I don’t know where all the rest of you Femmoliticas are from, but I live in New York. And this week, it was freakin’ beauuuttifffulll outside!
The city was filled with happy people, walking their happy dogs, wearing happy colored clothing, and generally being happy because, ohmygoodnessitsnotfreezingcoldanymore!
But you know what else this week was, my dearies? It was End Street Harassment Week.
So my various social media feeds, and probably yours too, have been blowing up about ending street harassment. It was amazing!
Women were sharing stories about harassment they’d experienced that day, men (albeit only a few of them) were expressing solidarity with us, the (feminist) media was picking up the mantle and calling for an end to street harassment–it was like an awareness-raising, empowerment party on the Internet! Woo hoo!
But let’s not forget, sexual harassment doesn’t just happen on the street. It happens at school, in the workplace, at home, on the Internet, on TV…
…and in politics.
C’mon people, you knew I was going there.
This article in The Daily Beast, one of my favorites to come out of this year’s End Street Harassment Week, touched briefly on the issue of sexual harassment in politics. Author Anna Klassen reminds us all about the craziness of the Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton campaigns–when all the douschey men of the world decided to bring their A game to the “Who Can Be the Most Misogynist?” Olympics.
Shit got real, folks.
When Hillary was gunning for the Presidential nom back in 2008, men showed up at her rallies to demand that she iron their shirts. Conservative radio talking-head and sexist douschebag extraordinaire Rush Limbaugh asked his listeners, in all seriousness, “Will Americans want to watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?”
I guess the answer was no, since Hillary lost the nomination.
Then, that same year, there was Sarah Palin. The running mate of GOP Presidential candidate John McCain, there were plenty of reasons to bitch about her.
Sarah’s politics were as un-feminist as they get–anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-environmentalist, pro-inequality creating neoliberalism, pro-war, pro-imperialism….
You get the point.
But when critics came out of the woodwork to tear her apart, what did they go after? Not her disgusting policies, or her gross misunderstanding of the American governmental system, or even her inability to answer simple questions with a minimal amount of intelligence. (Remember when she couldn’t name a single newspaper? OMG girl get it together.)
Nope. More often, critics went after her looks. Klassen mentions one such example, citing columnist Gene Lyons’ description of the Veep hopeful. He wrote about her “ high-sheen lip gloss, the ‘Naughty Monkey’ brand red pumps, the black leather outfits, the winking, for heaven’s sake.” Ultimately, Lyons boiled Palin down to a sex symbol, claiming, “You want her, but you can’t have her.”
And he wasn’t the only guy who wanted Palin. She’s been immortalized in various doctored pornos, and guess what else? She’s a fucking blow up doll. Yup. Now you can have Sarah Palin. Sort of.
Gross. Seriously gross.
Some Palin critics, who don’t stoop quite so low, have argued that the only difference between her and Dick Cheney is lipstick.
Clearly, this approach is meant to focus more on her actual policies. It claims that the only real difference between Palin and another established conservative politician is a matter of aesthetics.
But really, is that the only difference between Palin and Cheney? The only one? I don’t think so. If that were true, than why don’t I see any Dick Cheney sex dolls floating around? And don’t tell me it’s because there’s no market for male sex dolls, because here’s one emulating Pres. Barack Obama.
You see, there is a much more substantive difference that separates Dick Cheney from Sarah Palin, from Hillary Clinton, and from Pres. Barack Obama. It’s not lipstick, it’s not party affiliation, it’s not even their political views.
Dick Cheney is a straight, white, Protestant, cis-gender man. (For all of you who don’t know what cis- means, it refers to someone who is not transgender. You’re welcome.)
He has all the privilege a person could ask for. All of it.
And you know what that means? He commands respect. He holds a position of power. He, in other words, is not to be fucked with.
And that’s what sexual harassment–or really any harassment, for that matter–is all about. Asserting power over someone else. Reminding her (or him!) that s/he is not worthy of respect. And frankly, that’s not really something Dick over here has to deal with.
When Hillary gets taunted with irons instead of policy critiques, when Sarah winds up with her face Photoshopped onto a pornstar’s body, when Ms. Everywoman gets her ass slapped on her way off the bus–that’s sexual harassment. And it works to remind each of those women that she’s not a political powerhouse, a force to be reckoned with, a human to be respected. Instead, she’s just a walking vagina.
But sometimes, sexual harassment isn’t so obvious. It can be small and subtle, worming its way into casual, everyday encounters that are so normalized they’re almost impossible to call out. Even generally well meaning folks, who aren’t conservative misogynist asshats, can spew sexist bullshit.
Exhibit A: President Barack Obama.
You might have heard about his recent scandal, Kamala Harris-gate.
Well, it goes something like this. The ever-so-wonderful Pres. Obama went to the Bay Area on a fundraising trip, and was giving a prepared speech at a Democratic National Committee event in Atherton, CA. He was introducing his fellow colleagues who were also in attendance, mentioning their glowing qualifications. Ya know, kissing some ass, giving some reasons for fellow Democrats to continue supporting his administration.
When he introduced Kamala Harris, you know what qualifications he mentioned?
“She happens to be by far the best looking attorney general in the country.”
Really? Really? Really, Pres. Obama?
Because you know what it feels like to be put down, to be belittled, to be reduced to the privileges that you’re outside of (aka whiteness). You know how it feels to be judged on your appearance and not by your achievements. It happens to you ALL THE TIME. That nasty blow up doll was not the first or only incident:
Like seriously, this kind of shit happens to you.
When you reduced Kamala Harris down to her bangin’ good looks, you told everyone in that room that she wasn’t a highly competent government official–she was an Attorney General I’d Like to Fuck (AGILF, if you’re a fan of acronyms). You erased her identity as a smart, powerful, professional person, and assigned her a new one–a pretty face with a nice ass and a fancy office.
But you don’t need me to tell you that, yet again. Lindy West over at Jezebel already took care of that, and fabulously, I might add. And you apologized. Thanks, I guess.
But it doesn’t really matter that Pres. Obama said he was sorry. What matters is that we recognize how deeply ingrained the objectification of women is in our society.
It’s such a deep part of our culture that it’s not just coming from conservative, misogynist, exceptionally asinine people, like Rush Limbaugh. It’s also coming from people who feminists generally count as being on our side. It’s coming from people who are also outside of privilege in one way or another, who know what it is to be dominated and disempowered.
This past week, Ending Street Harassment was a damn good goal, and it’s going to take a long time to achieve. But let’s not stop there.
Let’s work towards ending sexual harassment and objectification on all levels, in all places, by all people. I know that’s super lofty, and kind of overwhelming.
But nothing that’s worth doing is easy, right?