Sex­ism in pol­i­tics? You bet

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Ch­eryl Stepan

One might be tempted to look at our global lead­ers and think that sex­ism was be­com­ing a thing of the past, that women are fi­nally on equal foot­ing.

Af­ter all, ma­jor world pow­ers – Ger­many (Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel), Bri­tain (Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May), and soon, hope­fully the United States (Hil­lary Clin­ton, be­cause no, not Don­ald Trump) – have women at their helm. Dozens of coun­tries around the world have had fe­male lead­ers, in­clud­ing Canada (Kim Camp­bell, ever so briefly).

But look a lit­tle closer at how they are treated even to­day, and the lan­guage used to re­fer to them and you will find all is not even on the po­lit­i­cal stage. For starters, it’s our ob­ses­sion with their ap­pear­ance or their “like­abil­ity,” in­stead of their mes­sage or com­pe­tence.

For Theresa May, it’s the me­dia ob­ses­sion with her pat­terned kit­ten heels. Her vic­tory was an­nounced in one pa­per with the head­line “Heel, boys”. And the me­dia was so ob­sessed with Clin­ton’s hair that when her book “Hard Choices” came out in 2014, Clin­ton joked that the ti­tle could have been: The Scrunchie Chron­i­cles, 112 Coun­tries and It’s Still All About The Hair.

Set­ting aside the ap­pear­ance of can­di­dates, con­sider the abun­dance of sex­ist, misog­y­nis­tic com­men­tary in the U.S. pres­i­den­tial race. For ex­am­ple, you’ll prob­a­bly re­call Trump’s “blood com­ing out of her what­ever” com­ment in ref­er­ence to Fox News host Megyn Kelly.

And then there was this 1950s-style shocker last week, from Trump’s cam­paign man­ager. When Paul Manafort was asked to ex­plain why women would vote for Trump, he said: “Many women in this coun­try feel they can’t af­ford their lives. Their hus­bands can’t af­ford … pay­ing for the fam­ily bills.” The in­ter­viewer was so sur­prised he asked: “Is that the 21st cen­tury talk­ing? That’s their big con­cern? How their husband’s do­ing at work?” Manafort, re­fus­ing the out, replied: “Be­cause they can’t af­ford their lives any­more. That’s the point.”

You might dis­miss these ex­am­ples be­cause they came from the Trump cam­paign which is clearly stuck in a time warp. But this is the in­ter­na­tional stage. And these com­ments are from peo­ple who ought to know bet­ter if they viewed women as equals and cared about not fur­ther alien­at­ing them. So why say these things? Be­cause they feel they can. Be­cause there are enough peo­ple who view these re­marks as ac­cept­able that they feel com­fort­able voic­ing them.

For­tu­nately, women are speak­ing up against this misog­yny in weird and won­der­ful ways. Like cam­paigns such as #Pe­ri­ods­forPence and #Tam­pon­sForTrump, two ini­tia­tives cre­ated to protest Trump and his run­ning mate Mike Pence’s views on women and re­pro­duc­tive rights.

Yes, women have come a long way. Thurs­day night, Clin­ton took the stage at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion, the first woman to ever lead a ma­jor U.S. po­lit­i­cal party. That only took 240 years since the Declaration of In­de­pen­dence. Progress? Yes. But it is time to pick up the pace.

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