Election 2012 Sexism Watch #5: Bachmann Denies Sexism

From The Factor, September 26, 2011:

O’Reilly: “Do you think you’re being treated differently because you’re the only woman in the race?  Here you’ve got eight sweaty guys – they’re all sweaty – and then you’re there.  Are you being treated differently because you’re the only woman in the race, do you think?”

Bachmann: “You know I don’t think so. I’ve never felt that way. I grew up with three brother and no sisters.”

O’Reilly: “So there’s no gender bias, anything like that?”

Bachmann: “No, I grew up with three brothers and no sisters. That’s the best preparation for politics that any girl can have.  I don’t feel in any way that I’m discriminated against. I’m just grateful to be able to be in the race. I think it’s wonderful…”

O’Reilly: That’s refreshing to hear.  Remember Hillary Clinton when she ran last time [scoffs], ‘you know, I’m getting hammered because I’m a woman….’ You don’t see it that way.”

Bachmann: “I don’t think so. All of us have to go through this.”

Where to begin with this video. O’Reilly reduces men to “natural” brutes with his two kidding-on-the-square comments that the male primary contenders are “eight sweaty guys.” Bachmann then affirms this idea with her contention that growing up with three brothers prepared her for politics, insinuating that she is well versed in responding to (naturally brutish) male behavior. Can I get a “boys will be boys” here?

Then, after Bachmann draws a clear distinction in the way boys/men and girls/women behave, she claims that she is not being treated differently because she is the only woman in the race. “All of us have to go through this.”

There’s pressure for Bachmann to not complain about the (obvious) sexism she faces for fear of being labeled a “victim”/weak, even though it has likely already cost her the candidacy. O’Reilly’s effusive praise of Bachmann’s denial of sexism — “refreshing” — is evidence of this pressure.

O’Reilly then scoffs at Hillary Clinton’s claim that she faced sexism in the 2008 election, despite ample research finding that she did (here, here, here, and here), and egregious examples, including audience members yelling and holding up the sign “Iron My Shirt” at several campaign events:

Iron My Shirt

Being the first candidate to have a nutcracker made in her likeness:


Rush Limbaugh asking about Clinton, “Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?”

Author Marc Rudov speaking on Fox News: “When Barack Obama speaks, men hear, ‘Take off for the future.’ And when Hillary Clinton speaks, men hear, ‘Take out the garbage’” (in a mocking high pitch).

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews describing Clinton’s senatorial victory speech: “It can grate on some men when they listen to it, fingernails on a blackboard. . . . How does she do it without screaming? How does she do it without becoming grating?”

Washington Post reporter Joel Achenbach writing that Clinton “needs a radio-controlled shock collar so that aides can zap her when she starts to get screechy. She came perilously close to going on a tirade.”

MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson featuring Republican strategist Roger Stone, creator of the anti–Hillary Clinton 527 organization, “Citizens United, Not Timid”—or C.U.N.T.

“Progressive” Air American radio host Randi Rhodes declaring at a network event that Clinton and former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro were “fucking whores.”

Some of the most egregious examples of altered, degrading images of Hillary Clinton that littered the Internet during the election can be found at Women-America (trigger warning: nudity, pornography) and in this video montage:

Perhaps O’Reilly was channeling Chris Matthews who asked, “Is Hillary out of line for painting herself as a victimized woman every time her male rivals criticize her? And do we want a president who plays the gender card every time her opponents attack her?”

Presidential candidates run with the knowledge that they will be attacked, but can O’Reilly honestly say that Clinton wasn’t getting hammered because she was a woman given this mountain of evidence? It’s great that O’Reilly is giving face time to a female presidential contender, but his mocking dismissal of sexism on the presidential campaign trail hurts Bachmann and future female contenders.

Rosie the Riveter Plays Santa Claus

Cultural icon, Rosie the Riveter, represents women who produced war supplies in factories during WWII. With the tagline, “We Can Do It,” Rosie played a key role in a propaganda campaign to convince women (and their husbands) that they had a patriotic duty to work in the factories. Based on a fictional character, the original image of Rosie the Riveter is this 1942 poster for Westinghouse:

Original "Rosie the Riveter"

This image and motto have come to symbolize women’s economic empowerment and feminist empowerment more broadly, so it was interesting to see this appropriation of Rosie the Riveter last night at the California Republican Party fall convention on a banner for Yellow Ribbon American, a “national grassroots effort to unite all Americans to directly help our nation’s military members and their families.”

Rosie the Riveter Banner

The banner sports sponsorship from Coca-Cola, Walmart, and other major corporations, and encourages donations to “Help Our Troops & Their Families Have a Rosie Christmas.” Rosie is portrayed as a buff Santa Claus carrying a bag of gifts.

This use of her image (perhaps unwittingly) hints at the original intent of the Rosie the Riveter campaign by portraying women as capable of doing “men’s work” (Rosie delivering gifts instead of Santa Claus), but it’s unlikely that this image is meant to project her iconic feminist hero status. Rosie the Riveter was a corporate creation, but the evolution in meaning of this now popular feminist symbol compels the question, to whom do such icons “belong.”


A Mixed Victory in the Texas Cheerleader Rape Case

Hillaire S. with Tiger Cones

The Texas cheerleader who sued her high school for forcing her to cheer for her rapist will not have to pay the school’s entire $35,000 in legal fees, according to a decision yesterday from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. This decision overturns a lower court ruling that deemed the case “frivolous” and required the family to pay the school’s legal bills.

Hillaire’s case drew attention last year when the nation learned that Silsbee High School had kicked her off the squad for refusing to cheer for Rakheem Bolton, a man who would later plead guilty to assaulting her. The family’s unsuccessful lawsuit against the school for violating Hillaire’s First Amendment free speech rights ended when the Supreme Court refused to hear the case last May.

A Change.org campaign garnered more than 140,000 signatures in protest of Hillaire being required to pay the school’s legal fees. Activists have raised some money to cover the legal fees and started a campaign encouraging people to mail pennies to the Silsbee school district.

According to the family’s attorney, Larry Watts, this was only a partial victory. “I initially thought it was a major victory that the court said that it was arguable that HS had a First Amendment Right to remain silent, but there were four issues in the case, and they fouled my client on three of four points.”

The four constitutional issues in question are:

Free Speech: Hillaire’s right to remain silent
Equal Protection: Watts says: “She was removed from the team for being silent, while the school district, which had every right and power to investigate his assault and threats of murder, did not remove him. It’s simple–a girl being treated differently than a boy.”
Due Process: The suit alleges that the school didn’t uphold the cheerleading “contract.”
Due Process: The suit alleges that Hillaire’s “significant emotional harm, caused by the physical injury of rape, was exacerbated by the school.”
The appeals court ruling still finds the equal protection and two due process concerns to be “frivolous,” which means Hillaire and her family have to pay fees associated with those aspects of the case. The school district will recalculate the costs.

According to Watts,“The court ruled in HS’s favor for the one issue that America paid a lot of attention to and got very upset about. But they upheld the ruling that the other three claims were frivolous.”

If Watts is right, then public attention to and action around this case successfully influenced the courts to rule in a just manner, and sustained attention to the case is needed. Watts plans to appeal.

“On a personal level, we lost every single battle. Every single one,” Hillaire’s father Craig expressed the family’s dissappointment, “On a public note, we won some battles, but it’s a bittersweet victory because it makes it better for victims in the future, but it cost your loved ones in the process.”

In other news related to this case, Silsbee Bee editor Gerry Dickert resigned in July to take a new position with at Lamar State College. Dickert drew criticism for his coverage of the Silsbee rape case, although it’s unclear whether this played a role in his decision to leave the paper.

This story was originally published at Ms. Blog: http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2011/09/14/a-mixed-victory-in-the-texas-cheerleader-rape-case/

Election 2012 Sexism Watch #4: And Then There Were Two?

Major news outlets have deemed the competition for the Republican nomination contest a two-man race, including The Daily Beast (A Two Man Race: Perry and Romney), The National Journal (Despite Bachmann’s Success, The Real GOP Race is Now Perry Vs. Romney), Newsmax (Experts: Perry Surge Creates Two-Man Race on Eve of Debate), Redstate.com (Perry vs. Romney), and The Los Angeles Times (McManus: A Two-man GOP Race?).

This early framing of the contest as a two-man race may effectively end Michele Bachmann’s candidacy, despite her winning the Ames Straw Poll (knocking Tim Pawlenty out of the race) and polls showing that she, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul have considerably more support than other candidates. Also, according to this Gallup poll, Bachmann and Perry generate more positive intensity than Romney.

CNN Reporter Roland Martin’s blood is boiling at journalists for prematurely framing the nomination as a two-man race: “Our actions are utterly shameful when we choose to negate every other candidate solely because we have determined that they can’t be elected… coverage is slanted toward those who we think stand the best chance at winning, thereby depriving any other candidate the opportunity to put their message forward.”

According to the Gallup poll below, Bachmann’s support increased slightly in July and August, while Romney support fell with Perry’s entrance into the race.

An August 24, 2011 PPP poll shows a closer race with Perry at 33%, Romney at 20%, and Bachmann at 16% support amongst Republicans. Aside from differences in polling methods and numbers, it is important to note that were are five months away from the first primary election, and these numbers will shift, perhaps dramatically. Perry is still enjoying a Honeymoon period, and the race will likely get tighter as voters find out more about him and his record. John McCain, the winner of the 2008 Republican nomination, trailed in national polls until the end of December in 2007, so discounting candidates this far in advance can artificially and anti-democratically limit choice.

The two-man race framing was evident during the third Republican debate last week at the Reagan Library where Perry and Romney were asked more questions than the other candidates and given more opportunities to respond to each another, especially at the start of the debate when they verbally sparred back and forth while the other candidates stood idly by.

Bachmann Left Out

I propose that the ease with which Bachmann’s candidacy has been discarded by the press has something to do with her being a woman. I witnessed something similar happen to Elizabeth Dole during the 2000 Republican nomination contest. Despite running a strong second in the polls, enjoying high favorability ratings (75% favorable impression compared to 69% for George W. Bush in March, 1999), and beating Al Gore in a hypothetical head-to-head contest, Dole was never considered a “real” candidate because she was a woman.  Relentlessly biased press coverage contributed greatly to her failed candidacy, as noted in this research and by her campaign manager (and later White House Press Secretary) Ari Fleisher. Hillary Clinton’s 2008 candidacy was also hindered by blatant and subtle sexism in press coverage, as documented in several studies, including this one.

In the back of the minds of many pundits and reporters, Bachmann has never been a serious contender because she is a woman, and this two-man framing all but ensures that she will not be.