5 Jun 2008

Death by a Thousand Cuts

By Erica Jong
There isn't a gracious way to talk about sexism, writes Erica Jong on Hillary Clinton's defeat
I didn't know it would feel this bad. I didn't know it would feel this personal. I'm all for a united Democratic Party, but losing my last chance to see a woman in the White House feels like shit.

The gloating by the press is even worse. It sounds like: "I told you so." It feels like watching Joan of Arc burned at the stake. You can smell the burning flesh. And then all the crowing about breaking the race barrier - which we haven't done yet.

A primary is not a general election. The people who vote in primaries are more sophisticated than the general run of voters. I hope Barack Obama will be the next US president, but I can't watch his triumph without a fearful foreboding. He is not the first charismatic leader we've produced and he won't be the last. But our country is very good at taking down the best and the brightest. Those of us who lived through the unspeakable violence of the 1960s can attest to that.

I want to be wrong about violence. I hate the role of Cassandra. I want to believe that America has moved beyond violence and racism - and maybe we have. But I thought we had moved beyond sexism too, and this campaign proved me wrong. The petty woman-hating jibes, the ageism, and the physical mockery have not been easy to watch. The only good thing about the defeat of Hillary Clinton may be a resurgence of feminism, an understanding that we haven't yet killed misogyny and that we have work to do.

"It's not sexism - it's her" seems to have replaced, "I'm not a feminist, but" in our national lexicon. This is not to imply that Hillary Clinton is faultless - far from it. But it's clear that the faults we tolerate and even overlook in men, we see as glaring in women.

The problem with sexism is that it's so damned invisible. John McCain can confuse Sunnis and Shiites and nobody blinks. George W Bush can admit to his press secretary that he outed a secret agent while claiming that he'd fire any aide who did so, and the press sleeps. Men make mistakes, women are not allowed to. We are held to such high and impossible standards that the possibility of any woman penetrating the barrier again seems remote.

My best friend tells me that Hillary should have been gracious last night. Barack Obama was gracious. But isn't gratitude the prerogative of the winner? Will women ever be winners? And if so, when?

Sexism is hard to see because most of it is so petty we don't want to mention it. Nutcracker thighs? A novelty like that seems beneath contempt. But it isn't one small offence that does women in - it's the steady accretion of many offenses. It's death by a thousand cuts.

Even mentioning the problem seems ungracious. As women, we're supposed to specialise in graciousness. And there isn't a gracious way to talk about sexism. Perhaps there is no way to talk about sexism at all - which is the way sexists want it.

I will work my tail off for a President Obama. We need a Democrat in the White House more than ever. But I can't help feeling that we've buried a topic that needs unearthing. Please, Mr Obama, turn your attention to sexism and tell us how you plan to address it. Then we can all be gracious with a good conscience.

This is an edited version of a piece first published on Huffington Post.

Log in or register to post comments

Discuss this article

To control your subscriptions to discussions you participate in go to your Account Settings preferences and click the Subscriptions tab.

Enter your comments here

Posted Thursday, June 5, 2008 - 13:43

Please .... you would think from reading this the voters in the 2008 Democratic primaries were men only.

Voters know Hillary Clinton and they don't like her. It's not a vote for the brightest, it's a popularity contest.

Sexism is a major issue but blaming it for Clinton's loss, which we've all known would occur (eventually) is the wrong way to address the issue.

Nor is this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KACQuZVAE3s

Also her inability to accept Obama's nomination - what is she doing now? writing her 'You stuffed it up and made the wrong choice speech!' - is shameful, regardless of her gender.

Posted Thursday, June 5, 2008 - 14:10

In actual fact, Erica Jong's brand of feminism is clouding the way you perceive Hillary and that is, she's not the best candidate for the US Election. Jong doesn't perceive that "Billary" was discriminated against because of her sex, because the fact is, she was taken on as an equal candidate, and which to me shows that the sexism debate is solved to a degree. It's just that her policies and personality didn't gel well with the voters. Hillary's contemptible persona has nothing to do with her biological sex.

This candidacy was interesting because it revealed which fight America was willing to take on - racism or sexism? And racism has won out, and it says much more about America's stance on social and cultural equality and cohesion than the battle against sexism ever will. Racism is a more significant because it affects more people globally.

And let's not forget that if she was elected, we'd have another Clinton to add to the recent history of presidents (Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton).

Posted Thursday, June 5, 2008 - 14:45

[EDIT] Erica Jong’s brand of feminism is clouding the way she perceives Hillary...
..."Billary" was NOT discriminated against because of her sex, because the fact is, she was taken on as an equal candidate, and which to me shows that the sexism debate is solved to a degree.

This is what happens when you don't proofread. Whoops.

Posted Thursday, June 5, 2008 - 16:10

So if Obama nominates a woman to run on his ticket (which isn't Billary), let me guess...that's sexist because it's saying women come second (again).

Posted Thursday, June 5, 2008 - 16:36

For heaven's sake Jong, get a grip on it. Bush, a moron, was voted into office twice in a row which should serve as more than adequate proof that American voters find a lack of intellect to be of far greater value in a leader than a candidate's gender.

Posted Thursday, June 5, 2008 - 16:50

Perhaps if every Democratic candidate in future elections was a Black woman, preferably left-handed ?

Actually, I think that Obama WILL choose a woman to run as vice-presidential candidate (but not Hillary Clinton), and perhaps for another senior position as well.


Posted Thursday, June 5, 2008 - 18:27

'Racism is a more significant because it affects more people globally.'

What? Sexism affects more people because it affects everyone, all over the world, everywhere. White people too. And women get a double dose of sexism (compared to men who suffer its ill affects less so) to add to their racism.

Hillary probably got around the same number of votes Obama did. The people did not really vote for Obama, the party caucus system did. That would be....the old boys network.

Obama will be shooting himself in the foot if he chooses a female VP. Americans probably won't vote for a black man in the end and are hardly going to vote for a black man and a woman. Misogyny and racism are both alive and well. The elections will simply tell us if free-market capitalism is finally suffering even more stigmatism than white women and black men.

I have to say Erica Jong is certainly more gracious than me. I probably won't vote for Obama. Too angry and don't like him. But my vote won't count anyway because I'm a blue voter in a blue state that will vote for Obama.

Oh, well, it will be interesting to see the true state of racism in America in 2008 and leave the misogyny question for another far-off year. Meanwhile, I'll continue stewing.

Posted Friday, June 6, 2008 - 01:19

ah yes because all females experience sexism, and none have ever used their gender to their advantage. silly me for thinking this issue was something more complex than a naive binary. the world is so much simpler when you view every problem in black and white(pun intended)

Vote Total (including Florida, Michigan and estimates based on %s for states that didn't release numbers) Obama - 18,107,710 Clinton - 18,046,007
it's all clear now, having more votes means he won the old boys contest as opposed to the popular vote

but i do agree that america lacks a gracious way to talk about sexism. we've established that they're comfortable talking about their racism...

Posted Friday, June 6, 2008 - 08:14

I was relieved when Hillary Clinton finally conceded defeat.Another 4 years of the HillBill show would be a disaster.It's about time these two rode off into the sunset with their baggage.Hopefully Obama will not give Hillary a job of any sort.Even from a distance she appears to be a dangerous person and this impression has nothing to do with gender.

It is predictable that feminists and self promoters like Jong would get up in arms.Sure,there are all sorts of wisecracks about politicians,male and female.It is part of the turf and the people making the comments don't do themseves much credit sometimes.But what is going to matter in the end is the perceived ability of the candidate,regardless of gender or race.In this case,Hillary just did not cut it.

Posted Friday, June 6, 2008 - 09:25

Great, we have Hillary supporters now so disappointed in the Dems decision that they will now support McCain:

You can imagine the conversation as they go to sign-up for the Republican Campaign, 'Well, if I'm not wanted here...I'll show them. I'm gonna go and join that other group who champion all those causes I've been working with Hillary on, like women's choice, universal health care, out of Iraq, energy policy...'

Seriously, am I missing something or are these people only happy when they resent everything?

Posted Friday, June 6, 2008 - 09:50

Here's a really way-out suggestion: who were the most popular members of Bush's government, say, three or four years ago ? [Leading question] Answer: Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice.

McCain will be under pressure to choose Rice as his VP, so what if Obama snookers him and offers the Sec of State's job to Rice ? No, I wouldn't trust her either but she would pull some votes from McCain, and leave him with his hick white racist fruitcake-Christian base. And I think she got a kick out of seeing Obama get the Dem nomination. After all, all Blacks around the world are four inches taller today, so my wife says: she certainly is.

So Obama for President,
Condoleeza Rice for Vice-President,
Colin Powell for Secretary for Aggressive Wars,
Susan Rice for Secretary of State.

Politics is the art of the possible and sometimes involves sleeping with your enemies.

But four Blacks - I'd like to see that !


Posted Friday, June 6, 2008 - 15:13

The dream of a woman president has been deferred, not defeated.

Posted Friday, June 6, 2008 - 16:09

Can Obama do it alone? That is the question. By that I mean he probably needs the Clinton supporters on board to guarrantee a Democrat victory in November.
This could be a precedent for the Democrats, who may see their best chances are only if Obama and Clinton share the ticket. Who else of any substantial political nouse is there? I know historically the Presidential nominees nominate their own Vice President nominee, however in this case, especially after such a close and hard fought Primary, the highly successful (but not quite victorious) campaigner Clinton has certainly earnt the right to run as his Vice.
And if he decides not to choose her as the Vice nominee, the party will appear to be divided and this will certainly threaten their chances of a Democrat victory.
As far as gender and race, there are far too many important issues to worry about why those aspects of a person even matter to some (obviously morons), as the policies of these nominees are far more important than either of those minor factors!

Posted Friday, June 6, 2008 - 17:11


Obama won't choose Clinton, not in a million years. I'll bet you $ 10 on it. And there are a hell of a lot of people who could do the VP job, Edwards, Richardson, Napolitano, Pelosi, the governors of Kansas and Pennsylvania whose names I forget, many others - don't be surprised if he picks someone from way out in left field. The Democrats don't need the Clintons, they gave it their best shot and missed it. End of story. Winner takes all.

No, Obama will choose someone in a way which will obviously bring the party together, wait and see. And it may be more a matter of demographics than policy.


Posted Friday, June 6, 2008 - 17:19

Let's hope Obama chooses Morgan Freeman for VP. Older, wiser and we are already accustomed to him in the role as statesman. Forget the Party, it will bring America together!

Posted Saturday, June 7, 2008 - 15:32

Back to the topic of Hillary and women's disappointment. Here's a theory:

* for most people, a conservative attitude is their natural state;

* for oppressed, exploited, abused and threatened groups (women, Blacks, other ethnic minorities), the situation is intolerable. Many turn to counter-conservative acts and policies to amerliorate their situation;

* 'radical' groups and individuals are very hot on issues that affect their group, with people willing to get arrested, even to die, for the benefit of people in their own group. On the other hand, the same people might tend ot be unreflective, complacent and conservative when it comes to the grievances of other groups;

* 'progressive' individuals and groups are those who are hot, not just on issues that affect their own group, but that affect other people as well: so whereas a 'radical' individual or group might be very active on behalf of its own group, he/she may do little or nothing on behalf of any other group, in facto could be quite hostile to their concerns - while 'progressives' will be concerned about those other groups as well - whites may be willing to work and die for Black liberation, males may be willing to get arrested or beaten up by brutal sexist cops on behalf of women's liberation, homosexuals may be concerned about, and work for, the liberation or rights of groups other than their own.

So where do these women in the US who are threatening to switch their vote from Clinton to McCain stand ? Are they 'radical' or 'progressive' ? Are they as racist as their white brothers ? Or will they support a Black even if he is a man ? Would they have voted for McCain anyway ? Should they stand over the Democratic Party to demand that a white woman be chosen as VP ? Or should they be expelled as the racist hick crap that they have always been ?

Respond below.


Posted Sunday, June 8, 2008 - 07:26

I may have been missing something because I was never present at any of Hillary's functions, but she seemed to suffer the fate of so many female politicians - they take on the characteristics of male politicians and behave like small but cocky pre-pubescent boys - very unbecoming.

It is so refreshing when female politicians remain themselves.

Male politicians find it almost impossible. [I've known a few who were really likable prior to becoming members of a Government.]

So if are to have a female in power here, there or anywhere, may she be a woman.

Posted Sunday, June 8, 2008 - 13:40

And may she be a worthy candidate, regardless of her gender, race/ehtnicity/culture, religion, or favourite movie.

Posted Tuesday, June 10, 2008 - 12:22

rmg1859 I wouldn't bet on it!

Hilary is still in with a chance.

Barack has been in contact with her and I reckon the chances of her being asked to run with him are still around 50/50.

If you're so sure about this - how about $100 bet?

Only joking..

Posted Tuesday, June 10, 2008 - 12:36

No, I'll take that seriously - $ 100, you're on. $ 200 says Pelosi.


Posted Sunday, June 15, 2008 - 20:00

Milton Keynes

...more sophisticated than the general run of voters. I do love that.

We may be just plebs but madam you are a pretentious snob.

Posted Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - 14:22

How differently we all perceive the world Phermon. You want female politicians to act like ladies, whereas I'd much prefer they acted like women...by using skills usually attributed to the female gender like those of organisation, communication and negotiation.
And if and when they act a little playful and act as you would believe in an unladylike fashion...that's their business. They're not acting up like a 'naughty little boy', but acting like a 'big, bad woman' does sometimes, especially ones who play the game to win.
And Pelosi's too nice (no bet) - not strong and experienced like Clinton (good bet).

Posted Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - 15:01

I think that's sweet of you, Denise, but I don't think I mentioned, or even imagined, the concept of ladies - can't bear them. So who were you responding to?