This election cycle has been an extremely ugly one for women, but in many ways, it’s giving me flashbacks to 2008. Remember 2008, when Hillary Clinton was repeatedly trashed by the left and the right seemingly primarily for the sin of being a woman with the audacity to run for president — rather than on the grounds of her policy issues, platform, record, or other substantive things? And remember 2008, when Sarah Palin was roundly mocked and treated as an ‘airhead,’ with people making cynical comments to the effect that the Republicans chose her as a candidate merely to capture ‘the female vote’? Both women were roundly discounted in really unpleasant and sexist ways.
And that includes by the left — in fact, wait, hold on a second, I could have sworn…
Calling Sarah Palin ‘Caribou Barbie’ is sexist. Referring to her looks is sexist. Making fun of her hairstyle, accent, and fashion is classist, but it also smacks of sexism (e.g. ‘women in politics should dress/act more fashionably’). Depicting her in a sexualized relationship with McCain is sexist.
For that matter, in 2014 I warned that we’d be seeing a tide of sexism aimed at Clinton, and thus far, it has been borne out. It’s not just that people make sexist comments about Clinton, but also her supporters — or even people who highlight the fact that people are being sexist but aren’t even supporting Clinton. What’s particularly frustrating is that a lot of this sexism is coming from the left, which is always quick to label sexism the rest of the time while it decries the horrors of the patriarchy and demands gender equality. Apparently sexism is all fun and games when it comes to politics, though, when people lose all sense of perspective or ideology in favour of viciously attacking women simply because they are women.
This comes up every time I see a woman running for office. Instead of engaging with the candidate’s politics and other issues, people choose instead to go after her gender. And when people point out that this is super-sexist, they’re told that they are ‘making it all about gender’ when it’s…impossible to not make it about gender, because other people are. Any kind of reasonable conversation about how a politician would actually perform in office gets completely derailed because people are too busy being jerks. This is something I certainly expect from the right — which has really been going to town on Clinton — but it’s also happening on the left.
And now that Sarah Palin is back in the political ring, people are really doubling down. Some people on the left seem to have the good graces to realise that even if they don’t support Clinton, they should maybe not hurl sexist rhetoric at her because it’s not the best way to articulate why they don’t support her as a candidate — though in some cases it’s very clear that people on all points of the political spectrum really do just dislike Clinton because she is a woman and they think women don’t belong in high office. No matter what they claim. The inability to muster any substantive criticisms while resorting to a firestorm of sexist rhetoric suggests to me that people don’t actually have any political points to bring to the discussion.
But Palin, oh Palin. Once again, I am forced to ride to your defense, and this pains me more than I can say, because you are advancing a whole slew of regressive social policies in addition to stanning for Trump, who is pretty much the definition of a terrible human being. (Okay, fine, you want substantive reasons why I dislike Trump? He’s promoting extremely regressive immigration policy that could hurt us domestically and abroad. He doesn’t support reproductive freedoms. He’s a die hard for states’ rights and the erosion of federal anti-discrimination laws and other protections designed to protect the commons. He’s monstrously sexist, attacking Clinton with pointed misogynistic comments and reserving a little extra sexism on the side for the women he interacts with in pretty much every other setting. He supports the maintenance — and really, the extension — of the gap between rich and poor. He’s racist. There’s a start.)
In other words, I don’t support Palin in 2016 any more than I supported Palin in 2008. I have serious problems with her political views and where she’s choosing to throw her support. However, her gender has absolutely nothing to do with my dislike. Yet, the left at large has risen up in a throwback to 2008, tagging her with all kinds of absolutely disgusting sexist and misogynistic rhetoric. Instead of sticking to the problems with the policy she advances (and oversaw during her time as governor of Alaska), they’re going for the cheap shots, targeting her appearance, for example, and dismissing her once again as a floof-brained doofus who doesn’t belong in Grownup Politics.
I’m tired of this. I expect this kind of nastiness from the conservative right. The left, on the other hand, should know better. Should be doing better. Should be able to take the high road on this subject and stick to engaging with candidates on the basis of issues, not gender. Palin’s gender is irrelevant to her political activities, and the fact that the left feels obliged to keep namechecking the fact that she’s a woman is really chilling. Neoliberalism is thriving in the United States, and this is yet another example of it — culturally, the left considers itself to be an arbiter of moral righteousness, but it can’t bring itself to actually live up to its own promises.
Image: Sarah Palin in Dover, New Hampshire, WEBN-TV, Flickr