’s Expense” [Weblog entry.] The Curvature. 6/5/07. (http://thecurvature.com/2007/06/05/surprise-surprise-misogynist-jokes-at-clintons-expense/).
o Ann: “Hillary Sexism Watch: Accessories Edition” [Weblog entry.] Feministing. 11/15/07. (http://feministing.com/archives/008100.html#comments).
o Jessica: “Some woman-hating on McCain’s campaign trail” [Weblog entry.] Feministing. 11/13/07. (http://feministing.com/archives/008087.html#comments).
o Jen: “Faith and abortion, of course” [Weblog entry.] Feministing. 6/7/07. (http://feministing.com/archives/007142.html#comments).
o Jen: “Official candidate of the sisterhood?” [Weblog entry.] Feministing. 1/31/07. (http://feministing.com/archives/006446.html#comments).