(By the way, before I get into this, I want to put my cards on the table: I voted for Obama in the California primary. So this has got nothing to do with which candidate I support, and everything to do with patterns in our language and our society that bother me, a lot, regardless of the individual people involved.)
So, Hillary Clinton, and the increasing stridency of the calls for her to step down before the primary season is over. I understand the impulse. I even agree with some of the reasoning. But the language that people are using disturbs me more every day. Case in point: this post from Wil Wheaton's blog. Now, Wheaton is a blogger who I read semi-regularly and usually like and respect. In this post, he does two things. First, he quotes from a piece which refers to Clinton as the "psycho ex-girlfriend of the Democratic Party", and then he flatly rejects any criticism that the piece might be sexist: "I'm not sexist. This isn't sexist. That's a stupid straw man, and if you try to make that claim, I will point and laugh at you."
If Wil Wheaton feels the need to track me down in order to point and laugh at me, that's fine, but the fact is that the "psycho ex-girlfriend" line is sexist. I cringed the minute I read it, and nothing in the rest of the post convinced me that it was okay to stop cringing. The lone commenter who dissents says pretty much what I would like to say, and so I quote:
The metaphor evokes a trope in sexual politics, that of the irrational girl who cannot accept that a relationship is over. Labeling, categorizing, pigeon-holing someone in this way "he's a geek, she's a slut, he's a pig, she's cow" is at once appealing to a fragment of truth, and also making the target controllable.
If they are controllable, they are marginalizable. And they can be dismissed. The problem with controlling and dismissing Hillary using a trope from sexual politics is that it moves her from the realm of discourse and debate into the realm of sex (as in "getting it on"). And labeling her as batshit crazy in an ex-girlfriend sense means that she is not only sexualized, but her sexuality can be controlled.
And that's the heart and soul of sexism.
You said it, Backpacking Dad.
If this were an isolated incident, that would be one thing. But it's not. Sexist attitudes and language have shaped attitudes toward Hillary Clinton from the moment she appeared on the political scene. Shakesville, the feminist blog I read most often these days, has a feature called the Hillary Clinton Sexism Watch, and it's up to part eighty-nine. There are clear patterns. Promoted by people who should know better. And it will never stop unless people who recognize them stand up and say "No more."
One last point. Let's say that Clinton and Obama's roles are reversed: Clinton is leading, her lead narrow but with momentum on her side, and it's mathematically possible but increasingly unlikely that Obama will catch her. Would so many people be demanding that Obama drop out for the good of the party and to promote party unity? Maybe so. But even if they were, would anyone be calling Obama the "psycho ex-boyfriend of the Democratic Party"?
Finally, I can't even believe that I have to say this, but of course there has been racism involved in this campaign as well. It happens, and will continue to happen, and it's not any better than the sexism. But I don't think that calling out one form of discriminatory and offensive behavior invalidates any other.