A News Article? 'Hillary Hatred Finds Its Misogynistic Voice'

Here’s a headline that suggests an objective article will not follow: "Hillary Hatred Finds Its Misogynistic Voice." Newhouse News Service reporter Jonathan Tilove, whose beat is usually race relations, indicted John McCain, Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, former RNC spokesman Cliff May, "South Park," and Facebook groups as historic forces of hatred and vitriol, putting poor Hillary through a punishing gauntlet never run by men: "Thanks to several years of phallocentric history, there is no comparably vocabulary of degradation for men, no equivalently rich trove of synonyms for a sexually sullied male." The story began:

In the coming months, America will decide whether to elect its first female president. And amid a techno-media landscape where the wall between private vitriol and public debate has been reduced to rubble, Sen. Hillary Clinton is facing an onslaught of open misogynistic expression.

Step lightly through that thickly settled province of the Web you could call anti-Hillaryland and you are soon knee-deep in "bitch," "slut," "skank," "whore" and, ultimately, what may be the most toxic four-letter word in the English language.

We have never been here before.

No woman has run quite the same gantlet. And of course, no man.

Thanks to several thousand years of phallocentric history, there is no comparable vocabulary of degradation for men, no equivalently rich trove of synonyms for a sexually sullied male. As for the word beginning with C? No single term for a man reduces him to his genitals to such devastating effect.

What? Tilove has never heard a man called a "dick"? Jon Stewart applied that phallocentric label to Tucker Carlson on CNN, for example. The first instinct on a "news" story like this is to ask: Where is the "commentary" label? Or even that loose "news analysis" title? Newhouse seems to think this is just another hard-news piece.

Tilove thinks harsh Internet criticism ("teeming misogny" focused on Hillary Clinton on social-networking sites is an urgent story that must be injected into the media mainstream:

There are no rules. And so far there is little recognition in the political and media mainstream of the teeming misogyny only a mouseclick away. He quickly dips into his Rolodex of Hillary-boosting feminist experts.

"Part of the way a culture asks, 'Where are the boundaries?' is somebody makes it the topic of a meta-conversation — let's talk about the talk," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. That's what happened after Don Imus called the Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos."

"It's a discussion we are going to have if Hillary Clinton is nominated," said Jamieson, who originally went searching the Web for racist invective aimed at Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, only to find the raw sexism being directed at Hillary Clinton far more common and virulent.

"I've been waiting," Jamieson said. "When is somebody going to make this stuff visible enough to have that conversation?"

Tilove brought up the John McCain incident where a woman stood up to ask how Republicans will beat "the bitch." That cannot be alleged to have gone ignored by the mainstream media, but Tilove asserts that no one has been troubled by its meanness:

Viewed nearly a million times on YouTube in just the week afterward, "How Do We Beat the Bitch" has entered the lore of the 2008 campaign, but with barely a hint of soul-searching about what it means.

"Can you imagine if that woman had said, 'How do we beat the "n-word"?'" asked Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute of Politics. For McCain, said Walsh, or at least for those who think the nation might have benefited by examining why that woman felt so free to say what she did so publicly, "It was a terrible missed opportunity."

Speaking of soul-searching, has Tilove considered that the people most eager to view and popularize the YouTube video indicting McCain and casting Hillary as a victim would be...the Hillary Clinton campaign and its supporters? His article implies that the YouTube viewers were all Hillary "haters" who thrilled to hear her called the B-word.

Meanwhile, Tilove has quoted two experts, and each of them have compared Hillary "haters" to people using words like "hos" and the N-word. Is this the way the racism-beat reporter justified switching topics? His third expert, C. J. Pascoe of Berkeley, suggested that a conservative Republican woman wouldn’t face the same onslaught.

To be sure, apart from her gender, Clinton is a polarizing figure, half of a personal and political partnership with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, that weathered countless storms — most sensationally his impeachment growing out of a sex scandal.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has at times appeared the kind of feminist icon who stokes male insecurities about changing gender relations.

A conservative Republican woman running for president might provoke a far less angry male response, said sociologist C.J. Pascoe, a researcher with the Digital Youth Project at Berkeley's Institute for the Study of Social Change. "This would not be happening if it were Elizabeth Dole," Pascoe said.

But, she said, Hillary Clinton offers young men on social networking sites a ripe target for their aggression.

From there, it was on to the Internet offenders:

Facebook, popular with high school and college students, has dozens of anti-Hillary groups, many of which take great, sweaty delight in heaping abuse on Clinton as a woman, imagining her reduced to a subservient role, and visiting violence upon her.

One is "Hillary Clinton: Stop Running for President and Make Me a Sandwich," with more than 23,000 members and 2,200 "wall posts" — Internet graffiti in which discussants have fantasized about Clinton being raped by a donkey.

Eschewing the slightest wit or subtlety, some high school boys in Olathe, Kan., created "Punch her in the c---!!". With about 200 members, this group features the discussion topics "Why we hate Hillary Clinton," "Why you REALLY hate Hillary Clinton" and "What will we do if Hillary becomes president," which drew two replies — "death" and "shooter in the cooter?"

Another Facebook group, more temperate in tone and with about 13,000 members, is "Life's a bitch, why vote for one? Anti-Hillary '08." Like several other anti-Clinton sites, this one promotes a T-shirt: "Hillary for President. She Puts the C--- in Country."

What's going on here?

Is this merely some adolescent "guys gone wild" (most but by no means all of the Hillary haters are male)? The rank rituals of the rec room revealed for the whole world to see?

The proprietors of the Facebook group "Hillary Clinton Shouldn't Run for President, She Should Just Run the Dishes," with 2,159 members, offer a pre-emptive disclaimer to offended visitors:

"Do not message just to say how sexist we are and how the Lord will strike us down for hating women. That is just ignorant. It's been really hard to respond to all of the e-mails without saying the C-word, don't make us start now."

After quoting some members of these Facebook groups either suggesting they’re not sexist haters or declining to comment for danger or ruining their budding academic careers, Tilove moves back to Jamieson for the indictment of Rush and Tucker and the rest:

Jamieson said the tone of sex-specific "vilification" of Clinton is set in the mainstream media.

On his radio show, which reaches 14.5 million people, Rush Limbaugh talks about Clinton's "testicle lock box." On his MSNBC show, Tucker Carlson says, "There's just something about her that feels castrating, overbearing and scary," and a guest, Cliff May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, says that if Clinton is going to appeal to women for support on the basis of her gender, "at least call her a vaginal-American."

Young people, said Jamieson, take their cues from family and friends in a foggy geography of pop culture replete with misogynistic music, video games and crude comedy, where what separates fact from satire, bluster from menace (and for that matter, adolescence from adulthood), is hard to divine.

Comedy Central is a source of both entertainment and political news for its audience, which is heavily young and male. Among its most popular offerings is the outrageous animated show "South Park," which in March had an episode in which terrorists (Russian mercenaries hired by Queen Elizabeth II, bent on the reconquest of America) place a bomb in Hillary Clinton's vagina. (The episode provoked much less outrage than another mocking Tom Cruise and his religion, Scientology.)

In the end, the reader begins to wonder whether this story was urgent because it so offended Hillary supporters, or because it helped create new Hillary supporters:

Jamieson concurred. "This has the potential to push a lot of moderate Republican women toward her," she said.

The Clinton campaign may be counting on that.

The Clinton campaign can certainly count on Jonathan Tilove and the Newhouse News Service.

2008 Presidential Feminism
Tim Graham's picture