Sunday, November 11, 2007

There Are No Honorary Men

A bunch of us were chatting the other night about the Democratic presidential field, and someone expressed dismay over the fact that Hillary--with her hawkish, old-school approach to politics--is the front-runner for the nomination. "She's just not inspiring," was the comment. As for her gender, which might otherwise make her an appealing, ground-breaking figure, even that doesn't help matters, because "She's an honorary man."

If anyone on the American scene could be an honorary man, it would probably be Clinton. But in this post, the ever-brilliant Digby shows exactly why there are no honorary men in our political system--at least not in the eyes of the men. No matter how skillfully and conservatively you play the old boys' game, if you are a woman you will never be treated as one of the old boys by the insecure junior-high-school nerds who dominate the national conversation. Instead they will snigger and insinuate and introduce idiotic standards for measuring "character" designed solely to justify gossip-mongering and innuendo (check out Tucker Carlson's question, "Which candidate would be the most severe when it comes to toilet training?").

Yesterday on NPR I heard part of an historical account of the 1983 election of Harold Washington, the first Black mayor of Chicago. The story described some of the incredible racist barriers thrown up in his way by the white power structure, even after Washington won the Democratic primary (which under normal circumstances is tantamount to election in Chicago). I'm talking about things like Republican opponent Bernie Epton running on a slogan of "Epton Before It's Too Late" and vandals decorating Roman Catholic churches where Washington spoke with "Die Nigger Die" graffiti.

One of the most astute observations in the story was a comment by Washington himself concerning the double standard Black politicians are judged by to this day. He was talking about a line that he and some of his supporters liked to use among themselves during that first campaign: "It's our turn now." When white politicians and commentators heard about it, they called it "racist" and "hateful."

Washington's observation (slightly paraphrased): "When Irish-Americans try to elect an Irish-American, that's good politics. When Polish-Americans try to elect a Polish-American, it's good politics. But when Black Americans try to elect a Black American, that's racism."

Now Hillary is facing an exactly parallel double standard. According to the Tucker Carlsons and the Chris Matthews of the world, white males who declare they could never vote for a woman for president are understandably fearful of the effect that a powerful female leader might have on their fragile psyches. But if Hillary even indirectly intimates that women might want to vote for her because she is a woman, that is "playing the gender card," an illegitimate, dishonest, despicable tactic that would justify drumming her out of the race altogether.

Imagine the vitriol these self-appointed gatekeepers of our political system would be spreading if Hillary were in fact a strongly progressive, feminist voice! But even being a cautious, bend-over-backward moderate doesn't make her "an honorary man" in their eyes, because as far as they are concerned there is no such thing. Just as any Black person who is perceived as threatening to white privilege becomes "just another nigger" when the chips are down, so any woman with a chance at real power becomes a "castrating bitch."

I wish this weren't the case, but I'm afraid it's true. It makes me embarrassed to be a man.

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