It all comes together

In the six months since launching this blog, I’ve written a lot about bullying in the academic workplace.  I’ve also written a lot about the 2008 Democratic primaries (and Hillary Clinton’s candidacy in particular) because I’m a women’s historian and the author of a book on gendered language and rhetoric by profession, and a political junkie by avocation.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the interconnections between these phenomena in the bullying of Hillary Clinton by the corporate media and many Democrats.  (Ann Bartow at Feminist Law Profs pulled together a lot of useful links contributing to the following discussion–see especially Erica Barnett’s catalog of the offensive language deployed by Democrats against Clinton.  See also this entertaining new video by the Women’s Media Center, via Shakesville.)

Bullies, like misogynist trolls in the corporate media and even among Democrats and so-called “liberals” and “progressives,” count on the complicity (or at least the silence) of the majority so that they can work their evil without interference.  Workplace bullies are also in the business of controlling the majority through their bullying of a minority:  their implied message is, “keep your head down, or you could be next.”  Finally, the silent (or enabling) majority convince themselves (falsely) that the victim brought on the bullying herself, and that they don’t need to take action because it’s really the fault of the victim, not of the bullies.  This last parallel seems particularly significant.

cu-527.JPGGo to any discussion thread (even on feminist blogs) following a post on the rampant misogyny within the anti-Clinton forces and/or the corporate media, and early on you’ll see a commenter pop up to proclaim that “I’m not against all women, just this woman,”  followed by a long list of Clinton’s political and personal errors that the commenter finds unforgivable.  I’ve had this conversation with a few of my friends.  (As I have pointed out before, these errors when committed by male presidential candidates get a passAs I have noted before in discussing inequality in the application of tenure standards, women faculty are held to dramatically higher standards than men faculty (while being paid less all the while, natch.)  Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen the same unannounced, secret standards for the Presidency applied to candidate Hillary Clinton that have been applied to no other candidate this year. 

The funny thing is that a majority of the Democratic voters haven’t bought into the media’s preferred narrative about Clinton.  At least half of them see that she’s ready, willing, and more than able, and they are willing to give her a chance.  That’s the silver lining, such as it is, but ironically the support of actual voters isn’t the most important factor in choosing the Democratic nominee.

Teh Ruelz

Since my friendly hints in some recent posts about keeping the comments here on topic and specific to the points raised in my posts were apparently too subtle, this blog is now instituting formal ruelz for comments and commenters.  (I always wondered why some blogs have elaborate and detailed rules pages–now I know!)  Since all but two of you have always been extremely well-behaved, I feel a little sad at having to do this.  It’s like catching a cheater in a class–you’re pretty sure that there was only one offender, but you’re forced to assume that there might be more in the future.  But, since traffic here has jumped recently, it’s perhaps best that we all start at the same place.

As most of you know, this blog is only lightly pseudonymous.  Anyone who clicks on “About Historiann” and has the Google can find a wealth of information about my non-virtual professional life.  Other academic bloggers make different decisions, but I thought it was best that people know who they are dealing with, since my posts are informed by my academic training and fields of expertise.  You are all free to be pseudonymous here if you choose, but because this blog is linked to my life in the “straight world,” I prefer to keep everything on the up and up here: 

  1. Historiann is my blog.  This seems obvious to me, but apparently it’s not to some people.  Please note the tag line in the header above:  “History and sexual politics, 1492-present.”  When you comment here, you’re a guest.  I try to make everyone feel welcome, but I am not obligated to comment extensively on issues that are important to you, and you have no right to demand that I do so here.
  2. This is a feminist/womanist blog.  Non-feminists are free to comment so long as you follow the rules, but please note that when I post about bias against women, people of color, and GLBTQ people, it’s more than a little obnoxious to start out a comment by saying, “well, as a white man, I’ve been discriminated against too.”  I’m sure there are blogs out there that are all about the problems of the downtrodden white man, so please share your concerns there.  This is not the place for you.
  3. Please keep your comments relatively brief and on topic.  400-500 word essays are for the op-ed pages or posts on your blog.  They’re not appropriate for the comments on my blog.  Some exceptions will apply occasionally, but pay attention as to how your comments are recieved by other commenters and by me.  If you’re not generating a lot of discussion about your ideas, posting an even longer and more belligerent comment demanding that we respond to you is probably not the way to go.  (I’m just sayin’.)  UPDATE:  See Dance’s comment below.  If you find that you’re repeating yourself, maybe it’s time to acknowledge that the discussion has run aground. 
  4. Be respectful of the other commenters and me.  Pointed questions, challenges, and spirited debate are welcome, but attacks on people’s integrity, reading comprehension, and intellectual capacity will get you a one-way ticket to my spam filter.

One last thing:  I love my commenters–some of you are friends, some of you I know only through blogs and comments, while others of you are enigmas whose identities are complete mysteries to me.  I’ve enjoyed and learned a lot from you and from some of the conversations we’ve had in the comments here (and on your blogs too.)  I’m sorry if this post seems like a wet blanket–let’s shake this thing out and let it dry at the beach, since it’s Memorial Day Weekend, m’kay? 

It's a twistah!

Thanks to all of the friends and family who called or e-mailed yesterday and today to see if famille Historiann was OK after the big tornado touched down not too far from Potterville, Colorado–Indyanna, Regius, Said Friend, etc.  (Our neighboring town of Windsor got creamed, however, and sadly, a man in an RV died in a campground in Potterville.  Fortunately, it was all just property damage in Windsor, without loss of life.)  We were pretty clueless in our corner of town.  The power went out for about 10-15 minutes a little after noon, but that was the worst we suffered.

There were more tornados sighted in the area this afternoon again.  This is really strange, since we live close enough to the mountains (in what they call the “rain shadow”) that we miss out on a lot of the weather that hits the Eastern plains.  We have occasional tornado warnings, but rarely does anything touch down this close to the mountains.  Rest assured, I’ll keep the radio on this weekend so that we can stay abreast of weather news.

What's wrong with this picture?

Just to illustrate and amplify the point in the previous post, click here to find another shockingly offensive racist and misogynist image from the 2008 primary campaign (H/t Diary of an Anxious Black Woman.)  I won’t put that image on my blog–Anxious B. has a different position, but I’ve got a weak stomach for images that exploit lynching.  See also the commentary at Black Women Vote, and What About Our Daughters?

Are you back now?  Good.  Now, the individual who posted that image at the famous “liberal” Hillary-hating home base,, meant to criticize people who are critical of Michelle Obama.  However, when you create a sexually and racially exploitative image in the course of criticizing other people for their racism and sexism, you’re replicating the exploitation, not calling it out.  Mmmmm…misogyny:  tastes great to supposedly liberal dudes!  And now, with extra racism!  (On what planet do people think this is acceptable?  Oh, yeah:  planet Wehatehillaryshe’sabitch.)  This is why misogyny is wrong, whether from the right, the left, or the corporate media, and whether it benefits “your” candidate or not.

Well, as Historiann predicted, it looks like Michelle Obama is being prepared for induction in the uppity candidate’s consort/First Ladies’ club, population 1.

Hark! A voice from the future, today.

Andrew Stephen in The New Statesman.  Just read it.  (H/t to Corrente.)

The one point I don’t agree with is his claim that Obama is “perhaps the least qualified presidential nominee ever.”  That seems to be hyperbolic at best, living as we are in the shadows of the wreckage of the George W. Bush Presidency.  (Obama, wasn’t a drunken partyboy until the age of 40, and didn’t have a father whose wealth and connections he could coast on.)  But I think Stephen’s analysis of this primary election season’s dynamic is dead on.  And, I suspect his prediction that “history. . . will look back on the past six months as an example of America going through one of its collectively deranged episodes” will come true, sooner rather than later.

While I am not an American political historian (as the field is traditionally defined), the political uses of gendered rhetoric are an important part of my intellectual agenda.  My first book was a study of how ideas and language about gender and the family were used to describe people’s observations and experiences of cross-cultural warfare and politics in seventeenth and eighteenth-century North America.  So, I know quite a lot transhistorically and cross-culturally about the ways in which ideas about gender are interwoven into political discourses in the modern West.  (And, as an “early modernist,” please understand that “modern” here means post-1492.)  People reveal themselves in the language they use, consciously or unconsciously.  Both Cotton Mather and Chris Matthews are spokesmen for their time and place as people favored by an eminent position in the culture.  We should listen to the words they say, not because they’re necessarily intelligent or “true,” but because they can tell us a lot about ourselves.

In many ways, the misogyny directed at Hillary Clinton this year–the blowback of which will probably be felt by women in all walks of life for years to come in thousands of discouraging ways–is part of an old story best documented by Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler.  Somerby has been on the case of the insular corporate media since 1999, when he noticed the power of the preferred media narrative about Al Gore’s candidacy for the Presidency, and its curious imperviousness to the facts.  And as Somerby points out regularly–you’ll never see or hear the media tell the truth about its own role in shaping our political and cultural discourses.  (John Judis’s recent admission in The New Republic that the media hated Clinton and picked Obama as the Democratic winner is one of the few times when we’re permitted to see The Great Oz operating behind the flimsy curtain.)

In my adult life, the corporate media has repeatedly gone off the rails and created an alternative universe that bore little resemblance to reality.  First, in 1993, it was the cheerleading for NAFTA, and the insistence that fair trade would lift all boats equally.  Then in 1998-99, it was with l’affaire Lewinskyand the impeachment of Bill Clinton, in which the corporate media convinced itself early on that Clinton was a goner.  Then in 1999-2000, it was the internet bubble, and Dow 36,000, and the breathless insistence that the U.S. economy was a perpetual wealth-making machine that had figured out a way to grow forever.  And, of course, we were told what a vile fabulist Al Gore was.  When Bill Bradley failed to beat Gore despite Bradley’s favorable press advantage, the media entrusted the task of destroying Gore to George W. Bush.  The consequences of this media echo-chamber/bandwagon became more serious than ever, when in September 2001 the corporate media told us that Bush was Winston Churchill reborn, the greatest “war President” ever.  With the runup to the invasion of Iraq in 2002-03, no dissenting voices were permitted to be heard, either from expert commentators or among the obedient stenographers in the press corps themselves.  This bubble was only burst by the malign–nay criminal–indifference and incompetence of the Bush administration’s response to Hurricaine Katrina in 2005.  This winter, with the nutcrackers, the comparisons to monstrous fictional characters, the unwarranted attacks and blatant disrespect (“you’re likeable enough,” “Sweetie,”), all backed up in perfect harmony by the “iron my shirt” and the “bros before hos” chorus, it all felt too sadly familiar. 

In every one of these cases, not only was the corporate media wrong, but in most cases it was wrong in ways that were disastrous for people who aren’t the blow-dried, pancaked, made men (and women) of the corporate media.  That is to say, all but about 500 Americans.  All of them have high-paying jobs, with health insurance.  None of them lost their jobs because of NAFTA, or lost their pension plans and 401K’s as a result of the stock market bubble bursting.  None of them marched off to fight a war designed more to prop up George W. Bush’s poll numbers and help him win re-election than to make any part of the world safer, freer, or more just.  None of them saw their houses and families drown in New Orleans.  This year, with Bush’s approval ratings in the toilet, the corporate media decided that it didn’t want Hillary Clinton to be the next President.  That may be the decision Democrats would have come to on their own through the primary process–but her tremendous success at playing it to a draw suggests that with even occasionally fair press coverage, she may well have been triumphant.  Sadly, Democrats haven’t defended one of their own candidates–too many of us stood by and enjoyed the drubbing Hillary was taking because it benefited our preferred candidate, and many of us piled on too, repeating and amplifying some of the most vicious lies about Clinton that the “vast right-wing conspiracy” ever dreamed up.  As I have argued here repeatedly since February, that was short-sighted at best, given Somberby’s documentation of the preferred corporate media narrative for all Democratic presidential candidates for the past thirty years.  And yet, we have let the corporate media choose our candidate, when they have been so wrong, so consistently and disastrously wrong for the past fifteen years.

This post is not an argument for the flawless perfection of Clinton as a candidate, nor is it arguing that Clinton is the only or most important victim of this poisonous misogyny, nor is it suggesting that all Obama supporters are guilty.  (Historiann has said repeatedly that there are plenty of good reasons to prefer Obama for the Democratic nomination.  This blog has never trashed him, but rather has come to his and Michelle Obama’s defense several times.)  It’s a Jeremiad lamenting the fact that once again, Democrats have permitted a corrupt and wrong-headed media to select our candidate instead of insisting on the sovereignty of Democratic voters, and that we’ve allowed them to do this using language and ideas that the vast majority of us officially repudiate.  (Aren’t we the party for feminists?  Isn’t this party the one that defends women’s bodily sovereignty and civil rights?  Whisky Tango Foxtrot?)  We don’t know yet what all of the consequences will be for this media blanket party for Hillary Clinton in 2008.  We surely know, from bitter experience, what the consequences were for the media takedown of Gore in 1999-2000.  Remind me again:  how’d that work out for us?

UPDATE:  Gee, could this be a problem?  I dunno!  (Via Echidne.)

The consuming pleasures of "Sex and the City"

We’re about to go all Sex, all the time around here, as we begin the final countdown until Sex and the City:  the Movie drops.  If like Historiann, you’ve occasionally thought to yourself, “whatever happened to Sex and the City?”, don’t miss NYC Weboy’s terrific overview of SATC (the TV show)and thoughts on how and why the show changed over time.  (You can find NYC Weboy at his eponymous blog, or over at New Critics.)  NYC Weboy’s thesis is that the show became more about the clothes than the characters:  “Pat Field’s evolutionary costuming wasn’t just a “fifth character” as so many suggest – it was the vehicle for reimagining the whole story as a consumerist fantasy.”  At the same time–and perhaps not coincidentally–the tone of the show was brightened up to make the characters more likable “types” than the individuals who inspired Candace Bushnell’s original columns in the New York Observer.  (Quick aside:  check out the cover of Vogue, featuring SJP wearing a very druggy face and crouched in between “Big”‘s legs.  Not an encouraging omen for the movie!)

I think NYC Weboy is correct–but I’d also humbly like to suggest that the TV show incarnation was always a consumerist fantasy, although I like his point that the materialism accelerated with the brand-name shoe fixation and Alexander McQueen couture miniskirts.  The show was always a consumerist fantasy because the four key women were depicted mostly eating and drinking in restaurants or bars gossiping with each other or meeting men, while effortlessly remaining size 0 or size 2.  It was all about the spending of money on the body, not the getting of the money, too:  the characters were rarely shown working, and problems at work were never developed except as they became problems in the characters’ social and/or sex lives.  Occasionally, the characters would be shown exercising–chatting in a yoga class or jogging in Central Park–but maintaining their sylph-like figures was another kind of work that was rendered strangely invisible. 

In other words, the show was a fantasy about the consuming body–feeding the body, pouring in alcohol, adorning it, giving it sexual pleasure–without the possible consequences that consumption ordinarily leads to (weight gain, debt, alcoholism, pregnancy, and disease).  Carrie Bradshaw even smoked cigarettes!  (Talk about a fantasy of the consuming body–she may quite possibly be the last likeable main character in a TV show who was a smoker.)  With many other women–married women and mothers–their bodies are there for the pleasure and use of others:  husbands, babies, and children all demand satisfaction from the bodies of wives and mothers before the wives and mothers can claim their own pleasures.  No wonder SATC was such an appealing fantasy world for middle-class women.  It was a world in which women’s pleasures came first, and without consequences.

The "New Math"–for girls!



Hillary Clinton won the Kentucky primary yesterday by a whopping 35%.  (That’s right:  with Clinton’s 65 percent to 30 percent, Barack Obama’s percentage of the vote is lower than the gap by which he lost.)  Obama won Oregon by an impressive 16%.  Clinton won more votes and more delegates last night, and yet the headline in the print edition of the Denver Post this morning reads “Obama Edges Closer.”  (The linked on-line edition headline is similar:  “Obama edges closer to nomination.”)  WWTSBQ?

On page 6A, the Post runs an AP story reporting on the three presidential candidates’ fundraising in April:  Obama raised $31 million, Clinton raised $22 million, and McCain raised $18 million.  The headline for the story?  “McCain’s fundraising jumps; Obama still on a roll” (no link available at the Post’s website, but the AP story can be found here.)  Clinton’s surprisingly strong fundraising is disappeared by the headline, although the third paragraph of the story itself reads, “[t]he former first lady raised about $22 million, aided by a stunning $10 million haul raised in the two days following her April 22 primary victory in Pennsylvania. It was her second best fundraising month of the campaign.”  Speaking of money, how about this totally coincidental error in the LA Times today?  (Oops–it’s that darn math for girls again, which means that Clinton’s campaign debt is doubled, but her fundraising ignored!  WWTSBQ?!?)

Clinton has won seven out of thirteen nominating contests in the past two and a half months (Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia, and Kentucky), all but one in medium to large states, all but two by impressive (9% or higher) margins, and a few in total blowouts (35% or higher).  Since becoming the frontrunner and more recently the “presumptive nominee,” Obama has won only six contests since February (Vermont, Mississippi, Wyoming, Guam, North Carolina, and Oregon–3 small states/territories, and 3 medium states).  Meanwhile, SUSA has a poll now that suggests (surprisingly) that Obama would lose North Carolina in November to McCain by 8 points, but Clinton would beat McCain by sixWWTSBQ?

nast-donkey.jpgI guess all of those Obama supporters who panicked in early March were right to demand that Clinton drop out then after all, because she sure has been an a$$-kicking little-donkey-that-could this spring.  (Too bad she didn’t kick it up a notch a month earlier!)  It sure would have been nice for Obama if Clinton had forfeited and let them call the game for him at halftime.  If Obama is indeed the party’s nominee, I hope his losing streak ends in November. 

(No Hillary-hating and nothing O/T in the comments, please!  The subject of this post is the media’s strange inability to permit Clinton’s winning spring to interrupt or revise the preferred narrative, which is that Obama is the winner no matter how often or big he loses, and Clinton is the loser no matter how often or big she wins.  The subject is not what a vile, disgusting, child-eating, warmongering, calculating, unscrupulous, vicious, shrewish, knee-capping, kitchen-sink throwing, ambitious, monstrous f*ck*ng whore you think Clinton is, m’kay?  So you can just keep that garbage a-festerin’ over on your own blogs.)

UPDATE, 5/22/08:  Well, sometimes hacks tell the truth.  Go read Bob Somerby’s analysis of John Judis‘s Clinton “autopsy” (h/t to Correntewire and to Chet Scoville at Shakesville.  Judis actually wrote these sentences: 

Clinton’s second great political mistake lay in how she dealt with Obama’s challenge. Sometime in December, having realized that Obama was going to be a genuine rival for the nomination, she and her campaign decided to go negative on him. They did the usual thing politicians do to each other: They ran attack ads taking his words somewhat out of context (Obama calling Reagan a “transformative politician”); they somewhat distorted old votes (voting “present” in Illinois on abortion bills); and they questioned old associations (Obama’s connection with real estate developer Tony Rezko).

John McCain and Mitt Romney were doing similar things to each other—and Obama did some of it to Clinton, too. But there a was difference between her doing this to Obama and McCain’s doing it to Romney—a difference that eluded Clinton, her husband, and her campaign staff.

*          *          *          *          *

Obama, too, was, and is, history—the first viable African-American presidential candidate. Yes, Hillary Clinton was the first viable female candidate, but it is still different. Race is the deepest and oldest and most bitter conflict in American history—the cause of our great Civil War and of the upheavals of the 1950s and ’60s. And if some voters didn’t appreciate the potential breakthrough that Obama’s candidacy represented, many in the Democratic primaries and caucuses did—and so did the members of the media and Obama’s fellow politicians. And as Clinton began treating Obama as just another politician, they recoiled and threw their support to him.

Now we know that at least according to Judis, 1) the media decided early on that Obama should be the winner because his campaign was “historical,” hers not so much, and 2) they punished Clinton specifically for, you know, running a political campaign.  She didn’t understand the special rules in play only for Obama!  And so the media decided to beat the bitch, when Obama looked like he might not be able to pull it off himself.  Thanks for explaining it all to us so clearly!

I’ll comment more later on the strikingly absolute hierarchy of race over gender in the “oppression Olympics” Judis plays here.  Let’s just note that at least half of all of the people who were enslaved and who suffered under Jim Crow and marched for Civil Rights were female.