‘Iron my shirt’ as political commentary


1:10 am - January 10th 2008

by Jess McCabe    


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[UPDATE: American readers can sign this petition to keep sexism out of the media’s election coverage] 

Robert has already explained why we should be unapologetically covering the US election, despite being a UK blog. So I don’t think we should let pass without analysis the hysterical level of sexism that has been directed at Hillary Clinton during the campaign. Of course, this will all be very familiar to Clinton – back in August last year, we already had the Hillary nutcracker on sale for $19.99.

However, this seemingly gut-level-misogynist reaction to her campaign reached a new low in the run up to her win in New Hampshire, when she was interrupted by men shouting “iron my shirt”. You can see the photos here and AP has the story, although it strangely describes it as a “seemingly sexist” protest. The mind boggles as to what would need to happen to get them to describe it as definitively sexist.

Ready to dismiss this as a couple of extremist nutters? Well, think again. The US feminist blogosphere is buzzing with outrage at how the media has covered Clinton’s campaign. Feministing points to a Washington Post blogger who says she needs an electric shock collar; Wonkette notes that Chris Matthews – a host on the political TV show Hardball – pinched her cheeks (it’s not an exact equivalent, I suppose, but in a UK context this might be roughly similar to Paxman coming over and pinching Brown’s cheeks – or perhaps give him a friendly tickle); Melissa McEwan of Shakesville notes that New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd accused Clinton of “playing the victim” – unwittingly casting a light on the gender politics of that particular newsroom in the process.

This has nothing to do with her political stance. Nothing on this list – all from the last two days – has anything to do with her position on any issue. And regardless of our views on Clinton’s specific politics, it’s truly been flabbergasting to see the reaction she has garnered simply for being a woman seeking power.

A version of this post was cross-posted at The F Word

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Jess is editor of the online magazine The F-Word.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Equality ,Feminism ,Sex equality ,United States

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Reader comments


>>”This has nothing to do with her political stance.”

No, it’s to do with her personality and ultra-aggressive policies. This isn’t a case of a ‘strong woman’ automatically being called a bitch, she IS a heinous bitch. And I really hope the US doesn’t vote her in with the idea that they’re doing something for liberalism, when they’ll end up with someone who has made the calls on Iran and Iraq that she has.

No, Steve B. It’s to do with the fact that people who disagrees with her politics fall immediately to sexist language like “bitch” (you can tell it’s sexist, because you’d never call Mike Huckabee a bitch even though he’s a fundamentalist wing nut who called for people with AIDS to be quarantines – are his policies less aggressive?)

What about her politics or personality justifies using the term bitch? Or telling her to “iron my shirt”?

Of course one could argue that Clinton did play the victim. It was certainly a bad move. But let’s remember, the US presidential race is tough on them all.

You have to deal with every little nuance in your past. Every move, every indiscretion, and every vote – right or wrong. The reason Hilary generates such disdain is that many people just don’t like her – cheifly because Americans are uneasy about haughty liberalism. That she’s a woman compounds this, but it’s not the overarching reason. Nancy Pelosi doesn’t generate the same level of abuse, and neither does Condoleezza Rice. Neither of them are liked by the majority, but neither of them are subject to the same loathing.

That said, I think she’s okay. She’d make a good president, but maybe she listens too much to her political advisers.

It’s not just sexism. Clinton’s politics aren’t so very far from my own and taken in isolation I think she’d probably make quite a good president, but I just fail to see how it can be good for democracy in the US for the presidency to rotate between two families for (potentially) 28 years.

4. It certainly has to be somewhat disenfranchising, despite the credentials of anyone involved it automatically would make me question motive and ability, which is perhaps unfair on Clinton but a natural feeling when such rotation happens.

Forgot to say, but the good news for Hillary is that if women are clearly getting riled by how she’s being treated then it is only furthering her fortunes amongst female voters. Given they seem to be turning out more than men her opponents and the media playing up the “she’s a woman” side are only getting themselves hurt.

Paul – again, this really isn’t about whether Clinton would make a good president. Personally, I don’t really mind who it is as long as it’s a Democrat – the distinction between the candidates isn’t so great to make a difference.

People may have good reasons not to support her candidacy – but they are not articulating them. They are holding up signs saying “Iron my shirt”; they are pinching her cheeks; they are framing her as a manipulative woman when she shows emotion and and a “heinous bitch” when doesn’t. They bypass political debate and went straight for the misogyny – and that speaks to an underlying problem, just not with these individuals and their own politics, but to the assumption that this is where she’s most vulnerable. Not because she’s got a bad foreign policy or economic policy, but because she is a woman.

Aaron – Rice and Pelosi get this as well. A couple of examples for you at random.

Jess said: “It’s to do with the fact that people who disagrees with her politics fall immediately to sexist language like “bitch”

I disagree. I’m quite capable of arguing against her policies without sexism. The reason I used the term was to show that in this case, it’s entirely deserved regardless of sexism: she precisely fits the stereotype of a woman who is ultra-aggressive, domineering, argumentative, imposing morality, etc *far beyond the point* where someone is just exercising their rights to a free opinion and behaviour. Women are still savagely oppressed globally, but there’s a point where you can measure someone of either sex against society’s norms and decide that they are just an unpleasant person to an unnecessary degree. She is, and she’s female, so much of society will recognise the valid use of the term “bitch”. I didn’t use it because of her gender, but because of her behaviour.

I wouldn’t use the term for Huckabee, no. That’s because we’re all slaves to society’s uses of slang, and man being called a bitch suggests different behaviours regardless of how equal I’d like to be with the word. Huckabee IS easily as aggressive, and also amusingly insane, and no – I’m not in favour of him either.

Nothing in her policies justifies “Iron my shirt”. That comes from morons who aren’t even looking at the policies. I am absolutely not sexist, and would love for a woman to become US President. I just don’t want the votes to go to this particular one solely because female voters react to the sexist taunts – she’s the wrong person for the job, regardless of gender.

Rice and Pelosi get this as well. ~ jess

Yes they do. But they don’t get as much vitriolic shit as HC. I would however agree that Barbara Boxer has suffered similar treatment.

No doubt, American politics is riddled with misogyny, and I don’t dismiss your article, but we should note that many people hate Hilary simply because she’s calculated and haughty.

>it’s truly been flabbergasting to see the reaction she has garnered simply for being a woman seeking power.

Precisely (but not surprising, obviously).

Which is why I’m quite happy to be the first (?) LCer to out myself as (probably) supporting her for the nomination. None of the 3 will make much headway, stymied as their system is by its obsession with checks-and-balances. So the president may as well be a woman; the longer-term attitudinal change from that fact alone is likely to be concrete, at least, especially if she does a reasonable job.

Plus, it needs to be a Democrat to ensure the presidential patronage over the appointment of judges (at all federal levels, not just the Supreme Court) is in (at least vaguely) the right hands. Other than that, as #7 says, there isn’t much in it.

“I disagree. I’m quite capable of arguing against her policies without sexism. The reason I used the term was to show that in this case, it’s entirely deserved regardless of sexism: she precisely fits the stereotype of a woman who is ultra-aggressive, domineering, argumentative, imposing morality, etc *far beyond the point* where someone is just exercising their rights to a free opinion and behaviour.”

I hate to break it to you Steve, but using the word “bitch” to denigrate any woman under any circumstance is in fact an act of sexism. The word is and always has been sexist. Anyone who continues to use it is in fact committing an act of sexism.

12. Steve B, UK

Really? Using the word about ANY woman, in ANY circumstance, makes it about her gender and not primarily descriptive of her actions and attitude?

If so, then I apologise. It’s not a word I use easily or lightly, and sure – I was being deliberately provocative. I wanted to show how specific things about Hillary can bring in genuine criticism that automatically looks sexist. The word has entered the mainstream and is used by men and women alike without meaning to be dismissive of all women as overly demanding or emotional, or any of the connotations it may have originally carried.

I’m positive that the number of votes Hillary loses to sexists will be far outweighed by the number she loses to people who don’t like her for herself. I didn’t think using it to describe a woman whose behaviour is so ~obviously extreme~ denigrates women everywhere, so if anyone took that then I apologise.

(Rest assured that if I had to find epithets for a man who was cold and arrogant to that level, or one with such a disgusting voting history, I would be much, much coarser in my choice of words.) Presumably the sexism comes in if it’s seen as acceptable (or even strong) for men to be aggressive to the point that a woman would be called that, and therefore it stops women being able to assert themselves without negative reactions. I don’t agree. I think we’re past the point where people who *aren’t* sexist bigots can dismissively say “she’s just a bitch” and actually influence what anyone else thinks. That’s clearly unreasonable behaviour, and we’ve moved on.

Apart from a tiny minority of vocal morons in New Hampshire, and the Republicans who will use absolutely anything they can.

“(Rest assured that if I had to find epithets for a man who was cold and arrogant to that level, or one with such a disgusting voting history, I would be much, much coarser in my choice of words.) Presumably the sexism comes in if it’s seen as acceptable (or even strong) for men to be aggressive to the point that a woman would be called that, and therefore it stops women being able to assert themselves without negative reactions. I don’t agree.”

I’m sorry, Steve, but I think that’s dangerously naive. This isn’t just a case of people calling Hillary a bitch and that influencing how people see her, it’s a case of a wider-spread reaction to a woman who breaks expectations of ‘appropriate’ behaviour her gender.

About the use of the word bitch – what Faith said.

14. Steve B, UK

Sorry to keep on at this, when I know this forum should be more about the politics, but I specifically didn’t use the word just because she’s seen as being ‘inappropriately strong for her gender’. I’m aware of the danger of that, and was happy that Hillary was SUCH an extreme example that it would be clear I was not suggesting this was about gender, but rather about behaviour for anyone in society.

If she was male, people would call him a bastard. She’s an arch-political hardball player – I don’t think that describing her as ‘strong’ makes the acceptable level for women any lower than men, or threatens her as a person. She’s a public figure, and an arch-political hawk.

People were saying months ago that if she ran, we’d be treated to the biggest televised character assassination ever. I don’t think this is a widespread reaction based on sexism – I think it’s much, much harsher than normal because it’s *her*. The Republicans HATE her, and will use any cheap trick to suggest she’s weak. A small minority of the public might be sexist enough to think she couldn’t do the job, but I haven’t seen evidence that the majority of opposition to her is on sexist grounds.

If she was male, people would call him a bastard. She’s an arch-political hardball player –

I don’t like Hilary Clinton but this is patently rubbish. All the Republicans are falling over themselves to play hardball and be even more hawkish than their counterparts. But who is calling them bastards?

The vitriol that is hurled at Clinton does make me very uneasy because its obvious a lot of it is because these men can’t handle an aggressive woman politician.

Now, I happen to dislike her aggressiveness not because she’s a woman but because she’s hurling mud at my favoured candidate (Obama) but I wouldn’t care if she did that at Republicans. But JEss is quite right to point out that the language that greets Clinton is quite extraordinary for an ‘aggressive’ politician.

“Really? Using the word about ANY woman, in ANY circumstance, makes it about her gender and not primarily descriptive of her actions and attitude?”

Yes. Maybe if you stopped trying to prove your point and really thought about the manner and context it is used in you would see that. Of course, I’m assuming that you do know better words that more precisely describe your distaste with a person’s actions and attitude rather than needing to call them a bitch.

If you ever want to give yourself an easy self administered test of your sexism, go back and change Hillary to someone of another race, and change bitch to a word used to insult and disempower them. Yes, it is the same. It is the same for the exact reason that you write above. You have made it about her gender and not your dislike of her actions and words.

Rather than responding or apologizing, I wish that you would do some critical thinking on this. Why would someone who isn’t sexist wish to dismiss a woman by saying (your premise, from above) “She’s just a bitch”?

Steve I think you already noted that bitch cannot be used for a male in the same context, so isn’t that the reason why the word is sexist. That there is no need for a male equivalent or that it doesn’t work for men.

Bastard however can be used for either so if that is what you call a male equivalent why not a female? Not that I think name calling is helpful.

as for:

she precisely fits the stereotype of a woman who is ultra-aggressive, domineering, argumentative, imposing morality, etc *far beyond the point* where someone is just exercising their rights to a free opinion and behaviour.

This behavior is expected in politics, if she wasn’t then she would be labelled as the typical weak woman stereotype. The sexism levelled at her wouldn’t be less if she wasn’t as aggressive, so wouldn’t she need these characteristics to deal with it.

I think that you get the candidate you ask for in a way. If a woman has to be super tough and aggressive to get into office then that’s the woman you get. Look at Margaret Thatcher.

“I’m aware of the danger of that, and was happy that Hillary was SUCH an extreme example that it would be clear I was not suggesting this was about gender, but rather about behaviour for anyone in society.”

How exactly is she such an extreme example? Her behavior as a politician has not been in any way worse than the behavior of any of the other leading candidates. As someone else has already stated, aggressiveness is not only a necessary characteristic in a politician, but in a male candidate, it is a trait which is expected. Your assertion that her behavior is extreme is just bizzare.

Really, Steve, you’re just making yourself look worse every time you comment. Maybe you should just step back and consider what all the fine ladies here have said?

“If she was male, people would call him a bastard. ”

I’m actually not a fan of the word bastard either. The word bastard is also a sexist insult against women. Think about it…what is a bastard? A bastard is an illegitimate child. Calling someone a bastard is a manner of insulting a man by insulting his mother. Same thing goes for son of a bitch. The term son of a bitch is an insult to the man via insulting his mother.

19. Margin4 Error

Would anyone call Obama a nigger?

I ask because clearly it is possible to dislike Mrs Clinton for her personality and/or for her politics without sexism being at all the source of that dislike. Likewise those who don’t support Obama are by and large not racist and oppose him for entirely non-racial reasons.

So why do those who don’t like Mrs Clinton slip quickly into sexist language like “bitch,” while their Obama opposing equivelents don’t slip into casual use of the word “nigger”?

In the same way that nigger is a black specific derogatory term, bitch is a female specific derogatory term. And it is therefore sexist to demean a woman by applying the the status of a working animal traditionally percieved as dirty.

Of coruse I know the answer to my own first question.

It remains a national joke to tell a woman to get back in the kitchin – but has become a scandal to tell a black man to get back to the cotton fields (or to the jungle).

So the real question is why society is so comfortable with sexism?

“Steve I think you already noted that bitch cannot be used for a male in the same context, so isn’t that the reason why the word is sexist. That there is no need for a male equivalent or that it doesn’t work for men.”

I think it’s also worth pointing out that when the word bitch is applied to men, then more than half the insult is that this is ‘feminising’ them – suggesting that they are acting like a woman, and if I have to explain why that’s sexist to you there’s no hope.

Everything points to bitch being an inherantly sexist slur.

Also:

“ultra-aggressive, domineering, argumentative, imposing morality, etc *far beyond the point* where someone is just exercising their rights to a free opinion and behaviour.”

It’s all in the interpretation, though. Another way of putting this (an how this behaviour might be read in a male politician): unapologetically forthright, leadership ability, a debator with a strong sense of ethics.

Not that I would necessarily describe Clinton that way, but I can’t remember a single instance of a male politician being described as domineering or argumentative. Because, as chem_fem alludes to, those are considered to be the expected behaviours of a politician.

21. Margin4 Error

ps

I should stress I am inclined to prefer Clinton as the Democrat candidate as I feel she has the best shot at winning the presidency. Though I like Obama too.

Well isn’t this a whole mountain out of a molehill. Regardless of the word being used the issue is that people feel the need to describe Clinton as anything for doing what is seemingly acceptable behaviour for her male colleagues. The fact the word bitch is used is completely irrelevant as it could be a number of other insults all of which are non-gender specific.

23. Steve B, UK

Okay, I’ll take the point, and not do that again 🙂 I do wish people would read what I actually wrote, though.

Calling a man who has behaved nastily a “Bastard” will not make 1 in 100 people think you are actually making a statement about his parentage.

I specifically said I was confident that people would NOT assume I was dismissing Hillary as weak, or commenting on all women. There are many ways to be strong: another female candidate (Oprah, maybe?) could have a crisis arise and not have to take the aggressive stance. She could say “no, peace is the right option and anyone who doesn’t like it can take it up with me”. People know she is compassionate AND tough, and Hillary is lacking that image (ignoring for a second that she’d attack Iran if it sneezed unexpectedly). Now she cannot now be assertive in the same way: she’s gone for the hardball route, and will have to keep playing it.

I’m not reaching for the word “bitch” because she’s a woman, I’m doing it because she’s driving others to use “shrewish” and “harridan”. No-one would ever say it about Oprah.
Strength is expected of a politician. Cold, arrogant aloofness is not compulsory. Humanity is a nice touch.

I’m NOT in favour of Hillary “because she has the best shot at winning the presidency”. That is only true because many republican voters feel she’s “strong” enough, hasn’t prposed any policies they don’t like, and is establishment enough to not rock the boat in many areas. Those are very good reasons to fervently hope she *doesn’t* represent the Democrats.

(Just to well and truly set things off again, the replies I’ve had elsewhere from women in the US and UK have all come back as “But she is a bitch…”)

“I’m not reaching for the word “bitch” because she’s a woman, I’m doing it because she’s driving others to use “shrewish” and “harridan”. No-one would ever say it about Oprah”

Um, Steve…

http://www.outsideleft.com/main.php?updateID=531

http://jessie.bluejay-nest.com/wordpress/?p=306

Just google the word “bitch” and “oprah”

And still, bitch is a gender specific insult. And still you don’t seem to be getting it that, oh, whether you like her politics or not, her personality and tactics are in no way worse than anyone elses.

Repeat: The word bitch is always, always a sexist insult and is never, ever appropriate.

“(Just to well and truly set things off again, the replies I’ve had elsewhere from women in the US and UK have all come back as “But she is a bitch…”)”

That’s unfortunately sadly unsuprising. Many women use the word as often as men. It’s still just as sexist and misogynistic when women use it and even more depressing.

Hillary Clinton is a prick!

“Regardless of the word being used the issue is that people feel the need to describe Clinton as anything for doing what is seemingly acceptable behaviour for her male colleagues.”

Agreed; this is where the sexism lies, the double standard, not the word which exposes the double-standard.

MOW MY LAWN

Get down on your knees, boys, open wide, and mow my black, curly lawn.

28. Margin4 Error

Steve

You seem to quote me – agree that for several reasons she has the best shot at winning for the democrats – and then say that we should hope the democrats give the republicans a better chance by choosing some one else.

I just can’t back that thinking. Its to wishy washy. Politics isn’t an ideal. It’s a practical competition.

29. Steve B, UK

She may have the best shot at winning, but someone else *could* win. We’ve seen how excited the electorate get when someone promises real change. With a genuine liberal agenda and 51% of the vote, a Dem candidate wouldn’t need to pander to Republican support. They could actually represent their voters and party (without being unrepresentative of Reps either, but with an agenda that’s actually near the centre instead of mid-right.)

Compromising ideals to get a candidate into power who then won’t deliver for you is NOT my idea of good politics, or acceptable democracy. Just because we do it here, that’s no excuse.

But then I’m not hugely impressed with the US or UK systems, and can’t wait for PR to favour the government long enough for them to agree to implement it…

30. Margin4 Error

Steve

But surely compromising ideals to form a collective government is the point of democracy.

Millions of people with different ideals can’t, as you seem to wish, dictate that their personal views must be implemented in full. They must instead accept that their ideals will be tempered by the practical nature of any process that seeks to give voice to all views.

And then to top it off you whinge about the system. Sure the system is poor. Sure better systems exist. But in what way does that make the system as it exists no longer exist? In what way does not liking the system mean that giving the republicans a better chance of winning serve your purpose?

The system is what it is so dear god don’t stop playing thate system just because you don’t get your way. That simply hands control to those who support the system. (in case it’s not clear, I would like electoral reform too).

“They must instead accept that their ideals will be tempered by the practical nature of any process that seeks to give voice to all views. ”

That’s fine, if the eventual system gives voice to all views to any extent. The current US and UK ones don’t. You can’t be suggesting that left-of-centre liberals in the US have been represented by Bush’s government in any way?

If the Green party gets 10% of the votes, I want them to have 10% of the power, not 0%. Otherwise 10% of the country is absolutely unrepresented. (No, I don’t actually vote Green, it’s just an example). If a real compromise candidate exists that will choose policies which you can still live with, that’s a fine practical solution – but that’s not the case in the US. There are two voices, one almost entirely excludes the other, and they’ll be slaves to lobbyists and opinion polls regardless. Minority voters do not have a hope. That may technically be democracy, but it’s not much of one.

The “point of a democracy” is ‘one man, one vote’, and everyone gets one. Doing that at the front end and then not translating those votes into affecting which laws get made defeats the point.

32. Margin4 Error

SteveB

again you are whinging about the system.

If greens get ten percent of the vote then ideally a system would then allocate them ten percent of the representation too. (not power – that’s a subjective – does an opposition party with 20% of the seats in parliament have the same power as a government coalition party with 20% of the seats?)

And I agree a presidency is inherrantly bad by allowing only one representitive.

But none of that means the system doesn’t exist in the USA.

So have you been as happy with that government under Bush as you were with that government under Clinton?

If not then the system still, to some extent, reflects a choice – and you must therefore use it to maximise your result.

that is the point of democracy.

Again, I’ve got to disagree. Using a bad system to maximise your result is not the point of democracy either.

As for the UK, 10% of the representation but 0% of the power could be effectively 0% representation.
Having your voice heard at all is a start, but not the same as a truly democratic system. You need to be able to convince others, and then *have everyone’s vote counted* and go with the majority, not say your piece and then hope the people luckily enough to actually have votes will go your way.

Majority rule isn’t brilliant without checks and balances, and first-past-the-post doesn’t have enough of them in my opinion.

“Would anyone call Obama a nigger?”

That’s different, he can’t change his ethnic origin whereas bitches can, at least theoreitcally, adopt a more benign persona. In my experience it’s a word used by women, about women, far more than by men.

There are loads of male and female specific insults. If you’re going to insult someone you use whatevers available, the idea that you can, politely and in a non-sexist way, insult someone, is ludicrous.

If you’re a woman you can’t change the fact that the skills you need to campaign for presidency lead you to be called a ‘bitch’ by some. It is no different.

The fact is that men in her position act the same way without comment. The term bitch is way of keeping women to ‘adopt a more benign persona’. That said I can be called a bitch for something as benign as politely refusing a drink.

Whether it is used by men or women makes no difference, woman are as capable of misogyny as men.

That she is being called a bitch in the first place is indicative that people are uncomfortable with a woman behaving in a way that is common for any politician.

This isn’t about being polite, but you can insult people without stooping to sexism. that is not ludicrous.

36. Margin4 Error

she can’t change that she is a she. So how is that different to obama being unable to change that he is black?

I think the point is she wouldn’t be being called a bitch if she wasn’t displaying those traits (which we’ve already established everyone is and thus the whole situation is sexist anyhow). Her choices have led her to be the person she is that people wish to call her a bitch, Obama’s situation obviously genetic 😉

I think there is also a little bit of playing up here too though. When candidates are reported as too old, or blasted on their policies in ways that are actually more personally insulting we don’t really seem to care about that…but we here have put a huge amount of stock in just one of those ways of politics. I’m not denying that the fervent level of use of calling Clinton a bitch shows clearly an issue here about gender equality, but perhaps not quite as much as the OP does.

38. Margin4 Error

Steve

First things first – the point of democracy is to form a government. The reason to use democracy to form a government (as opposed to any other method) is to ensure that government reflects, to what extent any government reasonably can, the collective wisdom of the populace.

Some democratic systems do this better than others, and in different ways.

In the UK for example the constituency system means relatively little representation of minority views. In Germany on the other hand, thought police ban representation by some parties. In Italy corruption drastically warps representation. In Canada book burning laws prevent free expression of ideas and thus weaken representation of those ideas.

and so on.

None of which matters because we are talking about an election in the USA and you have simply confused yourself.

You have confused the aim of a praimaries voter in the USA (to vote in a way that maximises their satisfaction with the next government) with your completely irrelevent dislike of the voting system.

As such you have confused your dislike of Clinton with a dislike of the electoral system.

I don’t like the voting system, what with me being a big supporter of PR. But Clinton does have the best chance of delivering a Democrat government. As such as a bit of a leftie I support her.

And simply not voting because of the system means leaving the system to voters who support it.

and that’s about the most counter-productive thing you could do.

Matt Munro: “That’s different, he can’t change his ethnic origin whereas bitches can, at least theoreitcally, adopt a more benign persona. In my experience it’s a word used by women, about women, far more than by men.”

‘Benign?” Who would want their leader to be benign? Again, this is the sort of double-standard thinking that boxes female politicians into a corner where they just can’t win.

It’s not up to women to stop being “bitches”, it’s up to us to dismantle the patriarchal, sexist culture that labels them as such when they act in the exact same way as their male peers.

And I would have thought it went without saying, but just because a woman says something, doesn’t mean it’s not sexist. And you can’t use the fact that you’ve heard women say the sexist slur ‘bitch’ to justify using it yourself.

Lee Griffin: “think there is also a little bit of playing up here too though. When candidates are reported as too old, or blasted on their policies in ways that are actually more personally insulting we don’t really seem to care about that…but we here have put a huge amount of stock in just one of those ways of politics.”

The thing is, there’ve been plenty of old white men in positions of power. Parliaments around the world are stuffed with them, not to mention the annuals of history.

It is ageist that candidates are increasingly criticised for their age – and I for one do care about that.

But there is not a structural imbalance of power disenfranchising old white men.

I would also challenge you to come up with a list of similar extreme examples of agist coverage of some of the older candidates in this race.

It just really astonishes me that people want to play down the misogyny here – again, let me just point out that men held up signs saying “iron my shirt”.

“I think the point is she wouldn’t be being called a bitch if she wasn’t displaying those traits (which we’ve already established everyone is and thus the whole situation is sexist anyhow). Her choices have led her to be the person she is that people wish to call her a bitch, Obama’s situation obviously genetic ;)”

Lee,

People call women bitches all the time, regardless of the traits they might possess or exhibit. To some people, all women are bitches. All women are in danger of being called a bitch by someone at any point in their life. This is true no matter how sweet, loving, compassionate and wonderful a person she might be. This is why the phrase is inherently sexist and problematic and needs to disappear.

41. Steve B, UK

Of course a leader shouldn’t be “benign”. But women can be strong in many ways, and men can be strong without being bigoted unpleasant assholes.

>>”As such you have confused your dislike of Clinton with a dislike of the electoral system.”

No, my dislike of Clinton includes the system she has to work in. I think she’s the worst candidate *because* the system will make her time in office either ineffective or far more right-wing than the majority of Dem voters want. She is the most right-wing Dem candidate. Electing her to just to get a Dem in does not represent anyone whose views are left of centre-right.

Democracy existing only “to form a government” is a low, petty fall from its ideals.

It exists so that the common man should have a say in which laws are made. To have *power* over which laws are made. Not to directly change anything, if he’s in the minority, but to be heard and for the substantial opposition to a law to be noted.
No-one should have “forming a government” as a goal, government should exist to serve the populace – it is the needs of the populace which should drive things, not setting up the team at the top.

Those voting for Hillary in the primary may compromise to win, but if the result is a conservative government then the process *has not worked*, it has corrupted the result through a bad system.

My dislike for her personally is because she can’t show the million ways that a woman can be “strong” without being the equivalent of old, white, right-wing male assholes. As such, she’s going to make it much easier for labels like “bitch” to applied to all women.

The cold, arrogant, confrontational men who are running had the choice not to be assholes too. I criticise them equally.

Jess and Faith, I completely agree, and I have no intent of belittling the main point you’re making. However I don’t agree so much with your analysis, Faith, of the word Bitch. I think it’s a word that is equally disparaging to camp gay men, it is also use more and more in non gender specific ways. In general, with few exceptions, I feel that people should stop getting so pent up about origins of insults and more about the context they’re used. While some obviously are exempt from this things like Bastard, Bitch, Gay and others have to varying degrees been adopted by the group that they’re most meant to offend and/or are being moved further from their original intention. The act of making such a fuss about the word being sexist is more counter-productive than accepting its existence and empowering those that would originally be insulted by it through it’s use.

I’m not playing down the misogyny, I too believe it is very apparent. I do however think that you also need to accept that some very relevant comments of the type that are levelled at all politicians during their life when the media turns on them are just that, relevent and not based in the sexism that potentially you’re seeing in every attack.

“The act of making such a fuss about the word being sexist is more counter-productive than accepting its existence and empowering those that would originally be insulted by it through it’s use.”

Like the word nigger has?

As I quite clearly said, there are exceptions to what I’m saying, and I don’t believe the word Bitch is one of them.

45. Margin4 Error

Steve

you say both

“She is the most right-wing Dem candidate. Electing her to just to get a Dem in does not represent anyone whose views are left of centre-right.”

“Not to directly change anything, if he’s in the minority, but to be heard and for the substantial opposition to a law to be noted.”

the second of those quotes shows you rightly understand that to be represented is not the same as getting your way

The first though, suggests that not getting your way means it isn’t worth being represented.

I can only assume you have written off the republicans for the next american election and imagine it to be a straight win for whoever gets the democrat nomination.

If you don’t think that then surely voting in clinton means getting a less right wing government than the republicans – which tehrefore represents the views of the left. (and the right who managed to ensure the left wisdely voted for a centre ground candidate).

But perhaps that could be because you won’t be called it for being the same as your peers who happen to be of the opposite sex.

Or it could be that it’s because I’m able to look a little more objectively at it because on a singular personal level if doesn’t threaten me so much. In a perfect world we would all ignore the words used to insult and deal with the context behind them. In the perfect world even words like nigger would do nothing to phases us because we would ignore the word itself and deal with the context, that of someone prejudicial, and try to rectify it in an enlightened and non confrontational way. Of course in a perfect world no-one would insult anyone in a baseless manner anyway!

It is a simple fact that if all women suddenly were able to stop feeling that the word Bitch was something that was defined as being a sexist word then it would no longer matter what type of word it was. The issue here is that a candidate has been singled out for particular abuse for doing exactly as her counterparts do, and it would certainly seem to be based in the fact she’s a woman. This doesn’t mean the abuse is necessarily wrong in all instances if articulated and quantified, if people truly don’t like her way of handling politics that is fine, it’s just not fine if they don’t also say the same about the majority of other candidates across both parties.

What word is used to make it punchier is pretty much irrelevant as far as I’m concerned, the views of an individual are there regardless of if it is uttered out loud or just reverberated consciously in silence.

“My dislike for her personally is because she can’t show the million ways that a woman can be “strong” without being the equivalent of old, white, right-wing male assholes. As such, she’s going to make it much easier for labels like “bitch” to applied to all women.”

Wow. Just wow. I can’t imagine the million ways in which you would state that women can be strong without being a bitch. I just can’t imagine.

See, Steve, I wasted my time responding to you because I thought there was a chance you might listen. Apparently, I was wrong. So, instead of continuing this debate, I’m going to stop requesting that you stop viewing her and calling her a bitch. What am I going to do instead? Well, I’m going to request that you keep calling her a bitch. Now, why on earth would I do such a thing? Well, it’s quite simple. I was planning on supporting Obama. However, every time I see Hillary attacked with such blatant sexism, it pushes me one step closer to not only voting for her, but towards campaigning for her. And guess what, Steve? I not only suspect, but know, that a lot of other American women are starting to feel the same way. So, go right ahead, keep calling her a bitch…

http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2008/01/andy-women-back-clinton.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/10/us/politics/10women.html?_r=2&ex=1357707600&en=a988176797c94f1e&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

If all women stopped finded that word offensive (which is more than a little easier said than done, can you imgaine trying to get the word cunt to be acceptable in a short space of time?) then it wouldn’t matter because it would still be known as an insult and could still be used as one.

For example if I was in an all male environment and called a bitch then it doesn’t much matter if I find it offensive or not. If it is delivered as an insult and still understood to be one by those around me then I have been insulted in public and I am shamed.

I wanted to add:

that everyone must stop seeing the word as an insult to make it ineffective.

….pressed the send button too soon.

what you state is needed to make it ineffective is beyond my “perfect world” arguments, it is impossible. If someone says something as an insult it will be seen as an insult. I can call you a nerf-herder in such a way that this non-existing description becomes an insult. If I phrase it right I can make the word butter plate become an insulting word set. It is the context and use of vocabulary that does the damage. The only reason certain words stand out further is because they either have no other definition, have added connotations that have been unfortunately transferred from the originator of the insult into how the victims always perceive it, or both.

If a man insults you because you’re a woman that is sexist, if a man insults you because you’ve done something he wishes to insult, and uses the word bitch, then that isn’t necessarily sexist. It may not be delivered because of any route in sexism, and the person delivering it may wish to just make his feelings about something completely gender unspecific about you known. But in these instances where it is the case, it is a tragedy that the victim can then make the insult sexist again by interpretation.

This issue resonates with me because it is important for society to take comments and statements as they are intended not as they are heard. If someone waves fresh pork infront of a Jewish person without thinking about it…purely doing it because he gestures his hands when annoyed…that person can either take it as intended, a simple unfortunate gesture meaning nothing, or he can take it to mean the originator is an antisemite.

It really should not be down to, in a world where we are not going to be able to alleviate passion to the degree that insults, certain levels of aggression, and heated discussion will no longer occur, the originator of a sentence being held responsible for anything more than articulating their point as clearly as possible without needing to censor themselves for every possible eventuality of misinterpretation along the line. We can all interpret insults from almost anything, and this is ultimately what I feel is happening in a *few* instances here.

I will repeat, I think most of the comments made against Clinton are done so because of misogyny in the system and media, but to also tar those not intending to make sexist comments and are judging Hillary along side her counterparts with the same brush, just because they happen to use the word Bitch, is almost puerile in my mind. Just stop getting hung up on words and get hung up on the semantics, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress.

The underlying sexist tone of calling a presidential candidate a bitch rather than insulting her politics has been clearly articulated here. And so far as I know, not in a confrontational way. Although it has been my experience that whenever I tell someone that what they’re saying and the way they’re saying it are inherently sexist or racist, they’ll think I’m being confrontational no matter how politely I phrase it.

What I think you’re trying to say is that rather than learn to not be sexist, people will adapt and find newer, more socially acceptable ways to express it. That is true. It is much easier to find a way to call a woman a bitch in a word that isn’t bitch than do to some self examination and find that despite supposedly liberal politics, much of our (everyone’s, we were all raised in the same cultural pigpen and are responsible for trying to climb out) thinking is deeply sexist and racist. But I don’t think that giving up ground (how do you suggest it? ‘Oh, well, calling a presidential candidate just a bitch as if that’s a credible criticism is okay, but you shouldn’t be biased against her because she’s a woman’?) will encourage anyone to think critically about themselves, just to dismiss us all the quicker. No one will change unless they want to, or until we have plugged up all the formerly acceptable ‘I’m not a bigot but’ escape routes and people are forced to start thinking of women as actual fellow human beings.

Case in point here.
I’m not reaching for the word “bitch” because she’s a woman, I’m doing it because she’s driving others to use “shrewish” and “harridan”.

This is so purposely obtuse. All are pejoratives. And she’s driving people to use them? Forcing them through her mean, bad, woman ways? I want to not be sexist, but she keeps making me by being so horrible?

I hear you, but why in our not perfect world are some names acceptable ,like bitch, and others not when they have the purpose of putting down and singling out certain groups (whether they be female or gay)

Also in your example about the jewish person, the point is that it is unknown to the pork waver that his ‘victim’ is religious. But it is obvious in most cases that a woman is a woman.

As for my stress levels, I’m not stressed at all. I’m just aware that the use of bitch is synonimous with sexism.
Perhaps the answer is that bitch should be used to cover everyone, it would be a lot easier than banning it.

Bitch

51. “What I think you’re trying to say is that rather than learn to not be sexist, people will adapt and find newer, more socially acceptable ways to express it.”

Not exactly, what I’m trying to say is that society naturally becomes more accustomed to insulting words and phrases in such a way that they become more acceptable. The word “cunt” could not be uttered without causing intense shock a decade ago, thanks to comedy outlets it has now become almost acceptable to use within friendship circles. I fully expect the word to become used more and more over the next half a century until it is as inoffensive as “bastard” is now. We naturally acclimatise to the vocabulary created around us, to try and fight that and keep a word from becoming accepted as part of that course is just fighting the inevitable and missing the context of why that particular word gets used and the issue that needs to be fought more deeply behind it.

The fight against the word Nigger wasn’t done by a bunch of leftie liberals professing how nasty it was and how people shouldn’t use it, it was halted in its use (as the exception from evolving into acceptable) by fighting the issues of racism and social conflict. The more we fight present racism and multi-cultural tensions the less we’ll see the word used again.

And again the point is missed…

“But I don’t think that giving up ground (how do you suggest it? ‘Oh, well, calling a presidential candidate just a bitch as if that’s a credible criticism is okay, but you shouldn’t be biased against her because she’s a woman’?) will encourage anyone to think critically about themselves, just to dismiss us all the quicker.”

I didn’t say what you have paraphrased here. I said if a person has credible criticisms articulated in such a way it’s clear that they aren’t of a sexist nature, and happens to use the word bitch to describe her then that is not a sexist insult, and shouldn’t be taken as such. Why people should think any more critically than to articulate themselves to make it clear that they’re not making a sexist comment is beyond me, I think people should think more critically about how their interpreting things just as much.

heh, 52. I’ll dictate the terms of my example 😉 My example was indeed of a person that KNEW the person was Jewish, knew exactly the nuances of the religion, yet absent mindedly waved pork in their face. Anything less than this wouldn’t be a quantifiable analogy with a person using Bitch against a woman in a non-sexist manner.

But yes, you’re right, Bitch should become non-gender specific, and I believe it is. I hear more often men refered to in some context’s as bitches, though again mostly in terms of homosexuality, but also to some straight men. I think this is the progression I talk about, but we’ll see.

I ought to clarify, not that the term Bitch is used as in to describe a guy as effeminate or weak (which I find ironic, given the original intention of the word as meaning overbearing), but in the sense about “bitching” or “manking” on about something, or because a guy has acted “bitchily” to someone.

my bad 🙂

I think we will always disagree then Lee. I don’t want to live in a world where slurs that are by nature of what the word is, sexist and insulting to women are commonplace and no big deal to use in everyday conversation. Although people may use bastard as a throwaway generic insult, it is a very specific insult against their mothers, and if that isn’t how it is intended, then people ought to use a different word.

I know in my family it took the bunch of leftie liberals saying Nigger wasn’t an acceptable way to refer to people in order for it to stop being used. And this was long after the major victories of the Civil Rights movement. And being used by people who didn’t burn crosses on lawns.

I know those weren’t your words. I really meant those question marks around them. I was wondering what you were thinking a better response to the original use of bitch as a political criticism was.

>>”This has nothing to do with her political stance.”

No, it’s to do with her personality and ultra-aggressive policies. This isn’t a case of a ’strong woman’ automatically being called a bitch, she IS a heinous bitch.

I read this as sexist in language and intent, although possibly not consciously, because it is not entirely in vogue for liberals to be so blatantly sexist.

And the original meaning of bitch is a female dog. All other associations with it have been piled on as unpleasant ‘female’ qualities, which is what makes the word still sexist, whether it is used by a man or woman, and directed at a man or woman.

“I think we will always disagree then Lee. I don’t want to live in a world where slurs that are by nature of what the word is, sexist and insulting to women are commonplace and no big deal to use in everyday conversation.”

Ditto.

chem_fem:

This is going to sound aggressive, I guess, but it’s not. Just a series of terse questions.

1. Is “prick” a sexist insult? Or is it a gender-specific word one applies to a man when one wants to insult them? See also, “bastard”. (I’ve never heard a female called a bastard)

2. I regularly use “cock” and “prick” as both general-purpose swearwords (“oh cock!”) and direct insults (“ah, ya prick!”). Should I stop using these words?

3. Why are “bitch” and “cunt” different to “bastard” and “cock”?

not at all.

Prick would be a sexist insult if it was used against men for acting in a way that was ok for women, but not perceivably for men. As you have said it is used – along with words like tit, arse and cunt – as general purpose swear words not as specific insults for a person who behaves in a very specific way which would be acceptable was it not for their sex.

Nobody says oh “bitch!” if they hit their thumb with a hammer.

I don’t think cunt is that different to cock. I have only heard it used by men against men in the same context as cock or prick

Bitch is part of a double standard that puts down women for behaving in a way that is acceptable in men. I would say a male equivalent was more of the ‘nancy’ or ‘gay’ type of insult, as it puts men down for a set of behaviors that are seen as feminine.

Bastard however is an insult to your parentage so while you have heard it used on men more it is more gender neutral than that. Unless you see Bastard as a slur on the recipients unmarried mother in the same way as son of a bitch.

“I ought to clarify, not that the term Bitch is used as in to describe a guy as effeminate or weak (which I find ironic, given the original intention of the word as meaning overbearing), but in the sense about “bitching” or “manking” on about something, or because a guy has acted “bitchily” to someone.”

It isn’t ironic that the word is used in this context at all. As I pointed out above, when the word bitch is thrown at men, it is meant to be insulting because it associates them with being ‘like a woman’. It doesn’t matter what type of woman – all that collapses as irrelevant, because of the potency in our culture of telling a man he is like a woman.

As for bitch being a reclaimed word, this happens rarely. Bitch Magazine is one of the only successful examples. But all reclaimed words are only reclaimed in so far as they are used by the people they once helped to oppress. They can still be used in an aggressive, insulting manner by everyone else.

“1. Is “prick” a sexist insult? Or is it a gender-specific word one applies to a man when one wants to insult them? See also, “bastard”. (I’ve never heard a female called a bastard)”

Perhaps prick would be a sexist insult in an alternative non-patriarchal universe. It is important to remember that sexist, racist, homophobic, ablist, and transphobic language doesn’t occur in a vaccuum. It gets its potency from actual discrimination and power imbalances in society.

57. “I don’t want to live in a world where slurs that are by nature of what the word is, sexist and insulting to women are commonplace and no big deal to use in everyday conversation.”

Then you might as well build a spaceship because that’s how language works and evolves. As for the following being sexist…

“No, it’s to do with her personality and ultra-aggressive policies. This isn’t a case of a ’strong woman’ automatically being called a bitch, she IS a heinous bitch.”

It certainly would sound like it is, but Steve B has been civil enough to explain and clarify what he’s talking about and has also made it clear that he has a distaste for the way pretty much all those US politicians are in a system he dislikes. Given his explanation afterwards I certainly don’t consider it to be a sexist use any more. Sometimes, as I think 60. has made pretty clear actually, insults get used because they are perceived to have genders. This still doesn’t make the insult itself sexist just because it is largely synonymous with being used against a specific gender. Steve could have used another word other than Bitch, but then you could have afforded the term bitch as worth no more worry than “arrogant prick”.

61. “Nobody says oh “bitch!” if they hit their thumb with a hammer.”

I, as a geeky computer gamer in my spare time, can often be found shouting “what a bitch” at the screen, so nerr 😉 But in all seriousness, I think we can’t get anywhere, myself included, with anecdotal arguments.

“Bitch is part of a double standard that puts down women for behaving in a way that is acceptable in men. I would say a male equivalent was more of the ‘nancy’ or ‘gay’ type of insult, as it puts men down for a set of behaviors that are seen as feminine.”

Which is why we need to tackle the issue of making it clear that it’s not an issue for women to act in the same manner as men. Solve that issue and the double standard disappears.

62. “It doesn’t matter what type of woman – all that collapses as irrelevant, because of the potency in our culture of telling a man he is like a woman.”

Once upon a time the term Gay was not an insult, yet then became one. Take queer if you want as another. There then was a time when this was the most insulting thing you could call a homosexual as an insult. Then generations passed and the term lost its potency, more generations passed and gay has all but lost any really offensive meaning towards homosexuals, has been embraced by the homosexual community and has pretty much got a separate definition of “unspecific insult”.

If at every generation stage we made as much of a fuss about what the word means as we’re making here about the word Bitch, it would never have evolved into the inconspicuous nature it now features. I still have to argue with people that do for some reason find the term “gay” used in the way of “Why is my car being so gay” highly offensive because of the “origins” of the term that due to the way different generations adopt the vocabulary their parents use you can’t argue about the origin of a word, only about what the word means to recent generations gone by.

By all means, I do feel I’ll have to agree to disagree with a lot of you mutually, but while you’re fighting to keep a word as offensive as possible so that you can persuade people to stop using it, I’ll be letting it naturally devolve into a generic insult that has no context on its own whatsoever as countless of other insulting words and phrases have done over centuries and millennia.

Lee – I, as a geeky computer gamer in my spare time, can often be found shouting “what a bitch” at the screen, so nerr 😉 But in all seriousness, I think we can’t get anywhere, myself included, with anecdotal arguments.

I disagree, you used the word in the context of bitch as someone (or in this case something) that ‘plays up’ or doesn’t behave the way you want it to. The word is used here in context.

I see your point and agree on how we can make the word less offensive. It does bother me though that you are so eager to brush off an incident when it is used in context as a sexist insult, so I’ll just have to disagree on this one point.

64. This is where we clearly differ. I don’t say it in any context at all. I say it because it’s an expletive. I also shout “cunt bags”, “fuck nuts”, “cock ended arse muncher” and other expressions that tend to grow in number of words dependent on my frustration. I don’t say any of them with any context behind them, so why should anyone try and find context in them?

I also am not eager to brush off the incident, which I’m glad you’ve given me ample opportunity to highlight my opinion once again. The incident is sexist, and deplorable, I just think the feminists and equality campaigners amongst us should focus less on the word “bitch”, which is clearly less important than the need to focus on the problem underlying its use, if they don’t want their views and the debate to be taken on a wild loop away from the main point as it has done here.

Well, Lee, I don’t feel very inclined to want to respond to you, because I don’t think I’ve been understood. I think I and others have been *explicitly* clear that our problem is with sexism, and that people stopping use of the word bitch does not end sexism.

It is not unreasonable to have an aversion to the female = insult scenario. Bitch, harpies, shrew, cunt, twat, these aren’t innocuous words, and the fact that you’re yelling it at an inanimate object doesn’t remove it from its sexist context. Nor does sidestepping away from using sexist name calling as a valid political criticism by merely apologizing for the particular ‘bad’ word used rather than the sexism.

I’m perfectly fine disagreeing with people, but not when they’ve already made up their mind what my stand is, and why it’s different from my own without consulting me. And, quite frankly, telling someone to suck it up or go live on another planet because that’s the way the world works baby, that’s been the pretty standard response by society to anyone who tries to question the status quo. It’s not funny, and it isn’t true. We all get to shape the society we live in, and the language we use to speak to each other.

Nicole, I apologise for any offence you seem to have taken from my postings here, but I do feel somewhat that wires have been crossed here by yourself.

On your first paragraph I have at no point claimed that you believed otherwise, and with regards to your second paragraph, from what I can understand from it, I think this is where it’s clear we just aren’t going to agree with regards to just how sexist words on their own can be without any semantics present in their utterance.

On the third paragraph you have very clearly misunderstood, or perhaps I haven’t articulated properly. I’m not telling you the use of a word is not going to go away so accept it, I’m saying that the right and proper way for these insults to be dealt with is with the background context (which you agree with) and to let natural evolution of language take its course. You claimed you didn’t want to live in a world where people stopped viewing certain words as offensively as you do, and while it is of course your right to keep hanging on to the negative connotations of the world, each generation to come will naturally strip it of its real slurs and make it more and more innocuous as time goes on (see the word gay used in insulting manners in modern language compared to 20 years ago, for a hyper-accelerated version of this natural progression). My point still stands on this matter, you’re living in a counter-productive dream land if you want to keep words having the same impact as an insult throughout all time, and in all honesty I have to wonder why you would object to the future absence of any sexist connotation from the word bitch because of it’s origins? Would you prefer more words existed that truly offended people despite the context their used?

well, I will call anyone a bitch if they are one. It’s kinda like the work asshole, to me. I will call a male or a female a dick if I want to, as well. Is that sexist? I don’t really care. Hilary is a bitch, and cheney is a dick. whatever.


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