Election results in the 2010 midterms revealed a surprising drop-off in the numbers of women who voted for Democrats, so President Obama’s current push to woo women back to the fold is not surprising. The debate is being framed as “Republicans’ war on women.” But the real war on women is something different than we are led to believe. It cannot be contained in sound bites and is not restricted to reproductive rights or contraception. Once again, women are being condescended to, and held hostage, as one-issue voters. We are used as a political football, yet our overall disgraceful treatment at the hands of mainstream media, politicians, advertisers, or comedians has not changed.
Why are we loath to examine the relentless brainwashing that marginalizes women? First, we would have to admit that our society is not quite as evolved as advertised. And why are the abusers not called to task, or if there is an outcry, why are they quickly and easily forgiven? Is the current pace at which we function so demanding that we cannot retain the acts of any culprit’s wrongdoing for more than a few days?
Bill Maher recently endured a firestorm of criticism for his hideous comments about Sarah Palin. The President was criticized for not demanding the return of a $1 million donation Maher made to a SuperPAC aimed at Mr. Obama’s re-election, but that criticism, too, faded into the background, buried by the relentless 24 hour news cycle. Yet there is more at fault here than just a busy news day.
Never content to sit on the sidelines, last Friday the notorious Maher waded into more hot water by commenting on the ‘mommy wars’ controversy ignited by political operative Hilary Rosen’s comments on Ann Romney. Rosen commented that as a wealthy stay-at-home mom, Mrs. Romney cannot relate to the concerns of struggling working women. Then Maher had to chime in:
“What [Hilary Rosen] meant to say, I think, was that Ann Romney has never gotten her ass out of the house to work.”
Once again, the White House has “distanced” itself from Maher. But the $1 million remains in the President’s SuperPAC war chest – at least, for now. Even George Stephanopoulos wondered how long the President could hold out before finally cutting Maher loose in a public way. There is ample reason for the President to do so. But will he? And since President Obama took the time to call Sandra Fluke to express support after Rush Limbaugh’s horrid comments that she was a “slut” and a “prostitute,” perhaps some of the other women Bill Maher has insulted would like a phone call, too.
After all, Maher is also the man who said:
“They fined CBS two million dollars for Janet Jackson’s nipple. Just think what they could get for Hillary Clinton’s c*nt.”
It is also interesting that Stephanopoulos now worries about Obama “distancing himself” from Maher because he insulted stay-at-home motherhood. Where was his outrage when Maher unleashed his endless sexist diatribes in 2008 against Hillary Clinton…? There was no outrage, because at the time, the demeaning slobber that Maher was offering up, namely bashing a powerful woman, served the larger purpose.
Following Maher’s recent “hot water” incident in re Sarah Palin, Senior ABC correspondent Jake Tapper was all too willing to give Maher a forum to defend himself. In their interview, Maher came up with the lame justification that he is “a potty mouth, not a misogynist” and once again hid behind the safety net of “I’m just a comedian.” But too often, he pretends to the rank of political commentator. Neither pundit nor comedian should get away with this behavior – yet both do. Hillary Clinton has endured every demeaning slur imaginable for twenty years. Never mind the pictorials. Spy magazine years ago featured her on the cover, wearing a Marilyn-type “blow-up” skirt only to reveal her in mens briefs with the outline of a penis visible underneath. Nothing has changed from that year to this.
And where Maher is concerned, a man who respects women does not refer to them as “bitch,” “horse face,” “c**t,” “dumb twat” or say they should be “splayed out on the hood of a car.” There is no “context” in which that would be acceptable, as joke or otherwise, despite his excuse making. This behavior is wrong, no matter the source or the subject of the slur.
The New York Times and the Washington Post immediately allotted Maher editorial space so that he might move the damaging debate six degrees to the right, namely by targeting “faux outrage” and an endless need to apologize. While he would not dare mention the flap about his misogynist comments directed at women, his posts had the desired effect; distracting and thereby rescuing him from the spotlight’s bright and damaging glare.
Maher, the shock jock, moved on and felt comfortable enough a couple of weeks later to jump into yet another maelstrom. Hilary Rosen has been shunned by both sides for her remarks about Mrs. Romney. But what will happen to Bill Maher as a result of making comments that were far more offensive? If your answer is nothing, you are likely correct.
We seem almost anxious to forgive men for their sexist transgressions, yet women on the receiving end of verbal abuse, shaming, objectification and marginalization are asked to take it in stride and told to “lighten up.” If a woman is guilty of wrongdoing, would she be forgiven? Would the other women or men condemning her be likely to “lighten up?”
If Tiger Woods were a woman who had cuckolded her husband with numerous affairs and risqué sexual behavior with multiple partners, do we really believe that the golfing world and society at large would be so eager to “rehabilitate” him and welcome him back into the fold? He is out on the circuit, winning tournaments. It’s business as usual. If Tiger Woods were ‘Tanya’ Woods, it is doubtful Tanya would be treated quite as well. Even in this day and age, a woman would wear a scarlet letter for the rest of her life. Woods’ relatively recent transgressions are barely mentioned any longer.
Perhaps part of the reason some men exonerate their brothers is that they themselves feel guilty, either for their silence or for their agreement. In the alternative, do they wish to rescue another man from the wrath of “angry mommy?”
No one likes their nose rubbed in a mistake. If they were to admit condoning sexist behavior and that it is indeed damaging, they would also have to admit complicity in allowing it without protest. Better to minimize it than to stare down the elephant in the room.
Bill Maher is just another cog in the wheel, driving home the mantra that no matter what a woman does, we will find something wrong with it – if that woman is somehow inconvenient, or gets a little too big, or too noticeable for her bloomers.
Politically, it is easier to divide and conquer to keep women in line at the voting booth. The practice keeps us more malleable. Then the natural order is not threatened, If women were able to find some compromise on reproductive rights or declare a truce in the name of the dire economy, politicians of both parties would find themselves in a great deal of trouble. They would have to address women as powerful individuals with concerns as diverse as any man. Woman control the purse, too and care about the economy, gas prices, housing starts, outsourcing of jobs, education and the future of their children. Women can do the math.
At the moment the choices are between one group who does not want to allow us to self-determine and another that threatens us with the loss of that right if we do not vote for them.
The real war on women is waged by both the left and the right – another inconvenient truth. As long as we are kept busy with schadenfreude, tearing down Ashley Judd for her “puffy face,” declaring that Hillary Clinton is “conniving” or “ego driven and power hungry,” or declaring that Sarah Palin is a neglectful mother, an “idiot” or a “twat”; or laughing at clowns like Maher who continue to debase; as long as we project negative images of women, there is less competition and also less likelihood that we will stray into less convenient territory.
Will these tactics continue to work? If I’d learned anything in 2008, it is that women have an endless capacity to settle for crumbs rather than standing up to claim the cake. As long as accountability is doled out in a one-sided fashion and women continue to play along, as long as women are held to a different standard by men and by other women… Yes. Those tactics will be a resounding success.
Anita Finlay is the author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin: Sexism and Sabotage, a Hillary Supporter’s Rude Awakening, now available on Amazon in print and on Kindle. www.anitafinlay.com
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