Friday, June 27, 2008

Yes We WERE Sexist, No We ARE Not

Everyone had only good things to say about Clinton and Obama in their private meeting with Clinton donors on Thursday evening, in preparation for their joint event in Unity, NH on Friday, where I expect things to go equally swell.

It has also become something of an unquestioned narrative that Obama needs to reach out to women, but it has not been said that this narrative is somewhat inconsistent with an earlier narrative, played between February and June this year, that Hillary Clinton was unfairly blaming the media and the Obama campaign for their sexist treatment of her. Now that the primary contest is over, all of a sudden, the cries foul of women between February and June were legitimate and real when before they were politicized and imagined.

Either Obama did something to offend women and therefore needs to make amends now, or he was completely above board and treated Clinton with respect during the campaign. The saccharine coverage of the political love-fest on the democratic side - even when there is acknowledgement that this is merely a marriage of convenience - is sweeping under the carpet the very complex issue of gender that this election has transiently brought into the foreground of our political consciousness. Why is it that pundits disagreed about the Clinton camp's charge of sexism while the race was still going on but everyone seems to implicitly endorse the claim that some of that was going on (in acknowledging that there are bridges to mend) now that the primary contest is over? At what point and under what conditions do subjective feelings of vicitimization become legitimate and honored?

I have little doubt that this curious dynamic will be analogously played out vis-a-vis race in this year's election: race is going to figure very prominently, but we will only admit it after the fact. For whatever reason, we don't seem to like to deal with a problem as it is happening to us; but it sure gives us psychic relief to flagellate ourselves after the fact.


Bradley Spahn said...

Professor Lim,

I think you make the mistake towards the end of this post of confusing a pundit's finding fault with Obama's conduct and a pundit observing that other have found fault with his conduct, thus leaving Obama with bridges to mend. That is, even if Obama didn't do anything wrong, so long as Hillary supporters think he did, he has bridges to ment.

Another example of perception overshadowing fact.

Elvin Lim said...

Brad, you're exactly right in highlighting the puzzle I was trying to unpack: "Even if Obama didn't do anything wrong, so long as Hillary supporters think he did, he has bridges to mend." I would add a "Discuss." to this statement. If women FELT slighted, when do their _subjective_ feelings of victimization become objective and legitimate, and when do they remain subjective (and therefore illegitimate)? Here is a a very common instantiation of this problem: what defines sexual harrassment (of a woman)? Is it the accuser's or the victim's perception of it. As I noted in my post, the same puzzle recurs with race.