No matter whom you support in this primary season, the discourses of race and gender both have been downright disheartening. As Marie Cocco posits here, the kind of casual sexism used to characterize Hillary Clinton is not just a differentiation of male and female gender types, but active bile that strikes at the heart of the notion of a woman in power.
What this continues to underscore, I think, is the prevailing notion that to be female or feminine is to be weak, and that "strong women" are either not really strong, or not really women. This, I think remains part of the problem: that our terminology has (dis)empowerment deeply embedded. That to be masculine is to be strong, whereas to be feminine (not necessarily female) is to be submissive.
Interestingly, this is an argument that has been made about race in America as well. In her brilliant Scenes of Subjection, Saidiya Hartmann astutely locates the performative nature of race in the re-enactment of subjection and domination (Go read Hartman now, if you don't her work. That's ok. I'll wait). But while the raising-to-power of Obama (itself not a bad thing) has allowed too many of us to congratulate ourselves for this illusion of a post-racial society, the unwillingness to reverse those terms on gender is striking.
Now, illusion is a key word there, for Obama's now-almost inevitable nomination does not mean we live in anything like a post-racist society.
I am not saying that Obama has had it easier, or that he's here because he's black. Far from it. His path here has been extraordinary, and I think he's among the most exciting presidential candidates in my voting lifetime.
All I am trying to say here is that this election has taught me that as a body we still think
We can call Hillary a ball-breaker, but similar racist insinuations like the earlier gaffe by Biden are (justifiably) called out early and often. [eta: forget the comparison. wouldn't it be nice if we called out all of it more diligently? The only safe way to talk about race is to discuss this as an historic opportunity to mark the end of racism, an idea that is itself downright dangerous.
Let me reiterate here. I think both politicians are excellent potential presidents (as I thought about Edwards before he dropped out). I think both represent opportunities to change the tenor of identity politics. I also think that the "noooooo, that's not racism/sexism" of the campaign dangerously elides the very real and ongoing contours of a racialized and gendered America, and that if we think that electing a Black president marks an end to racism, or that electing a woman president marks an end to sexism, we're only kidding ourselves.
I'll end now, with the realization that I am in dangerous waters here, and that I have tried to tread carefully. Please feel free to weigh in.
ETA: Ugh. So apparently, as this excellent post points out, the racism's just as bad.