“The young women of today, free to study, to speak, to write, to choose their occupation, should remember that every inch of this freedom was bought for them at a great price… The debt that each generation owes to the past it must pay to the future.”
-Abigail Scott Duniway, suffrage organizer in the Pacific Northwest
The latest year of the woman quickly morphed into the year of quitting, didn’t it? I blame the neosexism I’ve written about before, that resurgence of masculine vengeance that rears its ugly head any time women try and succeed in making inroads into what are traditionally considered “boys’ clubs.” Politics certainly falls in that category, what with approximately 85% of the field being staked out by penised-Americans.
Journalism is no better and these two things are related. The media is the boxing ring in which many of these fights get aired. We certainly saw that with Hillary Clinton, and as with several other women, she is herself saying she’ll exit stage left at the end of this term. Though there has been a broad awakening of the feminine mind to the realities of sexist discourse and actions in our political arena, the effects of three solid years of unchained sexism and misogyny have had their effect: Women are quitting, or not even trying, in droves, which threatens the hard-won ground we women have already staked out for ourselves.
So who are these women and why did they quit? Is my thesis correct that it is the influence of sexism from powerful masculine constituencies that have driven them out? Or are we to take the gentler road to judgment and discuss the “personal choices” of these women? Let’s take a look at each case study to see if we can answer these and other questions.
Sarah Palin is a trendsetter, there’s no doubt about that. So there’s little surprise that she was the first to give up in what I’m cheekily referring to as the year of the quitting. After priming the electoral pump for more than 2 years, she made it official in early October that she would not be running for president. Palin has been under sexist siege for as long as she’s been on the national stage, but she’s made quite a bit of money off it too. She has been able to insulate herself to a degree with this wealth, and really had nothing left to lose so far as the media was concerned.
So, having amassed a small fortune, built a powerful constituency, and learned the hazards of the media, she decided not to even get near the boxing ring? Why? And what message does this send to women not yet in sight of the ring? Is she hoping for a win down the road? Perhaps. But I can’t even begin to express the disappointment of women (and quite a few men) across the country who looked to her as a role model for fighting back against unfairness, for not letting the fools succeed in shutting her up, only to find, yes, they did succeed in shutting her up. And in the eyes of some, she let them. That’s a terrible blow to her image and to the more moderate branches of her fanbase. She’ll have to put real clout up next time if she is to succeed.
Michelle Bachmann quit pretty early on in her presidential campaign, just after Iowa. Why? Could it be that she was hit with sexist attacks about her headaches, ridiculously calling into her question her ability to lead (as if no presidents ever had health problems–hell, Garfield was in a coma for two months and Wilson stroked out at the end of his presidency)? Or maybe it was the way she was rhetorically beat up for accurately reporting John Wayne’s Iowa connections, but which several men in the media deliberately misconstrued her meaning to apply to the serial killer John Wayne Gacy? Maybe it was the way the mostly male media hounded her for “gaffes” that were no worse than the “gaffes” of men in the race, which were not reported on as predominantly. Maybe it was the label “crazy eyes” and all the pictures those mostly male editors chose to post on every article of her that appeared. Or maybe it was just the way so many people, buying the media hype without thinking it through clearly, just accepted despite all evidence to the contrary that she was “stupid.”
This last may be the most offensive. Anytime a man wants to disempower a woman he has two immediate choices to make about the misogynistic arsenal strapped to his back: Do I call her crazy or stupid?
I expect to take the most flack for including Gabrielle Giffords. The woman was shot in the head, after all, by a mentally deranged lunatic with no discernible political leanings. If anyone had a right to quit, it’s her, right? I mean, personal health in the wake of a tragedy like this is what “personal choice” is all about, yes? I’m willing to entertain that her decision was the best one for her and her family.
What I’m not willing to do is ignore the message this decision sends, because it sends a powerful one: that violence is all it takes to stop a woman in her tracks. (more…)