Women & The Year of Quitting

“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 ladies take a seat this year.

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

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.

Michele Bachmann

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?

Gabrielle Giffords

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. This is a disastrous message to be sending, especially at this time, when sexism and misogyny have been ramped up to such a degree that we are now going backwards in terms of women’s progress. What Giffords has is an opportunity like no other politician today: The country owes it to her, because of her immense suffering, to wait her healing out. So why would she quit?

In interviews, two things stand out: her continued recovery, and her grief over the people who were killed that day. Both are understandable, and my discussion here is not meant as a personal judgment of her choices, but rather an exploration of the implications of them because of her status as a pubic figure. Yet it’s difficult to reconcile what I know about the women from history who faced enormous violence for the choices they wanted to make, choices that led directly to Rep. Giffords getting the opportunity she did to serve her country as an elected official, and Giffords’ choice. The country has plenty of time for her to heal, and she could easily win re-election just based on what she’s gone through. No one on the right side of the aisle would dare run a serious campaign against her. She may have been the only unbeatable candidate in 2012.

The area of violence against women is one of the most important issues in the feminist constellation of issues. Women will never make the inroads they want to make as long as they are willing to accept violence as a way to force them out of the game. This is something that Alice Paul knew very well, and the reason she created the Silent Sentinels, so they could absorb that vitriol & violence in public and change public perception of it because it could no longer be hidden.

This is where Rep. Giffords could have done her most important work–especially because I believe she was targeted because she was a woman. Instead, she’s chosen to accept her party’s line that it was narrow partisan political discourse that drove a madman with ideas on the political spectrum as diverse and wide ranging as birds on the planet to target her. It was Sarah Palin’s fault. Sadly, Giffords has complicated her partisanized rhetoric of victimization with a can’t-do attitude that will most likely serve as a default model for women in politics for years. The end message is: Just shoot her; if you don’t kill her, she’ll quit. Win!

That may seem harsh, but it is the perception of some in the public, and certainly this message is not lost on men in our culture who believe that by any means necessary is an acceptable political approach. While I understand and support her right to make her own decisions, I also think that there is an incredible missed opportunity here due to a dishonest, misleading, and sexist political frame. Not one she created, mind you, but she is buying it.

Karen Handel

But of course it’s not just elected office from which women are being driven by the neosexism unleashed by the Obama campaign and now so accepted in our culture. Women can’t even be allowed to make choices about what to do in positions of power without being challenged and drummed right out of the business. Take a look at Karen Handel, former Susa G. Komen executive, who was the favorite scapegoat for the Komen-Planned Parenthood debacle. After a couple of weeks of being hounded by the press over withholding a $400,000 grant from Planned Parenthood, Handel resigned after media bigwigs targeted her and framed her as the driver of the choice to break with PP.

In her first interview, she offered a rebuttal, suggesting this is ridiculous point of view, saying:

“…to suggest that I had the sole authority is just absurd. The process was vetted. The policies were vetted at all the appropriate levels in the organization.”

But let’s take a closer look at that interview, shall we?

She uses a keyword: Coercion. This is exactly what’s driving this dynamic. She makes the right argument, that Komen had every right to pursue whatever business plan they chose and which they think may benefit the organization. However, she also clearly, and sadly, caves to the coercion. She even declined a severance package! How many executive men would do that?

Conclusion

From Sarah Palin to Gabrielle Giffords to Karen Handel, women of all political stripes are under attack in a culture that has ratcheted up sexism in the process and wake of electing the nation’s first African American president. What does that say about us as a nation? Even as I write this article exploring the ways that sexism is working to shut women out of positions of power, the nation’s Assistant Sexist-in-Chief, million dollar donor Bill Maher is in the New York Times telling folks to keep it up with the sexism and if you don’t like it, just tune it out. He’s telling his fans to stop apologizing about it, already. The show is over, the curtains are down, we can quit excoriating this crap and resume our normal operating procedures.

Except we can’t, because as you can see, there are real world effects to the flourishing of sexist rhetorical attacks and the dismissive attitudes of universally privileged men in the press, and the sliver of women chosen to compliment them. This is the media today and it’s an embarrassing representation of our country and in no way resembles the much-lauded fourth estate role media should play. We must keep beating this drum, talking about it, confronting people over it, and refusing generally to remain silent. And as the opening quote suggests, we owe it to our daughters, nieces, granddaughters, etc. to fight this fight for them. We owe it to the women of today to let them know that we have their backs and we expect them not to give up, not to let this phenomenon work, and to plan ways to disempower the dynamic of sexism.

Cross-posted from P&L.

About Woke Lola

Bitch, please.
This entry was posted in 2012 Elections, Sexism and Misogyny. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Women & The Year of Quitting

  1. votermom says:

    Thanks for cross-posting!

  2. DeniseVB says:

    Speaketh and thou shall receive ! Thanks for xposting 😀

    Because I’m never happy, will Amy let you put this on the TNA ? 😛

    • Lola-at-Large says:

      I thought of that, but I think the inclusion of Giffords would give her pause.

      • DeniseVB says:

        It’s the Giffords part that put me over the moon. We all love Gabby and her heroic struggle. I do think she was pushed aside after Obama was done with her. Afterall he called for a new civility, had many photo ops before he tossed her under the bus with the rest of us. Same happened to her husband “blame Sarah” Mark. Now he’s under BO’s bus too.

        Wake up America, was what I took away from your brilliant post 😀

        • Erica says:

          Me too. Not just Wake Up, but also Look Below the Surface Narrative and Do Something!

          I am sick on the diet of political pablum I swallowed all these years….

          Women are at the bottom of the pile, time and time again. It amazes me. I’ve been so angry about the unleashed misogyny that 0 created and condoned in 2008 and the horrible climate of hatred and ridicule we’ve been dealing with ever since. I hold him responsible. “The Great Uniter,” certainly did unite people when it comes to attacking and undermining political opponents, and even as you noted, women on one’s own “side,” like Giffords–using the tools of racism (or race cards), misogyny, and hatred, rather than the tools of discourse and debate.

          Lola, you’re writing about it with insight and courage, and I hope you keep it up. My question for myself is: how do I best carry on the fight against this pernicious evil in my own daily life?

          Great posts and comments here lately on this topic, much appreciated and hope the conversation and ideas keep flowing.

        • jjmtacoma says:

          I thought I remembered a similar situation… James Brady.

          From Wikipedia:
          “Brady was unable to continue as Ronald Reagan’s press secretary, but he retained that title for the duration of Reagan’s presidency, with Larry Speakes and Marlin Fitzwater performing the job on an “acting” or “deputy” basis.”

          Why couldn’t she serve her term?

  3. T says:

    Karen Handel had quite a history of wanting to destroy PP, you have to admit. She wasn’t just a convenient scapegoat. She came on board and they cut it. She had a hell of a lot to do with it…as did Nancy Brinker who also should quit.

    And the grant from Komen to PP, $670,000. The $400,000 you’re thinking of is the amount that PP raised over the issue in just 24 hours.

    It’s a lot of money any way you look at it….170,000 breast exams.

    I have less than no sympathy for Karen Handel.

  4. yttik says:

    Great post!

    This whole thing reminds me of bullies in grade school. They harass, intimidate, threaten, until they finally get somebody to quit, and then they run around calling them a quitter! I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, “You are the result of five billion years of evolution Act like it!”Oh I wish.

    I think what you said about Giffords is true. I don’t blame her, but I am kind of disappointed that she allowed herself to become a Dem mascot. She could have led the way and spoken out about violence against women or become an advocate for traumatic brain injuries that many of our troops are currently dealing with. Her potential to do something really powerful was there, but she was reduced to nothing but a sound byte. Again, I don’t blame her, I think the Dem party really exploited her for political purposes. In the end she’ll be thrown under the bus with the rest of us.

  5. Fantastic post! Honk, honk!

  6. I will tell you this—–although I am not Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, etc., I have been in that kind of hot seat a couple of times and nothing——-NOTHING——can prepare you for what you have to put up with when that sexist onslaught comes. Having run as a Democratic candidate for Congress twice and the Ohio House once against entrenched male incumbents (and I had a pot full of money), the flack you have to take is almost beyond description. You get it from men, you get it from women, EVERYONE gets to weigh in in their own way as to who do you think you are running for office. It is amazing. No one is ever qualified enough, and if you display brass balls in the process, you get a whole new level of blowback. It becomes a question of them absolutely destroying you—-in any way they can. A case of reverse whack-a-mole. And they keep coming at you over and over and over again. You get death threats, your tires get slashed, your family gets threatened. One of my first meetings when I decided to run for Congress was with the Ohio Democratic Party chair, Harry Meshell. He said to me in 1993, “Honey—-you’d better go over and talk to your husband’s bosses pronto cause you don’t want to do anything to get him fired.”

    Part of the way through my 6 year process, my husband was eventually transferred 400 miles away in hopes that i would drop out of the race. We had a commuter marriage for two and a half years before we resolved that issue.

    In the end, it wears you down to the point of thinking why go through the trouble. Why destroy your life. Especially when you have children and bills and are not prominent, you have some really stark choices to make. After my time in the arena, I worked behind the scenes just as enthusiastically, raising money, teaching others all over the country how to do it, and lots of other things.

    When 2008 happened, I was the first voice to go public nationally against the party and the blowback was unbelievable!! I got a group of people together and gave a speech telling the party that if they didn’t do something to stop the sexism, we were all going to bolt the party and vote for McCain. Then immediately I was on Bill O’Reilley’s show and made the rounds of all of the TV shows for a couple of months.I may have been the first voice, but immediately lots of others came out of the woodwork and joined me. Being in that harsh spotlight reminded me of how much you have to give up as a woman in America making a stand. The death threats were the hardest. The hate mail, the hate calls, the prominent people screaming at me, the friend’s I lost, the people who to this day still won’t speak to me, the death threat against my son.

    We are all waiting for someone strong enough to withstand all of this, but that person perhaps doesn’t exist. When someone makes a stand, we all have to be in it with her. It will require the collective strength of many many brass balled women to get one to break through. Circle the wagon——you know?

    • Lola-at-Large says:

      Cynthia,

      This is AB. Glad to see you commenting here lately and offering your experience. You have been through so much! And I thank you from the bottom of my feminine heart. Thanks goodness for women like you!

    • That’s frick’ing insane and sad has hell. Sorry you had to go through that crap.

    • yttik says:

      “It will require the collective strength of many many brass balled women to get one to break through. Circle the wagon——you know?”

      Absolutely! There is strength in numbers.

      For years I watched Dem women run out of races and forced to drop out, and be harassed even by other Dems. It wasn’t until Hillary ran that I finally snapped and decided I just couldn’t watch it happen anymore.

    • HELENK says:

      thank you for your courage. I am glad that you still keep working to teach those who come in back of you what to expect and how to handle it. Too many women forget that others need a helping hand to suceed

  7. Cindy says:

    What if Giffords is simply an honest politician? Yes, Gabby could have finished off her term without setting foot in Congress one more time. That isn’t in the personality which Giffords has shown us in the past. When she decided to run for Congress for the first time, she resigned her office in the Arizona legislature because she felt she couldn’t do both. This was despite the fact that if she’d stayed just a couple of months longer she’d have gotten a pension for life. Giffords has integrity. She came to the conclusion that she wouldn’t be able to effectively run for re-election and do the job she wanted in Congress. If that was the case then just place holding isn’t her style.

    Giffords was shot by a mentally ill person. He didn’t target Giffords because she was a woman or a progressive (she isn’t) or anything else. He targeted her because he didn’t get the mental health help that he needed.

    I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Giffords. She may well become an advocate for traumatic brain injury or violence or run for office again. However to do that she first needs her voice back, literally. The aphasia that she has as a result of her injury simply takes a very long time to resolve. She’s doing 3 hours of therapy on it each day and I look forward to her coming back to political office as soon as she has her voice back. We need more honest women politicians with integrity.

  8. Brava!

    I just want to give a shout out to one woman who will not give up the fight. That is Phyllis Chesler. The woman takes no prisoners and has been stabbed in the back by her own (both Feminists and Jews) dozens of times. As she will be once again, for this:

    http://www.wnd.com/2012/03/slaughtering-kids-over-a-burqa-ban/

    Only mention this because…. it’s hard to see the folks that are fighting the good fight and being marginaliized for it. And we need to support them!

    Go Phyllis. And Go Lola at Large!!

  9. foxyladi14 says:

    thanks for the Great post! 🙂

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