September 13, 2008 / Uncategorized

Losing the battle, and maybe the war


Originally posted at The Lurking Canary.

Today I read that our nasty little homegrown clero-fascists have grabbed mainstream headlines by putting both feet squarely on the new third rail of American politics: racism. See here for an article on some kind of dreadful anti-Obama novelty type item. The article doesn’t link to an image of the product itself, and I’m not providing one, because I don’t intend to promote it through the back door (“you wouldn’t believe this – click here now to see it!”).

But the article itself reminds me of a question that is still, unfortunately, rhetorical – where was the “objective” mainstream media outrage over the “Hillary nutcrackers“? They were sold in a big honking display at the CNBC store at National (Reagan) airport. Maybe there were AP articles that declared them unambiguously sexist and implicitly immoral, but I don’t remember seeing them. This is the kind of item the press deems trivial and ignores, or describes as controversial, something that some people find offensive, or to which feminist groups object. This article, while published in the not-MSM Huffington Post, is by a Chicago-based “editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer,” and it captures the mealy-mouthed equivocating reaction in all its contextual glory:

I’m still trying to figure out what to make of it — feeling at once troubled that this is more cultural rollback, that it’s OK (again, still) to mock the concept of women in power with quasi-sexual guffaws that mask deep male anger and fear, a la Tucker Carlson; yet at the same time swayed by the idea that this light-hearted product, while it has obvious appeal to Hillary haters, could also appeal to her supporters and to women in general because it conveys female empowerment, and in any case it’s funny, and sometimes it’s OK to just lighten up.

My point has nothing to do with Sen. Obama per se. My point is: whatever else the current generation of feminists – and particularly the Third Wave feminists – have accomplished, the battle to diminish the cultural acceptability of sexism and misogyny is being lost. Lighten up is not a successful strategy. Lighten up is no strategy at all.

When I objected to the decidedly not-impressed employee at the airport store selling the nutcrackers, I was told “well, people are buying them.” When I subsequently tried to voice my outrage, I was flummoxed. This wasn’t about writing a Congressman, or calling for something to be banned, or calling for a boycott (which can backfire spectacularly). Writing comments on various blogs felt, at best, inconsequential. There was no vehicle to do anything about this.

The day will come when racist expression is vociferously and sincerely condemned in every corner of this country. Norms have changed, and they continue to change. Even the most entrenched stereotypes and assumptions can be uprooted. In some ways, this is the kind of improvement that is the most meaningful, because it demonstrates that the way people think about race as a concept has evolved.

The dumbest response to this phenomenon would be to resent organized anti-racism interest groups (which include many, many feminists), the millions of individuals who have bravely spoken out on their own, or the beneficiaries of their efforts, such as Sen. Obama. This is a success-in-progress that should be celebrated and emulated.

Feminists can make this happen with regard to sexist and misogynistic expression. Around the world one can identify cultures where such expression is more common than in others. Given that such differences exist, we know that at a minimum it is possible to move our culture along the spectrum, in the right direction.

We must commit ourselves to an innovative and energetic campaign to change our culture. The way things look now, we’re not just losing a battle about sexism in this election – we’re losing the whole damn war.