A Crash Course in Unconscious Sexism

When Senator Sanders’ heart issues (now, finally, acknowledged as a heart attack in a 78-year-old man) were first announced, I commented that we were about to get an object lesson in unconscious sexism.

And have we ever.

You may not remember, but I do, that for months the Trump and Sanders campaigns conducted social media assaults implying that Hillary Clinton wasn’t well.  She’d fallen years ago, after lots of oversees travel left her dehydrated with a stomach bug, and the fall resulted in a concussion.  It must have led to brain injury!  She might have MS!  Why’d she suddenly need glasses?  Trump kept saying that she didn’t have the “stamina” to be president — which apparently meant that women can’t be president because he could never explain what he meant other than to keep repeating that she lacked the necessary stamina.  Then, after months of campaigning and shaking thousands of hands, Clinton caught pneumonia.  And as women all too often are, she was in a Catch 22 situation.  If she’d announced that she had pneumonia and was taking a few days off to recover, it would have fed the fire of innuendo about her health.  So, as women all too often do, she got treatment, but kept quiet about it, and attempted to go on with her work.

A few days later, standing at an extremely hot and humid 9/11 memorial, which as the former Senator from NY she wanted to attend, and wearing a bullet-proof vest under her formal suit, she became faint and appeared to slump while getting into a car.  (Full disclosure, that same weekend, I was at an event at Monticello and the heat and humidity overcame me, too.  My heart was racing, I felt faint, and I had to go back to the hotel, take a cool shower, nap, sit in the air conditioning, and do some deep meditation to feel better.  And while I was seriously exhausted from work, I didn’t have pneumonia and wasn’t wearing hot clothes.  So I can testify to how challenging it was to do anything outside that weekend.)

All hell broke loose.

One of the main charges from even-the-liberal bros and the news organizations was that Clinton should have been more “transparent” about her pneumonia.  This, when Trump had refused to release any real health data.  And no one bothered to mention why she might not have been in a hurry to release such data.  And, of course, the “she’s not transparent” charge fed into the “deceitful woman” trope that surrounds any powerful woman and which had been weaponized against Clinton decades ago.  MSNBC literally ran a minute-by-minute timeline of Clinton’s fainting spell and recovery (she went to her daughter’s nearby home, cooled off, had some water, and then came out on the street to wave and assure people she was fine).  The topic never really died and her health remained an issue long after she had recovered from pneumonia.

Contrast Senator Sanders’ “heart issues.”

Sanders is a 78 year-old man in country where the life expectancy of white men is about 78 and a half-years old.  If he were to win the election, he’d be 83 at the end of his first term.  If he ran for a second term and won, he’d be nearly 90 years old at the end of that term.

Four days ago, he experienced chest pains.

Thankfully, he was hospitalized and had two stents inserted.  (By the way, this info comes from Wikipedia, which, even today, lists these health issues at the very bottom of the page concerning Senator Sanders.  The very bottom.)  His campaign initially refused to release any more information than this.  Supporters tried to shame anyone who asked questions:  “Can’t you please allow the man 48 hours to recover?”  Hillary didn’t get 48 minutes.  TV screens and newspapers were not covered with complaints about his “lack of transparency” and we’ve seen nearly no discussion of whether or not a 78 year-old man with heart problems would make the best president.  I’ve seen no discussion at all about how his obvious anger issues and complete lack of friends (he’s known for being prickly, for having few friends in the Halls of Congress, and for having a fraught relationship even with his only son — whom he didn’t support as a child and wouldn’t endorse when the son ran for office) may play into this heart attack and impact his future health.  Yet research shows that these factors matter quite a bit when considering the outcomes of cardiac health problems, especially among men.  Maybe those issues are as important for a future president as a prior concussion?

Days later, when his campaign admitted that he’d had a heart attack, everyone went, “OK,” and moved on.

Look, I hope Senator Sanders has gotten excellent medical care and is on the road to recovery.  I hope that he’s able to live more healthy years and enjoy his wife, new lake home, and whatever friends and family he can find.  Maybe he can write an inspiring book.  I’m not writing this to root for his bad health or death.

I’m writing this to point out that unconscious sexism results in massively unequal and unfair coverage between men and women.  And woman are really, really tired of it.

Earlier today, I commented on a blog about the uneven treatment of Clinton’s and Sanders’ health issues and one of the nicest commenters wished that Bernie and Hillary supporters could “find some grace” and just get over the 2016 elections.  It’s like wishing that Nazis and Jews could find some grace and get over the concentration camps.  Like wishing that descendants of slaves and of slave holders would just find some grace and get over slavery.  The people who are supposed to shut up and “allow” grace are always the victims.  I’m not going to just shut up and “get over” the sexism that results in massivley unfair coverage of women until something is done to address that sexism.  I’m going to die angry over the way Clinton was treated because it was wrong and because it’s indicative of the way all women get treated.  You can have your grace; I’ll take some equality, thanks.

I don’t think the answer is to “over cover” Sanders’ health problems the way — with MSNBC timelines broken down by minutes and with hours of talking head discussion — that Clinton’s bout of pneumonia was treated.  (And, Goddess knows, we NEED some coverage of Trump’s obvious (SNIFF!) health issues far more than we need to hear minute-by-minute accounts of Sanders’ chest pains.) But I want some some reasonable parity.  I want a heart attack in a 78 year-old man to get more attention — because it’s a more serious matter — than a bout of pneumonia in a 69 year-old woman.  I want discussions of the need for “transparency” to be equal whether the candidate is a man or a woman.  I want us to address the unconscious sexism that resulted in Donald Trump.

To quote the ineffable Ms. Maines:  “I’m not ready to make nice.  I probably wouldn’t if I could.  Cuz I’m mad as hell.  Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should.”  Millions of women feel this way.  Keep underestimating our anger at your own peril.

/Hat tips to Mrs.Whatsit and ql for some of the ideas discussed above.



12 responses to “A Crash Course in Unconscious Sexism

  1. I give you an “Amen”

  2. IMO Hillary got asbestos exposure from 9/11 when she was there during the aftermath.

    Sanders dragging her is not to be overlooked. He is a grifter. Do they have tanning beds in hospitals? What about grifter bros telling everyone to send him extra for all this. Yeah, another house purchase, stat!

  3. I am in love with your brain. You always get straight to the pith while I’m wandering, furious, in some sort of misogyny desert. I, too, will die angry about the 2016 election. And the focus of my anger is not on working class Southerners. It’s on the Democratic Party….and the Sanders supporters.

  4. This is a terrific post – I am always surprised at the rawness I still feel when thinking about 2016 and watching that Dixie Chicks video. The difference that 3 years has made is that, instead of being shocked, angered and feeling defeated by the betrayal, only my anger survives and it pushes me onward to do whatever I can to sweep this misogyny into the trash bin where it belongs.

  5. I too will die angry about the 2016 election. I did not post any comments about Senator Sanders’ heart attack except to write that it happened, I just prayed for his well-being.

    Then I had to hold my tongue about some of the comments my friends made: NO, he is NOT a Democrat, YES, he’s much too old….. I wish Senator Sanders well, and I wish he’d go home to his all-white state and stop trying to run for president. (and the same goes for Biden, I wish he’d just go home.)

    But yes, Sanders’ heart attack SHOULD be a Wake Up call to his Bros: this man is too old, much less too cranky, to run for president, much less BE president. I know a lot about what happens after a heart attack: people are not able to jump back into the fray instantly. Heart attacks are serious, even minor ones.

    PLEASE let’s not nominate someone who is too old to manage the job.

  6. As an 82-years-old white male Progressive voter (who has also experienced chest pains, but is otherwise pretty healthy) I could not concur more. Mr. Sanders should abandon his quest and likely should not have rebegun it this time – for his health’s sake. He should be happy to return to the Senate where he has far more leverage than he ever would as President of these so-called ‘united’ states. Methinks that we the people now need a rational and youngish female person at the helm more than ever.

  7. Bernie needs to sit down and take up knitting.

    • The mere thought sent me into gales of laughter. I needed that.Thank you! (I wish I were an artist: I would draw a picture of Bernie sitting by the fire, knitting, hot chocolate on a little table and a cat stretched out on the hearth.)

  8. Máiri Breen Rothman

    I totally take your point, and agree that sexism abounds, and is even subconsciously woven into the thoughts if even the most ardent feminist, who might unwittingly refer to “Senator Sanders” and “Hillary” in the same paragraph. I see this over and over.

    • Interesting point — I do this too, sometimes consciously, other times not. I call him “Senator Sanders” to be polite. I will never be on a first-name basis with him, and I never wanted to feel his bernie. I usually refer to her as Hillary because I would love to be on a first-name basis with her and because in most contexts “Clinton” makes me think of Bill, whom I did not and do not like. In the context of the 2016 election, however, “Clinton” clearly means Hillary and so I’ll use it.

  9. Oh, yeah. Misogyny is still very much a thing, including, I’m sad to say, internalized misogyny. I believe it played a significant role in Trumpty-Dumpty’s Electoral College win.

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