Is the media more sexist or racist? Does it matter?

So a friend e-mailed me last week to get my take on the Obama/Clinton in regards to marginalized groups.

If I remember right, you always preferred Obama to Clinton. Now that the race is over, what’s your opinion on complaints from female Dems that they were marginalized and mistreated (welcome to my world, lady) and threats to punish the party by voting for McCain?

I guess for the purposes of discussing this, I should mention that my friend is a black man (hence, the “welcome to my world” comment). We’ve had a lot of back and forth over the years about being members of groups that get marginalized in one way or another. For the most part, I think we agree that it is pointless to come up with which segment of our society is the most fucked over. Is it blacks? Is it women? Is it gays? Is it Hispanics? Honestly — how can you quantify that and what would that get us? The relevant point is that it’s wrong that anyone is discriminated against. Ever. Period. Hate is hate, no matter who’s the target of it … it’s still hate.

But it’s an interesting question that my friend, known on this blog as “Tracer Bullet,” brings up. And it’s not because he and I want to argue yet again who has it worse — women or blacks. What makes this interesting is that Hillary Clinton herself has raised this question about misogyny in our society as well as the media specifically in different ways throughout her campaign. Remember when she said that women were the last segment of our society that it is okay to openly hate during an editorial board meeting?

And the media itself has provided plenty of examples of outright sexism toward the Clinton campaign. Remember the “cleavage incident?” Or all the talk of what she wears or how she does her hair. Or, even the repugnant segment I caught on a cable news network in which one female pundit asked whether or not we want a “hysterical woman” to have her hand on the button? It’s 2008 and as a society we’re still going there.

It’s no secret that I have been for Obama for some time. Pretty much since John Edwards dropped out, truth be told. Don’t get me wrong, I loooove that we finally have a viable female candidate running for president. I am thrilled by it! But just because a woman is running doesn’t mean I have to vote for her. That’s like saying that I should only vote for white candidates because I’m white. I vote for the candidate who I think is best. And if there are no candidates I like, I vote for the lesser of two evils. But if Clinton had won the nomination, I would have voted “D.” No question. As a progressive — I prefer the term liberal, but whatever — I want to see a D in the White House, period.

Unfortunately, for these past few months Clinton has really been on a scorched-earth campaign. She has shown that she wants the White House at all costs and that she feels like this was her chance and it has been stolen by the other “first-time-ever” candidate. It’s been months of this and I’m glad the time has come when she’s put her sword down. It’s time to look at the big picture and worry about beating McCain. (And by the way, what is up with Dems who say they are going to vote for McCain out of spite?! That doesn’t make any sense! Think of the bigger picture, people!)

In some ways, even though I don’t always agree with her, I feel for Clinton. I have to figure that this whole thing was part of the plan after the Lewinsky debacle. I firmly believe that the reason Hillary didn’t dump Bill after that is that there was a conversation behind closed doors where he basically promised to support her political career and aspirations for the White House. And we all know she is one of the most strategic politicians out there. She doesn’t do anything without planning it out to the nth degree. So she probably thought she had this whole thing locked up and that there was no way the young upstart from Illinois had a chance. She probably banked on America’s ingrained and institutionalized racism to be stronger than it’s ingrained and institutionalized sexism. And historically speaking, she’d be right. A white woman in our society has traditionally had more privilege and more power than a black person of either sex.

As for the question at hand and as feminist, I am angry with Clinton. I think it’s fair to say that there is definitely racism AND sexism in the mass media. No question. But I think the way that Clinton used that issue and tried to play it was completely wrong. When she came out with that statement a few weeks ago about sexism in the media and that women are the last group that it’s okay to openly hate, that was sort of it for me.

Don’t get me wrong. It is harder to be a woman than a man sometimes. No question. Statistically, women are more likely to be attacked, paid less for the same work and receive less adequate health care than men. Certainly, men get attacked sometimes. But not nearly at the numbers of women. And this plays out in much more sublte ways in terms of how the media portrays women and how women are treated in our society in general.

The problem with how Hillary used it is that she did it the wrong way if she intended to get her message heard or to effect change. The way she used it was the opposite of how you would talk about it if you were actually trying to address a real issue and work on it (see: Obama on race issues after the reverend fall-out). Women are targeted and there is misogony in our society – no doubt. But I would say that it is far more acceptable to openly hate on gays, the homeless and the mentally ill than it is women.

One of the things I thought about when that statement came out was whether or not newsrooms were tangibly more racist or more sexist. I think it is equal in both, but that it manifests itself in different ways — just like sexism an racism in society at large. Most people in the media are at least savvy enough to know you can’t say certain things when it comes to race — even if they are thinking it. So the racism that gets put out there is more indirect (but still shitty). Meanwhile, since our society as a whole is still pretty comfortable with having women be the “second sex” to men, mass media can be more openly hostile and talk about beating her in a room so she will drop out. Both forms of hate are equally bad in my opinion. They both hurt society. I don’t think you can quantify which one is worse. And what would be the point? That doesn’t further the discussion about how to end it.

I think we are living in historic times in terms of this election, no matter who you like. I think Hillary Clinton and so many feminists are right that the media is sexist and that society as a whole is sexist. It’s true! And our society is still racist as well. There’s still the a lot that can be fixed in both arenas. I just wish that Clinton could have handled the issue with the kind of class that Obama has in regards to race. At least she has gotten the issue out there. And all of it is worth talking about.

2 thoughts on “Is the media more sexist or racist? Does it matter?

  1. You almost lost me at Clinton using the issue of sexism and playing it wrong. And then you gave the comparison of Obama and the reverend/racism thing, and… Yeah, you’re right.
    It still pisses me off how blatantly sexist people still are. But you’re right, Clinton coulda been classier with it.

  2. perhaps the most unfortunate thing about all this is that when you are the wronged person (through sexism, racism, etc), you have to be the classier person — not the person who wronged you.

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