When Did Misogyny Become Like the Israeli/Palestinian Debate?

For years I refused to touch the Israeli/Palestinian debate. Why? Anyone who has been on any side that is not 100% pro-Israel all the way in the sense that Israel is absolutely and totally incapable of doing anything wrong should be able to tell you.

The moment you get just an eensy bit critical of Israel, you set yourself up for being labeled as an anti-Semite.

Times are changing on that now, and hopefully progress will continue on that front in part thanks to organizations such as J Street that work to create a political environment where being critical of Israel does not equate to being a mortal enemy of Israel.

Granted, I didn’t wait until J Street came along to finally find my courage to speak up and out on Israel, eventually, when our morality depends upon it, we sometimes find the courage to say what needs to be said.

That’s all beside the point. The point is, the Israeli/Palestinian debate has been, and in many important ways, continues to be a debate wherein the opposing point of view is stifled and subjugated. The very necessity of organizations like J Street point to how precarious the landscape remains when it comes to being critical of Israel.

The topic of misogyny has taken on this quality in light of the current Democratic primary, and I’m just about over it.

Understand: women dominate and enrich my life and as a result I have developed an enduring admiration and respect for the opposite gender. I have seen firsthand the struggles that the women in my life have gone through, and have come to understand that these hardships make women stronger than men for they are often asked to do the same, even more than men, under conditions that are more adverse.

From my wife who memorized the bus schedule in Orlando so she could work multiple jobs and go to school at the same time without a car, to my mother who spent much of her adult life shifting from one dead end job to the next, never making much money, but still scraping together enough change to put shoes on mine and my brother’s feet, and spinning miracles out of thin air on birthdays and Christmas.

My respect for women comes from my boss, a tough lady from New York who climbed her way up the ladder tooth and nail without a college degree while raising two children on her own. There’s an awe inspiring defiance in her eyes when she proudly proclaims that she refused to get where she got “on her back.” In a department that demands a college education, in an organization that is a man’s world, this woman refused to let her gender, or anything else for that matter, stand in the way between her and success.

This respect is reinvigorated when I look in my own daughters’ eyes. At just under four years old, my oldest daughter carries a poise and self confidence I don’t think I’ve ever had in my life, while my two year old frequently stares me down–and I don’t mean in the cute way two year olds do, but in a straight up, balled fist, furrowed eyebrow, I will scorch the earth if you cross me kind of way.

I love them all, and gladly recognize that they are all superior to me.

Further, as anyone who reads me on a regular basis should know, equality for everyone is perhaps the most important issue for me. Equality across racial lines, equality based on gender, equality based upon religion and sexual orientation. These things are the cornerstone of why I blog. I’m no economist, and despite ten years in the military, my interest in all things military remained at a minimum. I take interest in these things, and teach these issues and others to myself on the cheap.

But it boils down to equality for me. In fact, as I occasionally explain, the first thing that got me interested in politics was George W. Bush’s call to have a constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage. That blatant act to constitutionally enforce inequality had taken me from political apathy to political awareness.

And thus I find myself upset because over the past few weeks I have been made to feel as though I’m some raging misogynist.

All because I have been an Obama supporter for the past year and a half.

Interestingly, what put me over the edge comes from a blogger that I respect and have looked up to for much of my time as a blogger. Even more, she’s been one of the fairer bloggers out there, chronicling both instances of racism and sexism as opposed to inflating one and turning a blind eye to the other.

But even with all this taken into consideration, I couldn’t help but gape at this post from Melissa McEwan. I’m sorry, Melissa, I revere no blogger enough to think that every post they write is gold, every point they make is spot on, and every time they hit the “publish” button, they are right.

“Hysterical” is sexist and misogynist. I didn’t know.

In fact, there’s been a great deal that I didn’t know; many sexist dog whistles out there. Of course, there’s been blatant stuff as well throughout the course of this campaign and, as Melissa has also chronicled, blatant racist overtures in this campaign as well. These things I can pick up on.

But the truly sad thing is that both the racism and the sexism employed, and accusations thereof, in this election season is being used to tear apart a coalition that ostensibly seeks to put an end to, or at least combat, both.

There is a line, though, and I think it’s important to recognize that, and it’s been crossed on both fronts. When everyone started raging that Bill Clinton’s “fairy tale” comment was racially charged, I didn’t bite because it wasn’t a racially charged comment. The Jesse Jackson thing, yeah, but “fairy tale?” No, I’m sorry, it doesn’t qualify.

The same is true for sexism charges mounted in this campaign. Some of it is warranted, but some of it is a push, or at least, that is what it seems like to me. A giant semantic leap of faith that is not unlike those optical illusions that were once all the rage where you had to stare at it just right, letting your eyes focus and unfocus until you finally saw the picture underneath.

And everything, fair or not, is getting attributed to Barack Obama and his supporters. This, as a video posted on the Huffington Post by Blake Fleetwood argues, because he doesn’t speak up about it. Incidentally, Melissa makes essentially the same charge, though not naming names per se, in her post above.

Obama has made some sexist, or insensitively gender based, comments. However I don’t think he has been the gross violator that many of his detractors have portrayed him to be. Likewise, Clinton has made racially insensitive comments, but I don’t believe she is a raging racist.

Furthermore, both sides have had surrogates and supporters that have dived far deeper in the depths of identity based attacks and, while some should be attributable to the candidates themselves, I think it’s unfair to do so for everyone who supports one candidate over another.

The worst thing about the video and the word parsing, though, is that these observations and arguments are not being used to foment a broader understanding of the issue at hand, but instead are being employed as bludgeons to attack a candidate.

Time for my little theory on the political correctness movement of the 1990’s. You all remember that, right? At its apex, virtually everything under the sun had to get a name make-over. All of a sudden words that had been used for generations had to be scrapped because they were offensive.

That movement was neither particularly long, nor was it all that effective. And there was most definitely blowback as a result. Following the push to rename everything in such a way so as not to be offensive, there came a proud uprising of politically incorrect people who eschewed the new vernacular, promoting old colloquialisms as though they were badges of honor.

But why did that movement fail? To be honest, I don’t think that it was because its promoters had their hearts in the wrong place, or even that it was all that bad an idea. The failure came in the execution, in that vehement charge forward with nary a glance in the rearview, or an ounce of concern that people may need to have things explained to them, and that some colloquialisms and some portions of the vernacular would have to be “grandfathered out”. That’s to say that for such a movement to have been successful, there should have been much more effort put on education, and much more patience and understanding should have been employed.

It goes down to two principles of mine in politics. Just because you hold an opinion doesn’t mean its right, nor does it mean that everyone else holds the same opinion. Very little consideration was given to these truths.

Thus, people were simply all of a sudden wrong for using words and phrases their entire life. In other words, there was a severe miscommunication on the part of those who were championing political correctness.

In a way, some of the misogyny accusations are quite similar to this, and in a way this differentiates between sexism and racism.

Racism is less socially acceptable than sexism, but that’s because the two issues are apples and oranges. They arose from different developments of human history, and recent history developments among the two have taken far different paths.

And, in a way, racism isn’t as complex as sexism is. This because with sexism, there is a more complex social dynamic at work. Racism is always racism, no matter the setting. A word that is inappropriate racially is always inappropriate, and that’s because race draws the boundary of division in a different place than gender does.

For instance, a racial slur is a racial slur is a racial slur. On the other hand, certain terms discussed for women have situations where they are appropriate, and situations where they aren’t. If I were to call my wife “sweetie,” or “honey,” or any other gender based term of endearment, that could hardly be counted as sexism (for the record, I’m more often referred to by a term of endearment such as these than my wife is). But if I were to use that same term for a female coworker in the work place, that would be inappropriate.

With racism, the boundary line was drawn between different whole peoples, thus the act of racism subjugates an entire people.

Sexism, though, is more internal and confusing. Because every society must, by necessity, involve members of both genders, it isn’t so simple as saying that a whole people are being subjugated because we’re now talking about a portion of a whole people, and some of that is embedded in how we choose and coexist with our mates.

This is not meant to be an excuse for anything, but instead is meant to point out two things; misogyny is more complex and it is more deeply rooted in our culture. As a result, it should be understood that those who actively seek to combat sexism must understand that those folks who aren’t on the front lines, and even some who are, require something more.

The last thing any of us needs is to be attacked for doing something we had absolutely no idea we weren’t supposed to do. A great example of this is the idea that any calls for Clinton to drop out of the nomination race were inherently sexist.

For the longest time I was a part of that group; and dismissed the idea that such calls HAD to be sexist. It took a brief passage in a Karen Tumulty article that gave me the perspective I needed to finally see this issue in that way.

Shorter: people who are championing the feminist cause, and you are doing great work, need to stop the assumption that everyone is operating under the same knowledge base.

Also, it’s ridiculous to put this all on Obama’s shoulders. It’s ridiculous to put all of racism on Clinton’s shoulders. They are each responsible for transgressions, but they are neither of them responsible for ALL transgressions.

While I can’t find the specific post on his blog, Kevin Hayden did write it perfectly when he equated the blaming of Obama on all the misogyny out there with the messianic complex that people are developing towards the Democratic candidates. The man’s already tried to end racism, and while that got people talking, there’s still plenty of racists out there.

My point, my hope, is not to shut down the discussion on misogyny, but hopefully to bring it to a point where it might accomplish something, where we can all get on the same page on sexism and actually work like a team again.

I also hope that we can stop bludgeoning each other over the heads with this. A commenter here once accused me of attempting to scare Clinton supporters into voting for Obama by putting McCain’s record on display. I was not trying to scare anyone, but instead was pointing out that hints of sexism and misogyny are a farce compared to what we know of the Republicans and how far they will go. I wasn’t trying to bully anyone into supporting Obama, but merely pointing out the facts–McCain is not a wise choice for anyone who truly cares about women’s rights.

But my biggest hope is that I would like to see the issue not be like the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I don’t want to be labeled a blatant sexist because I may disagree with the sexist implications of a term, or because I don’t support Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

And this is not solely for my own peace of mind. It’s not just because I don’t want to confront my own deep seated sexism, and am trying to hide behind people comforting me and assuring me that I’m not a sexist. But because if I really am a misogynist, I want to know and to understand. I want to argue the finer points of the issue so that my comprehension of sexism will ultimately be made better.

But that is so terribly far from where we are now, and the terrible thing is that the way the misogyny argument is being championed right now, I don’t think I’m the only equality focused progressive out there that feels like he or she is being shut out when we want to be a part of this, and on the right side.

(edited by DrGail)

6 Responses to “When Did Misogyny Become Like the Israeli/Palestinian Debate?”

  1. Just a quick note to point out that due to some severe sleep deprivation, I fell asleep about ten times writing this post, so I’m sorry if it isn’t cogent at times.

  2. Kathy says:

    My feeling is that it’s kind of short-sighted to put Obama’s, or anyone’s, words under a microscope and demand apologies for every word that could be taken two ways, or for every single thing someone else says or does that is sexist. As Clinton supporters are so fond of pointing out, this is an historic election. It’s astonishing, to say the least, that an African-American and a woman are the two candidates in the running for the Democratic nomination. Shouldn’t we *expect* sexist and racist-tinged language and behavior? I’m not talking about lynching or rape jokes. But it seems to me that when people jump on everything being said in this campaign that reflects sexism or racism, it’s really taking time and energy away from the most important thing, which is nominating, and then electing, the first African-American, or the first female, president of the United States.

    I mean, keep your eyes on the prize, people.

  3. matttbastard says:

    “Hysterical” is sexist and misogynist. I didn’t know.

    Well, now you do.

    Seriously, this post was unnecessary, Kyle.

  4. matttbastard says:

    But it seems to me that when people jump on everything being said in this campaign that reflects sexism or racism, it’s really taking time and energy away from the most important thing, which is nominating, and then electing, the first African-American or the first female, president of the United States.

    I mean, keep your eyes on the prize, people.

    Some of us define “most important” and “prize” differently.

    Priorities. I sure as hell can has them.

  5. Kathy says:

    Well, okay, Matt, but if the demand for apologies for everything that is said badly or worded awkwardly, and the guilt by association, and the endless personal attacks because of who you said hello to on the street or what music was playing on the sound system when you walked in the room rather than how you stand on affirmative action or on reproductive rights succeed in creating enough bad feeling that the Democratic nominee, whoever that is, loses to McCain because the voting public is sick and tired of the backbiting, the pettiness, the taking offense at everything, etc., then the most important thing and the prize will have been lost regardless of how you define those terms.

    I believe in picking my battles when it comes to which campaign events I’m going to make into a huge issue and which I’m not. But again, I guess defining which are the important battles is a matter of personal opinion as well.

  6. bostondreams says:

    Good post, Kyle. You certainly aired something that I have been thinking alot about as well.

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