Sunday, November 18, 2007


Andi Ziesler, editorial director of the magazine Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, has a great piece in the WaPo about the use of the word "bitch" to describe Hillary Clinton:

Bitch is a word we use culturally to describe any woman who is strong, angry, uncompromising and, often, uninterested in pleasing men. We use the term for a woman on the street who doesn't respond to men's catcalls or smile when they say, "Cheer up, baby, it can't be that bad." We use it for the woman who has a better job than a man and doesn't apologize for it. We use it for the woman who doesn't back down from a confrontation.

So let's not be disingenuous. Is it a bad word? Of course it is. As a culture, we've done everything possible to make sure of that, starting with a constantly perpetuated mindset that deems powerful women to be scary, angry and, of course, unfeminine -- and sees uncompromising speech by women as anathema to a tidy, well-run world.

I'm guessing that Hillary Clinton . . . has a somewhat similar stance on the word. After all, people who don't like Clinton have been throwing the slur at her since at least 1991. So everybody else in the room laughed knowingly when a woman at a campaign event in South Carolina last Monday asked McCain, "How do we beat the bitch?"

In fact, the most surprising thing about the whole dust-up (available on YouTube for the world to see) is that something like it didn't happen sooner. Sure, it was disrespectful of McCain to laugh off the insult. (Rather than admonishing the questioner, he called it an "excellent question," then added, "I respect Senator Clinton.") And sure, the woman who asked the question was transparently courting sound-bite fame. (Congratulations, faceless woman! Stay classy!) But for Clinton, this episode has to be pretty much a case of another day, another insult.

These days, the people hurling the term at Clinton are her direct opponents: Republicans, social conservatives, assorted Schlafly-ites and Coulter-ites, and that sludgy, amorphous pool of across-the-board woman-haters.

Their hatred for Clinton has nothing to do with whether she fits the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition: "a malicious, spiteful, or domineering woman -- sometimes used as a generalized term of abuse." It certainly has nothing to do with her stance on particular issues. When these people call Clinton (or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or Sen. Dianne Feinstein or former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro) a bitch, or even the cutesier "rhymes-with-witch," it's an expression of pure sexism -- a hope that they can shut up not only one woman but every woman who dares to be assertive. Simply put: If you don't like Clinton's stance on, say, health care or Iraq, there are plenty of ways to say so without invoking her gender.

Plenty of people are lukewarm on Clinton, for a variety of reasons: her support for the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, her ham-fisted attempts to put forth a clear position on Iraq, the fear that she would be just as beholden to corporate interests as her predecessor. Then there are the women who chafe at the idea that they're expected to vote their sex rather than their specific politics. But very few of these people seem to worry that Clinton isn't warm enough, or that she's too dowdy or mannish or whatever can't-win descriptor is lobbed her way daily.

I'll just add that one needn't call names to denigrate Clinton, or any woman, for being a woman. If I read one more time, on one more liberal blog, that "there's just something about her personality," or "it's her speaking voice," or "she's way too ambitious," or "I don't like dynasties," or "she didn't apologize sincerely enough" I'm going to take a hostage.


Sparkle Plenty said...

I don't like her politics and I don't like her policies. That's all that concerns me.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Hecate. As I have been saying, she is the only Dem with the balls to be President. This country will never be liberal enough to elect a DFH. You win by running to the center. Anyway, I really enjoy your work.


report from the heartland said...

Hecate, I'm not here as often as I should be but what a reward when I drop in. Thank you.
It's good the b-word is out in the open. Now we all know where we stand... my conversation yesterday with some upper middle class mommies at the school festival really gave me pause. I'm used to dealing with lame opinions from the midwest and don't even try to change anyone's mind but here in NYC-- oy. I'm putting all my chips on Senator Clinton because she's the only one tough enough and smart enough to be president right now. I know she will disappoint on many things but better disappointment than abject horror at what our country has become. And maybe she won't disappoint, you know?

Terry C - Democratic Bitch said...

Unlike McCain, she isn't BUSH'S bitch!

Anne Johnson said...

My reservations about her have nothing to do with her gender. But ah, isn't it refreshing that these Republicans keep hurling insults at the Dem candidates? One is a fag, the other a bitch. Hillary's rubber, and they're glue.

My reservations about candidate Clinton certainly include her level of indebtedness to the corporate interests who are funding her campaign. And a new qualm was added this weekend when I read an op ed piece that said if she's elected, only two families will have controlled the presidency for 24 years. That's a small quibble, but I think it speaks to our species' preference for hereditary leadership.

Ruth said...

The TX oilmen I have daily dealings with have run down Hillary for decades, which makes me like her altogether. Sometimes she disappoints me.

As I was not enthusiastic about the candidacy of Bill Clinton and surprised pleasantly by the great state he brought this country into, I encourage appreciation of Hillary Clinton's capability of turning around the disaster this country has been inflicted with by the previous two terms.