16 March 2008

Political Trump Card: Race Or Gender?

Some recent posts on Ambivablog have had me thinking more about the role of race in both national and local elections. We'd all like to believe that the overwhelming majority of folk are beyond considering the color of a man's skin when they pull the electoral lever, color in the arrow, fill in the dot, punch the chad, or step to one side of the room to nominate a representative. And as I considered the possibility that race still plays a major role, it struck me that the consideration here may really (and truly) be about the color of a man's skin. The color of a woman's skin may be irrelevant to most people in most cases.

When the Clinton campaign sent Geraldine Ferraro on what I hope is a one-way ticket back to insignificance, I remember telling a friend, "I don't think Obama is leading in delegates because he's black. I think he's leading because he's a man. With her political machine, if Hillary Clinton were a man she would have wrapped up the nomination seven primaries ago." The fact is that women (or chicks, if you prefer) have long gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to intellectual respect, though most men will gladly acknowledge female superiority when it comes to fetching beer or making sandwiches. While the media is trying to decide whether or not Obama's race is a political positive, there is little doubt about Clinton's gender. Could Ferraro or any other forgotten player sanely attempt to claim that Clinton is only where she is because she's a woman?

Most of the current turmoil around Barack Obama focuses on his unsavory connections, his lack of experience, or his extremely liberal voting record. His race, considered solely in and of itself, does little to inform those conversations. In contrast, talk about Clinton is more likely to revolve around her cankles than her connections. Pundits seem concerned about how horribly she will age in the White House rather than what she might do once she is there.

Women have come far, but America's sociopolitical undercurrent continues to supply a constant, subtle drag on their aspirations. Just look at the subtleties. Racist jokes are always offensive to decent folk while jokes about blonde women can usually get a chuckle in the same crowd. Jabs at minorities are unacceptable, but start a sentence with "my old lady" and you can get away with saying just about anything. What is the best way to mock a man? Call him a sissy, a wussy (or it’s more graphic “P” sister), a pansy, a girly-man or any other comparison to the feminine. And don’t worry; these slights are protected by a long standing tradition of American sexism. Little wonder the sons of former African slaves were legally (if not actually) given the right to vote in this country before white women.

The role of Obama’s race may be debatable, but that is clearly not the case with Clinton’s gender. I am calling on this country to take a new direction. Stop talking about Hillary’s looks no matter how difficult that may prove. Stop referencing her visits from “Aunt Flow.” Strip away sexist stereotypes and start asking Hillary Clinton the same type of questions you asked her husband during his campaign. I will begin here and now!

My first question for you, Senator Clinton:
Panties or thong?

Oops, I think I just did it again.