Saturday, June 11, 2016

On Voter Misogyny

   When I was in graduate school and starting as a young professor I learned an important lesson about life in the professional world - in all professional worlds: academia has no monopoly on anything that I'm going to discuss here.  Some (not a majority, but a portion) of my male colleagues were maladjusted, self-important, arrogant and over-proud, self-promoting and unsupportive, aggressive and unempathetic. But no, wait, that's not the important lesson that I learned.  I wasn't surprised by that at all.  I didn't necessarily like them, but I accepted that they were who they were (what choice did I have?), and I also understood, like everyone else, that I had to come to terms with these men, maybe patronize them a little, get them on my side.  Just a fact of life.

   No, the important lesson that I learned was when I realized that I reacted very differently to women colleagues who had any of these same sorts of qualities.  I felt offended and, honestly, a little abused.  I noticed if she wanted to talk about her work but was uninterested in mine.  I was provoked if she boasted about her talents or accomplishments.  I felt a more visceral kind of anger than I did towards the men if we clashed on a committee, or if I felt condescended to, or unfairly criticized (honestly, if I felt criticized at all).  I had to realize that I had a certain kind of respect for the men that I did not have for the women (and by the way I was raised in a liberal, feminist family that was mostly women).

     Respecting people is a tricky business.  We don't fully respect someone until, among other things, we respect their dark side: the dark side that every complex human being has.  (Of course appreciating a person's capacity for goodness is another necessary component of respect.  One has to be so careful in this conversation not to be misunderstood!)  The men around me were empowered (by me) to be jerks and maybe even to be a little creepy.  When we meet a man, any man, we tacitly understand that he might turn out to be, to some degree, a jerk or a creep.  The irony is that that is a necessary part of respecting him fully as a man.  Now there are some real differences.  Men are generally, I think most people will agree, more dangerous than women.  That topic is deep and I can't wander off into the essentialist/conventionalist discussion right now.  My point right now is simply that as a man in the professional world I had to come to understand that I gave permission, that is to say that I empowered, male colleagues to have any number of negative qualities that I bridled at when I encountered them in women colleagues.

   We can see how this kind of patronizing sexism works in the discussion of reproductive rights.  There is no doubt that the decision to end a pregnancy is (depending on the medical circumstances of course) a decision fraught with moral ambiguity that resists any easy closure.  Nobody thinks that abortion as such is a good, happy thing, although many people including myself may think that its safe and legal availability is a good thing.  Rather the underlying issue is about power: who in the community is authorized, empowered, to make decisions that take us into morally ambiguous territory?  My support for a woman's right to choose rests not on some complacent confidence in women's inherent goodness or in the good judgement and moral sense of any particular woman but in my civil, political conviction that individual women ought to and in fact need to be empowered to make this choice.  In my own thankfully narrow experience of this I am proud to say that I only ever had one unhesitating response: "Whatever you decide I support you."

   Now I want to talk about voter misogyny and, of course, about people's reaction to Hilary Clinton.  We have just had a long, difficult, very illuminating lesson about voter racism thanks to the presidency of Barack Obama.  An alarmingly large part of the white electorate rejected Obama's legitimacy as president out of hand: a black man did not have their permission to be President. (Even as I write this the Republican Congress will not take up his Supreme Court nomination.)  To take a small but endlessly telling example, there was outrage at the sight of Obama putting his feet up on Lincoln's desk.  Well-known photographs of Kennedy and Reagan putting their feet up on Lincoln's desk proved, I guess, that the Irish have come a long way (and as a student of Lincoln I can tell you he would undoubtedly have been amused).

   Clinton is probably not going to put her feet up on Lincoln's desk in the first place, which is something to ponder in itself, but let's take up a much more serious matter, and one that misogynist voters on the left never fail to mention.  In October 2002 Clinton voted in favor of the resolution to back the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq.  The subsequent war in Iraq was, in my opinion, an unmitigated disaster.  Before the invasion we had, here in my home city of Mayaguez, a series of anti-invasion demonstrations culminating in a large march to the plaza, and I was one of the marchers in those protests, just as I marched in protest of the Vietnam War in Washington at Nixon's second inauguration in 1972.  Now let's consider some things about Clinton's decision (the Senate vote was 77 in favor, 23 opposed).  Clinton was the junior senator from the state of New York.  The 9/11 attacks had happened 13 months before.  Clinton was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  She explained at the time that the vote was meant to strengthen the administration's hand in forcing further inspections (a diplomatic endeavor that the Bush/Cheney administration, which had already made up its mind, promptly dumped).  Most military analysts at the time believed that the war would be short.  No one had any way of knowing what would happen.  And, yes, she harbored future national political ambitions (I accept that as a factor even though that vote may have cost her the 2008 election).  She wanted to look tough and she wanted to look centrist.  I'm not arguing that she wasn't in any way cynical.  No, folks, that's not where I'm going at all.

   OK, so now she's "Killary."  Now she drops bombs on innocent children.  Now she makes political calculations about foreign policy.  Now she keeps an eye on the main chance.  Now she changes her stance on things as political circumstances change.  Now she naturally assumes her status as a member of the ruling elite.  Now she uses her authority to obtain more money and power.  Now she makes judgements that effect the lives of millions and that take us into morally ambiguous territory.  Now she wields power, makes deals with the opposition, retaliates against enemies.  Now she acts exactly like every other major party nominee that you ever voted for or against your entire voting life. Who does she think she is?  Or maybe the question is "what."