With the windup of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, much attention has been focused on the role of sexism in our national discourse.
Some of the discussion has sought to pit sexism against racism, suggesting that racism has become unacceptable in public life while sexism is tolerated. This is an unfortunate and obviously misguided notion. We have only to look at racist slurs against Barack Obama and his wife Michelle throughout the campaign, and continuing today, to see that public expressions of racism too often go unchallenged and continue to play a toxic role in our society.
At the same time, there is no doubt that sexism is a live and virulent poison that has reared its ugly head during this campaign targeting Hillary Clinton and, now increasingly, Michelle Obama.
Many cite MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson, who said on the air about Clinton, “When she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs.” Apparently, in Carlson’s view, a strong, articulate and combative woman political leader is a threat to his — and thus all men’s — masculinity. What is the message for women? Be meek and submissive, and better yet, stay home?
Early in the campaign a Washington Post article discussed the fact that Clinton’s (very businesslike) attire revealed her “cleavage.”
An anti-Hillary group advertised T-shirts reading “Citizens United Not Timid” — in case you don’t get it, what do the initials spell?
Too often, expressions of sexism are treated as something to snicker about, and not take seriously.
But winking at sexism takes a deadly toll. The toll is not only in the private abuse of women and girls by family members or others that is unfortunately too widespread in our country. The toll is also in the discrimination and abuse directed at women in the workplace, in health care, in family planning and reproduction. And it is in the failure to support women and children with the quality public services — child care, afterschool and other programs — necessary to fully empower working women and men alike.
Both men and women suffer as a result of sexism. Personal growth and relationships are damaged. Wages and benefits are lowered for all. And the common human bond so necessary to win advances for all is more difficult to forge.
Sexism in all its expressions is toxic.