Broadsheet, The Blog

Two Lady Artists with Bees in Their Bonnets

10 May 2008

Clinton, the Lady Fighter

We have been consistently annoyed at the mainstream media's enthusiastic spinning of white voters' support for Hillary Clinton as attributable to the racism of working class white men, with mostly only the blogosphere and Hillary's supporters arguing that Barack Obama's popularity is attributable to voters' sexism (not least the sexism of young "post-feminist" women). Both arguments are cynical and unproven (though perhaps not entirely false), but the mainstream media's preference for one narrative over the other must mean something.

So Susan Faludi's Op-Ed in today's New York Times is a welcome change to the narrative, although we're not sure we completely agree with her argument. Faludi attributes Hillary Clinton's success among white males to her tough fighting style, a style that is new for women politicians.

For virtually all of American political history, the strong female contestant has been cast not as the player but the rules keeper, the purse-lipped killjoy who passes strait-laced judgment on feral boy fun. The animosity toward the rules keeper is fueled by the suspicion that she (and in American life, the regulator is inevitably coded feminine, whatever his or her sex) is the agent of people so privileged that they don’t need to fight, people who can dominate more decisively when the rules are decorous. American political misogyny is inflamed by anger at this clucking overclass: who are they to do battle by imposing rectitude instead of by actually doing battle?


It’s the unforeseen precedent of an unprecedented candidacy: our first major female presidential candidate isn’t doing what men always accuse women of doing. She’s not summoning the rules committee over every infraction. (Her attempt to rewrite the rules for Michigan and Florida are less a timeout than rough play.) Not once has she demanded that the umpire stop the fight. Indeed, she’s asking for more unregulated action, proposing a debate with no press-corps intermediaries.

If anyone has been guarding the rules this election, it’s been the press, which has been primly thumbing the pages of Queensberry and scolding her for being “ruthless” and “nasty,” a “brawler” who fights “dirty.”

But while the commentators have been tut-tutting, Senator Clinton has been converting white males, assuring them that she’s come into their tavern not to smash the bottles, but to join the brawl.

Faludi conveniently overlooks Hillary's more wimpy campaign moments, such as when she accused her male debate opponents of "piling on," and choked up on camera while complaining that it's really hard to keep going every day under such pressure. (Personally I thought those tears were real, but by Faludi's argument, could perhaps even these tears be cynically attributed to her willingness to use every possible tactic in a rough fight?)

Meanwhile, if her success with white male voters wasn't attributable to racism before, she seems to now be actively be courting the racist vote. Bob Herbert paraphrases her most desperate recent campaign message as "He can’t win! Don’t you understand? He’s black! He’s black!"


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