Lately, we’ve been treated to several instances of (old, white, male) politicians essentially telling (younger, female) reporters to sit down and shut up. Girls shouldn’t be asking “rude kwestions.”
The first example was Donald Trump responding to a question from Fox New’s Megyn Kelly:
You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals,” Kelly said, to which Trump replied, “Only Rosie O’Donnell.”
Kelly said he had called many more people names than O’Donnell, and a visibly perturbed Trump shot back, “I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either. If you don’t like it, Megyn, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you. Although I could maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me.”
As we all know, Mr. Trump went on, the next day, to insinuate that Ms. Kelly must have been menstruating and, thus, “not nice.” She refused to apologize for asking him a tough question and her (old, white, male) boss, in a tradition familiar to many working women, then called Mr. Trump, apologized, made nice, and sent Ms. Kelly off for an obviously-much-needed vacation, which she, herself, was forced to explain to her viewers as due to the fact that it had been a “long six-months” for her without a vacation. This, in an America where fewer and fewer people can manage even a few days off a year.
Mr. Trump’s response to being called out for his sexism has all the trademarks of privilege. First, there’s the “ha, ha, jes’ jokin'” attempt: “Only Rosie O’Donnell.” And she’s older, fat, and a lesbian so, haha it’s ok. When, “jes’ jokin'” didn’t work, Mr. Trump moved to the next gambit that most abusers use: “I’m trying to keep from slapping you, although you’re giving me plenty of provocation, bitch, and no one would blame me if I did. Consider yourself warned.” And, then, the next day, talking with “another guy” he did the “bitch was on the rag” routine. Ms. Kelly was “not nice” and, as we all know, it’s the woman’s job to “be nice.” Any failure to “be nice,” must be called out and punished.
The second example is from Ana Marie Cox’s interview of Bernie Sanders. Ms. Cox asked Mr. Sanders if he thought it was fair that Hillary Clinton’s hair gets more attention than does Mr. Sanders’ hair. A simple answer: “Yes, obviously, because she’s a woman, her appearance gets more attention and that’s wrong,” would have been just fine. It could even have been followed up with: “And the more time that our media spend on appearances, rather than on substance, the worse it is. Now, let me tell you two important ways that my positions are better than Ms. Clinton’s . . . .”
But, of course, that’s not what happened. Mr. Sanders, (privileged, old, white, male that he is) decided to mansplain things to Ms. Cox.
Do you think it’s fair that Hillary’s hair gets a lot more scrutiny than yours does?
Hillary’s hair gets more scrutiny than my hair?
Is that what you’re asking?
O.K., Ana, I don’t mean to be rude here. I am running for president of the United States on serious issues, O.K.? Do you have serious questions?
I can defend that as a serious question. There is a gendered reason —
When the media worries about what Hillary’s hair looks like or what my hair looks like, that’s a real problem. We have millions of people who are struggling to keep their heads above water, who want to know what candidates can do to improve their lives, and the media will very often spend more time worrying about hair than the fact that we’re the only major country on earth that doesn’t guarantee health care to all people.
It’s also true that the media pays more attention to what female candidates look like than it does to what male candidates look like.
That may be. That may be, and it’s absolutely wrong.
I’ll just quote Shakesville for the analysis of this:
Whew! Thank goodness Bernie Sanders, after mansplaining a question about sexism in media to a female interviewer, is willing to admit that there may be a problem. And, if there is a problem with the media treating male and female candidates in a disparate manner, then that is absolutely wrong! I guess that gives us all permission to study this important question which of course no one has ever thought about before, ahem.
Here’s the thing. Sanders isn’t wrong that the media should be focusing on problems other than the physical appearance of candidates. But he’s dead wrong if he thinks we can address economic injustice without also addressing the specifically patriarchal barriers to justice faced by women. Having more jobs doesn’t help women as much when we also have to jump through extra hurdles that don’t apply to our male competitors as much or at all.
Like having a patriarchally-approved appearance. It means something to women and girls when we see that one of the most politically powerful women in our nation’s history still gets the same old sexist shit lobbed at her. One doesn’t have to like Hillary Clinton or agree with her policies to get frustrated that a woman running for freaking president of the United States is still judged on how she looks.
It also means something when a man running for the highest office in the land will only say this stuff “may be” a problem, after essentially telling the woman asking to STFU and let him define her problems. And this is Bernie Sanders as a candidate, when he’s actually trying to get women’s votes, presumably. What will he be like as president? We’ve had enough Mansplainers-in-Chief, Bernie. Thanks, but I’ll pass on supporting another one.
So, while Mr. Sanders doesn’t say that Ms. Cox must be menstruating, nor does he threaten her to “be nice,” he still feels completely free to tell her what’s wrong with her question and to mansplain to her why she’s out of line to dare to ask him such a question. He doesn’t want to discuss sexism. In his worldview, it’s all about economic opportunity and silly stuff such as black identity or sexism shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with his message.
It’s going to be a long couple of decades. I want the ERA.
Picture found here.