October 16, 2008 / Uncategorized

Kitty Genovese and Sarah Palin: The “Bystander Effect” and Women of the Democratic Party

by

Witnessing the horrific treatment of Senator Clinton during the 2008 Presidential Primary, many women of this country joined forces and said: “Never again!”

The sexist treatment of Senator Clinton has been credited by some for the reawakening of feminism in our country. Amanda Fortini wrote an article for the New York Magazine in April 2008 titled: “The Feminist Reawakening: Hillary Clinton and the Fourth Wave”; Lisa Wangsness wrote an article for The Boston Globe in August 2008 titled: “Clinton’s Journey Awakens a New Women’s Movement”; and Froma Harrop wrote about Senator Clinton’s supporters moving on to work on sexism in a syndicated article titled: “It’s No Longer Just About Hillary”.

When Senator McCain picked Governor Palin to be his Vice President, responses varied: Women were overjoyed; women were dismayed. Many were surprised—but some were not. Some figured that in his VP selection, Senator Obama had overlooked the candidate who had received 18 million votes in the primary. This left the field wide open for a gutsy move by Senator McCain. Many Hillary Clinton supporters (including The New Agenda) had lobbied Senator McCain to pick a woman.

But whatever the opinion of Governor Palin, some of us vowed that we would not let the sexism that was directed at Hillary creep into the political landscape again. Women’s groups like Women Count, The New Agenda and Women’s Media Center spoke out about the early attacks on Governor Palin. Within 48 hours of the announcement of Governor Palin’s selection, The New Agenda issued a press release denouncing the use of the term “MILF” and some other early statements. Those early comments were offensive, but they hardly compare to today’s vitriol.

There are two differences between the attacks on Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. First, the attacks on Governor Palin have intensified, becoming more graphic, disturbing and violent with time. Second, this time women are part of the attack machine—to be specific: women of the Democratic Party are actually attacking Governor Palin in a sexist, personal and/or demeaning way. Many others are standing by and either cheering on those spewing the vitriol, or remaining silent—not speaking out against it.

Which brings us back to Psychology 101 and the “Bystander Effect” or “Genovese Syndrome.” The notion behind this is that an individual will intervene to help a person in need when they are alone; however, when a large group is involved, bystanders may refuse to help.

One infamous example is the case of Kitty Genovese, who was stabbed to death in 1964 by a serial rapist and murderer. The killing took place over the course of half an hour: the murderer initially fled the scene, scared off by a neighbor, but returned ten minutes later after realizing that no bystanders had interceded on Genovese’s behalf. Exaggerated newspaper reporting following Genovese’s death claimed 38 witnesses watched the stabbings and failed to intervene.

Are the women of the Democratic Party the new bystanders?

What started as “MILF” has taken a slippery slope right into a cesspool. The next noxious installment was a Huffington Post story titled “Sarah Palin Naked”, in which the author writes: “Basically, I want to have sex with her on my Barack Obama sheets while my wife reads aloud from the Constitution. (My wife is cool with this if I promise to ‘first wipe off Palin’s tranny makeup.’ I married well)”. The article itself is repulsive; but the comments posted on the article were mostly men and women cheering this notion on—and none in the Democratic Party spoke out to condemn this careful and deliberate fantasy of Palin’s degradation.

Unchecked, the misogyny feast has intensified. Over this past weekend, Senator Obama’s supporters proudly wore shirts printed in giant neon green letters that said, “Sarah Palin is a Cunt”. One female supporter was so proud of this t-shirt that she posted a picture of it on Senator Obama’s website (it was quickly taken down, however). Not to be outdone, the Huffington Post ran a story on Monday titled: “’Nailin’ Paylin’ Photos: Pictures from the Set of The Palin Inspired Porn”. Did the Democratic women who frequent this website speak out about HuffPo’s promotion of this revolting attack? No.

As if the porn weren’t insult enough, yesterday a 25 year-old rapper posted a Youtube video (now removed from YouTube, but still available here) in which he raps about raping Sarah Pali, Barbara Bush, and Tipper Gore, amongst others. The reaction this time: deafening silence. As Dr. Lynette Long comments: “It saddens me that not only are women not outraged by this video but participate in this. Again I feel frustrated by the silence that envelopes the women’s groups that are supposed to protect all women not just Democratic women.”

Women of the Democratic Party, beware. Will you sit at the sidelines because she doesn’t agree with you on policy? Will you excuse your silence because Governor Palin does not share your political beliefs? What are you teaching your daughters? What are you teaching your granddaughters? Are you telling them that it’s okay for a woman to be vilified? That it’s okay for a woman to be degraded, belittled and raped in prose? And you will cheer this on, because she’s not your candidate, or sit on the sidelines, because of some notion of solidarity? Will you let the murderer return to the scene again and again before you finally call the police and end the attack?

“The attack lasted more than half an hour. After it was over, someone called the police, who arrived within two minutes.”

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  • lisa

    Democrat women did this to Clinton though not as much. There was no outcry when pundits talked about someone taking her behind the woodshed to teach her a lesson.

    It’s infuriating and disgusting.

  • goesh

    What an extremely powerful statement! I watched that Youtube clip and it is lethal. It adds in my opinion a dynamic of terror to the bystander effect, hammering at the mute bystander, forcing passivity and no resistance. The ‘music’ of rape.

  • marille

    thank you for this article.
    the problem is that these women hating statements are so intense and frequent, overwhelming any response.
    I had written to the obama supporter rhiannon who posted the picture palin is a c*t. ironically this bo supporter lists on the website as her issues “peace and social understanding” . I reminded her of her statement. wearing the shirt of course is inflammatory and stirs outrage and hatred, in particular on women.
    could we create something like the pumapac prowls which make it easy for many to join in? to solidify and intensify our responses. individual letters and comments seem to be lost.

  • samanthasmom

    After seeing that horrendous video yesterday, some of us spread out to women-friendly sites and asked the readers there to flag the video at YouTube. It seems to have worked since the video is no longer available. What is sad is that we are now being accused of not supporting the First Amendment and of being “book banners” like Sarah Palin and by women as much as by men.
    I think that one of the reasons that women aren’t coming to the defense of Sarah Palin is that they falsely believe that as long as she is the one being vilified, they are safe from it. They worry that to jump to her defense and speak out against what’s happening will make them targets along with her. Sadly, about the second part they are right. Since the DNC, the Obama campaign, and organizations like NOW have been silent, most women are afraid of ostracism if they speak up. You know the old “if I’m nice to the dork, I won’t get to sit with the cool kids at lunch” phenomenon so I give her a little kick, too. I haven’t been this discouraged since my second week as one of a handful of women at an all-male college.

  • marille

    here is my letter to rhiannon.volpe@gmail.com
    who posted her picture with the sexist remark

    “The call is out that you helped design the offensive
    Palin t-Shirt.
    on your Obama website you mention as issues of
    interest to you: peace and social understanding. Do
    you think the sexist T-shirt is helping peace and
    social understanding?
    It seems to me that you are more interested in
    inflammatory remarks to stir outrage and thereby
    hinder issue driven discourse. inflammatory speach is
    in direct contrast to peace and social understanding.

    M. Herrmann
    supporter of new agenda

    the u-tube from the rapper is down. do we have a name/adress to write emails to?

  • http://www.hillaryloyalistnowformccain.com val sommerviile

    REAL WOMEN BACK ALL WOMEN
    REAL WOMEN ARE STRONGER THAN THE ATTACKS
    REAL WOMEN ARE FEARLESS
    THAT IS WHY I RESPECT SARA PALIN!
    Thoughts that one must ponder…..
    DO YOU WANT A SANTA SAM??????
    Read a great perspective at
    http://hillaryloyalistnowformc.....tagov.aspx

  • TheOtherDelphyne

    I remember the Kitty Genovese murder – I was 13 at the time and it left an enormous impression on me – that a woman was being murdered and no one helped. As if it was a “typical” episode of a “lovers quarrel” and was out of bounds for anyone to interfere.

    I am appalled at the women relatives/friends that I have who have jumped on the Sarah Palin bashing bandwagon and are startled when I say that she doesn’t scare me, that she doesn’t deserve to be attacked in such a violent manner. Their reaction is either to talk over me or just change the subject. I agree with what Samanthasmom said – these women feel safe because they are not the ones being vilified, Sarah Palin is – somehow, they are “special” and that sort of thing would never be done to them.

    Oh, any by the way, with the political climate what it is, I am sure someone is going to call you racist for bringing up the Genovese case since her murderer is black.

  • RIChris

    Sarah Palin has her own beliefs, goals and values. This is true feminism, they are ‘her own’. She has no need of validation from others, men or women. She is who she is, a woman who loves her family, her friends and her country. That is who most of us are.

  • http://c clem greco

    JUST WHEN I THOUGHT THE ATTACKS AGAINST PALIN
    COULDN’T GET ANY MORE VILE TONIGHT FOX AIRED THE
    WORDS OF THE CATHOLIC PRIEST ANDREW GREELY…HE
    DEMONIZED PALIN…THE PRO LIFE CANDIDATE…I CANT REPEAT WHAT HE SAID BECAUSE I WNT INTO SHOCK …
    AND WENT BLANK….HE ALSO SAID MC CAIN TREATS B
    LIKE THE HOUSE N. … THE BISHOP IN OUR AREA WOULD NOT ALLOW FORMER GOV, WHITMAN TO SPEAK AT A PRIVATE CATHOLIC H.S. BECAUSE SHE’S PRO CHOICE…

    GREELY IS WORSE THEN REV WRIGHT….CANDIDATES HAVE

    BEEN HUNG OUT TO DRY FOR BEING PRO CHOICE..

    WHAT IS GOUNG ON……CLEMENTINA

  • Dawn C

    Hey, Clementina, could you stop commenting in all-caps? Some interpret it as “yelling”. Thanks.

  • goesh

    That action against the rape/terror video – its about like a war, people going out into hostile territory, not really knowing what will come at them – that was a good piece of work – let them yammer book burner all they want, that video was advocating rape as a viable means to silence women – good action against the t-shirt degradation of women too – kkk rallies have been shouted down in a similiar manner, I was in one, about 200 of us heckling, mixed gender and races of all ages shouting down about 10 kkk members and finally they just walked away with police escorts after about 15 minutes. We all went back to what we had been doing, proud of ourselves.

  • Kiuku

    what everyone is describing is true. Women are so hungry for male approval. The women who believe themselves to be feminist, and often times humorously the men actually believe themselves to be feminist, are so hungry for male approval, and then men pin women against other women. As long as they are joining in on the attack, at that moment they feel like one of the men, like they are approved of, like they are not a woman.

  • Maura

    The only way to end this is to SPEAK OUT against this type of virtual rape as loudly and often as possible. This enables weaker women to see that they are not alone in thinking what has been done to Palin and other women is inexcusable. I have a friend who has Palin Derangement syndrome and I really can’t bear to be around her anymore.
    Women who would participate in this kind of systematic hatred would turn on any woman if she dared to be different from them.

    I do hope most US citizens are still fair minded and will give careful consideration when they are alone in the voting booth as to who has or has not been treated fairly.

    The fact that Sarah has been investigated more by the MSM than the male candidates is PROOF of their hatred for this woman.

    Women. Wake UP!!! You could be next.

  • Heather

    I guess you guys give me a little hope that maybe everyone isn’t as nuts as I’m starting to think they are. I don’t know how I ended up on your site, but I’m glad to hear that there are people out here who see the hypocrisy of this PDS and see how dangerous it is. I am a mother of five, with the youngest in a special education program (sound familiar?) I probably have reason to identify more than most with Sarah Palin, and was happy to see her nominated by the Republican Party for the Vice President. Although I have a degree in computer engineering, that degree is most useful to me today in helping my kids in pre-calc, rather than the field I worked in before I had kids. While I chose to stay home with my kids, I wouldn’t begin to judge Sarah for going to work — I think she feels that she has something unique to add to this world, and she can’t do it from home, and as long as her children are loved and cared for, I’m good with that.

    I think there is beginning to be a definite demarcation in the world of the feminist – those who advocate and support women as long as they believe in the same things they do, and those who believe in the power and strength and goodness of women to change the world. I’m all for the latter.

    I have started to wonder whether maybe some of the women with PDS really object to Sarah because they see a woman who, despite having a very important career that could be derailed with the birth of a baby, despite finding out that that child had a life-altering genetic defect, decided to give birth to that baby. She made a tough decision based on her beliefs and stuck with it, even though the birth of that little boy would make everything she was trying to accomplish that much harder. I think there are maybe women out there who maybe made a different decision at a tough time in their lives and see Sarah as a reminder, and they don’t like it. The hatred is so strong, it can’t just be that she’s not a Democrat, it’s just somehow more than that.

  • Maura

    I think that politics are a religion to some and you see evidence of the fanatics everyday. It isn’t bad enough for them that Sarah is a Republican (how dare she disagree with their world view!), but I think the most damning issue against her is that she is anti abortion. This has become a litmus test for some and they must attack and dehumanize anyone who cannot bring themselve to terminate a pregnancy. It is ridiculous.

    Heather, I applaud your strength and grace in dealing with the challenges of your family.

  • http://themountainsage.wordpress.com MountainSage

    And guess what….some of us former Democrats, now Independents because of the way Hillary Clinton was treated, have spoken out against the attacks on Sarah Palin. Some of us, like you, have written against it on our blogs. But, that doesn’t mean all of us will vote McCain/Palin.

  • Maura Orla

    That’s all good. Your vote should be your private business. Not voting for Sarah is different from belittling, disrespecting, dismissing, ridiculing Sarah.

    I believe that most people, when they are alone in the voting booth, without peer pressure or bullying or guilt, will pick the candidate they truly believe in their heart is most qualified for the position.

  • Rev. Gladys Joones

    I HEAR YOU LOUD AND CLEAR! IT IS UNCONSCIENABLE TO THINK THAT PEOPLE, WOMEN IN PARTICULAR, WOULD STAND BY AND NOT BE OFFENDED AND INSULTED BY THE HORRENDOUS AND SLUTTY COMMENTS THAT ARE BEING MADE ABOUT SARAH PALIN. I HAVE BEEN VICTIMIZED BY THE SEXISM THAT REIGNS IN THIS COUNTRY AS A MINISTER AND AS A PASTOR OF A CHURCH. I KNOW THE PAIN OF HAVING THE KNIFE NOT JUST THRUST INTO MY BACK BY MEN, BUT WORSE YET, THE AGONY OF HAVING OTHER WOMEN, WHO THEMSELVES ARE BEING VICTIMIZED BY SEXISM IN THE CHURCH, RESORT TO TWISTING THE KNIFE IN MY BACK INSTEAD OF TRYING TO REMOVE THE KNIFE, OR AT LEAST COME TO MY AID IN COMPASSION. I DON’T UNDERSTAND THE PSYCHE OF A WOMAN WHO IS ABLE TO CONTRIBUTE AND/OR ENJOY THE NEGATIVE CONTRIBUTIONS OF OTHERS UPON THEIR OWN LIKENESS. SOMETIME I THINK IT IS THE RESULT OF JEALOUSY, LOW SELF-ESTEEM OR JUST PLAIN STUPIDITY. TO BE REDUCED TO A “VAGINA” IS THE LOWEST OF ALL PLACES, ESPECIALLY BY MEN WHO LIVE JUST FOR THE SIGHT OF IT. GOTTA GO…BEFORE THIS SUBJECT CAUSE ME TO PUT MY RELIGION ON THE BACK BURNER AND THIS NONSENSE IS NOT WORTH IT! KEEP PRESSING AGAINST THE IDIOCRACY!

  • Briar

    I disagree with just one thing: the attacks on Hillary Clinton were just as vicious, and on blogs, forums and lists I visited they were just as enthusiastically promoted by other women and other democrats. The protests against the attacks on Hillary Clinton have done no good at all – they have just spurred the attackers on to exhibit even more venom. This is a mob situation – the sort that leads to lynchings and pogroms – and the internet has revealed itself as an effective medium in which to spread a virus of hysterical hatred. Something deeply disturbing in the human psyche has been released and no efforts are being made to put it back into the bottle. I fear for all women in the future .

  • Lori

    Obama has been in the public eye in a big way for about two years now. Googling obama + n!gger returns 536,000 hits. Palin has been in the public eye for about 7 weeks now but googling palin + c~nt returns 372,000 hits. In 7 weeks time, Palin has received roughly 70% of the name calling that Obama has endured in two years. This isn’t scientific – it’s simply an observation that anyone can double check.

    Apparently, liberals hate women much more than conservatives hate African Americans. I guess we can take our moral superiority and shove it up our ass.

  • Alice Paul

    I disagree too. Going to the “Mad As Hell/Bitch” video on You Tube will show you just how vicious the attacks on Clinton were. That is to say NOTHING of the attacks on her supporters.

    Lori,

    Google actually filtered search results in Obama’s favor during the primary. I don’t know if that has a thing to do with Jonathan SOROS being an executive for them, * but, you could not google him negative for several months around Super Tuesday..an important time and when google was asked why when you googled Obama even in negative terms you only got back “good” results but, if you googled “Clinton” the first page was FULL of negative links…their answer was they didn’t want “racism” to be encouraged.

    However every link on the first page, even once or twice bumping HER own official site to the bottom lead to a hate fest of woman bashing against Clinton. Google didn’t see this as a problem.

    I hardly think the Obama campaign was unaware of this special filtering in their favor…which is another reason I believe that the campaign sat silent FOR and exploited misogyny online to “win” It helped them, they knew and not only said nothing but, stayed silent because it benefited them.

  • Foxx

    I agree with those who have said that the attacks on Hillary were just as bad. There were plenty of “liberal” women involved in them too, but yes more are attacking Palin.

    This problem requires going back to the tactics of the 60s and 70s. We are going to have to physically confront people, in their face. Writing them won’t do it.

  • Alice Paul

    This topic of “bystanders” keeps haunting me. I once got out of an abusive relationship. The abuser was a prominent and well “respected” person who was smooth as glass and could charm anyone. He left all his dirty work behind closed doors and made the victims out to be heretics, crazy, disturbed, pathetic, and to be pitied.

    All his co workers believed him. In fact he worked in the “mental health” field and he was even able to work with women from a local women’s shelter where he lived. Even they SAY they didn’t see the person he really was if the mask came off.

    I learned a lot about the abuse of bystanders in those days. For one thing, I now consider them every bit as guilty as the abuser because they make the abuse worse. They embolden the abuser and empower him or her. They know, there is no way they cannot know deep down.

    It’s less trouble to pile on, to go along, to tell yourself it’s “not that bad” to pat the victim on the head and pretend to empathize or to patronize while the abuser smirks at it all. They have no idea the real effect it’s having because they are not the victim.

    This time.