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Pre-2008 Posts

Intersections: If Obama Were a Woman and Not a Man








I’ve posted these photos hoping to illustrate some of the points I (and Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem) and others have been making about the way Hillary Clinton is being treated because she is a woman as opposed to the way Barack Obama is being treated because he is biracial/black.   That discussion is here, and in particular, the photos above are meant to accompany what I said as follows:

…if Obama were a black woman running against Clinton, I think it would be completely and totally wrong to compare the sexist treatment of Clinton as against the racist treatment of Obama (if Obama were a woman), or even to juxtapose the sexist treatment of Clinton as against the racist treatment of a (woman) Obama, because the sexism to which a (female) Obama would be subjected would be completely informed by racism in a way the sexism against Clinton would never be, so to bracket sexist treatment of a white woman off against racist treatment of a black woman would make the black woman’s experience of both at the same time invisible. It would be oppressive and insulting and just wrong. All the racism she experiences is also sexist, and all the sexism she experiences is also racist. The white woman experiences sexism only.

But Obama is not a woman, he’s a man. And that makes all the difference in the world. His being (somewhat, or comparatively) exempted from racist treatment is important because he is *completely* exempted from sexist treatment because he is a man (omitting, for the moment, a discussion of racism, including against men, as a form of sexism). Whereas Hillary Clinton is completely and totally subjected to open and unapologetic sexist treatment, Obama is subjected, again, to zero sexist treatment. For this reason, the comparison and juxtaposition is in my mind apt. When we talk about the racism Obama is subjected to, it is never going to be informed by sexism, such that we make the one invisible by highlighting the other, as is the case with women of color.

Condoleeza Rice is the first black woman to serve as Secretary of State.  Before that, she was a political science professor at Stanford.  I think it makes sense to compare the way she has been treated by the media, by opponents, by sexists and racists (even though she never ran for public office, just as a matter of course) and the way Barack Obama is being treated and the way Hillary Clinton is being treated.  I think this treatment offers some pretty interesting insights into the connections between sexism and racism.




15 thoughts on “Intersections: If Obama Were a Woman and Not a Man

  1. I think if Obama was subjected to sexism, it could not be done without being filtered through racism first. Think of all the sexist tropes for black men. They are tropes that were formed to hyper-sexualised black men. To make black men look like rapists in order to take the heat off of white men who rape in volume more. Nevertheless, those tropes, even though racist, elevate masculinity. It would be a win win for any one looking to vote against a woman. So even if sexism were used against Obama, it would only negatively influence the people (racist white men who are afraid black men will steal white women and anyone else with this fear) who are probably not voting for him anyway. Everyone else would be disgusted.

    Posted by ekittyglendower | February 6, 2008, 7:43 pm
  2. Thanks for showing us and telling us. (And we’re all very sorry–or should be–that any of us has to be shown). There is this dream that “children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin” or by the sex of their bodies, “but by the content of their character.”

    Posted by J. K. Gayle | February 6, 2008, 8:00 pm
  3. Be careful, Heart. Pointing out the obvious will get you accused of playing the “Oppression Olympics” with fun feminists. You observe reality, ergo, you think racism doesn’t exist, or some other such nonsense.

    Posted by K.A. | February 6, 2008, 8:17 pm
  4. I get it Heart and know black women are subjected to both sexism and racism whereas white women are subjected to sexism (or misogyny as I term it) and NOT racism. Obama being male accords him male privilege not so for Condoleeza Rice who has been subjected to both racism and sexism. All of which is part of the hierarchy of white male supremacy or patriarchy as it can be called. But then patriarchy too is supposedly non-existent just as sexism/misogyny and racism has supposedly been eliminated.

    Posted by jennifer drew | February 6, 2008, 10:07 pm
  5. I get it…you’re voting for hillary because you hate men.
    Go sit in a dark room my child. You’ll feel better in the morning.
    What about America, Mom and apple pie. All the men lost in battle in every war. Now women too in combat.
    I would’nt give too hoots if hc were black, yellow, green or otherwise. If hc were black and there was another qualified black woman running you know who would get my vote. This country does not need another clinton.
    I shudder when I think of what that bastard did to the prestige of the office of president. God save us from the clintons!!!!

    Posted by Harried | February 6, 2008, 11:02 pm
  6. It’s interesting, took jennifer drew (and everyone) that a woman being a conservative, aligning with Bush, doesn’t spare her either sexism or racism. It just comes to her courtesy of a different group of men. Which is as it always is under male supremacy so far as women goes, we are pawns, objects in men’s games and machinations. As Robin Morgan says, that has never changed yet. Whatever coups de tat there have been up to this point in history, they have been coups de tat between men which never touched the central and primary subordination which is sexism, misogyny.

    Posted by womensspace | February 6, 2008, 11:35 pm
  7. “Be careful, Heart. Pointing out the obvious will get you accused of playing the “Oppression Olympics”” K.A. gets another gold star for clever comment of the day.

    Gold Medal — oppression olympics

    We just have to accept that all kinds of oppression is being described and identified. If you’ve felt it, it is the worst because YOU are on the receiving end. Simple as that. But we can be mindful that oppression is complex, and the oppressors love to manipulate the oppressed for their own ends. Kennedy family nota bene here!

    Posted by Satsuma | February 7, 2008, 12:24 am
  8. One big difference is that racism (against males, and primarily only against males) is generally ‘frowned upon’, whereas sexism gets written off as “can’t you take a joke?“. We know that both racism and sexism are still in full play (just not ‘legal’).

    I think that one of the reasons that WOC feel the double sting, is that the ‘unchecked sexism’ allows all the racist hatred to be released (primarily disguised as sexism, which is tolerated as ‘a joke’). Basically, the WOC are bearing the MOC’s racism burden, therein the double whammy. It is not the sexism towards WW being dumped onto WOC, but the racism directed towards MOC being ‘offloaded’ to the WOC. Bascially it is a situation of “the gloves are off”.

    We only ever see the sexism overtly played towards ‘uppity’ WW, hence I think the misconception of all this ‘white privilege’ that WW roll around in, all warm and fuzzy. (If being raped and beaten in fairly much the same numbers is privilege?)

    The only time that MOC get chastised is when they ‘dare’ tamper with the ‘property’ of GWD (Great White Dood), then all the racial stereotypes about the black male get ‘a pardon’ (covertly of course). Perhaps we do see the trumping here (Clinton/Obama) that they (patriarchy) would, if push came to shove, rather see a male of any shape or form, over ‘not male’ (hey, that’s us! “other!”). Of course that is the bitter pill, because they would still prefer the choice out of White Dood or White Dood.

    Posted by stormy | February 7, 2008, 12:49 am
  9. I think Obama has to deal with his share of racism. If we lived in a country where it truly wasn’t overt, my work days would be a lot different for one thing. I’m always confused by the assertions made in different places at different times about how subtle racism’s gotten as if the overt forms have disappeared. But not really. 21st Century, still going strong.

    Sexism’ still around as it’s always been, affecting different women in different ways depending on a lot of things. Overtly and otherwise. What’s noticable is how both Obama and Clinton have to go through great pains to say it’s not about race (his), it’s not about gender (her), in ways no White man has ever had to do. So they are both aware that they are competing to essentially lead a country that still feels threatened to varying degrees with both and both do want to win. This tolerance towards both of them by the Democratic Party just feels like bull shit.

    I’m not of the opinion that anyone but a White male and a fairly conservative one at that has any chance of getting elected in this country at all. I didn’t vote for either Obama or Clinton because I’m not a Democrat and I don’t agree enough with either one of them, but I wouldn’t be surprised if either one who was chosen were passed over by committee for a White male nominee. I’ve heard rumors in my little corner of the world that this is a possibility. I just look at all this discussion as academic, which will they pick the Black (when he’s biracial) man or the White woman? Neither really, unless it’s about trying to protest how neither race nor gender matters. And the thing is, if either got in, White men would still be the main beneficiaries.

    Not to be dismissive but there’s just this bizarre feeling about the whole thing. They play out like this is how far this country’s come when the ultimate lesson will be how far this country hasn’t come at all.

    History’s been the teacher in this area of pretty much what will happen. I’m not saying that to be mean but that’s just the way I think it will play out. They both have things going for them and things to bring to the plate and some minuses. But it won’t matter.

    There’s probably a lot of Obama’s life we don’t see or is not in the press. I don’t know for example if he’s ever been or how many times he’s been pulled over by police in ways that neither Hillary Clinton would. His class or status wouldn’t necessarily protect him completely b/c even Black members of Congress both male and female get harassed or profiled by security guards and/or police. I’m sure he’s gotten his share of threats too.

    I’ve met very few Black politicians male or female in this racist, sexist country who haven’t, on some level. He’s never going to be “White” no matter how “colorblind” people claim to be. I fear for him in ways I don’t fear for Hillary Clinton. And Obama’s wife probably fears for her husband in ways Bill Clinton doesn’t for his wife. African-Americans here especially older generation whether he’s their choice or not usually talk about how safe he and his family are. But if there were threats and there probably are, I think it’s an issue Obama would downplay. I wouldn’t be surprised if Clinton received them too and downplays it but I think history has shown that one way to try to discredit and neutralize a female candidate’s chances is to go through her husband because women in politicans of any race are often seen as extensions of their husbands.

    This seemingly “acceptance” of Obama isn’t real among many Whites certainly. I’ve heard people espouse him who are pretty racist in their behavior and words most of the time. Patting themselves on the back to have him as a candidate, the first “serious” Black candidate which of course erases prior Black candidates male and female) or even the “first” Black candidate (which again, erases candidates male and female especially female including Shirley Chisholm). They’ll not vote for him. White men and often White women can elevate Black men and especially Black women and put them and us in our places.

    But Clinton is ahead perhaps narrowly of Obama in delegates so she’s getting support from the party level at least at this point in the game but so is he. But this is early in the season still. It won’t transfer to a national election and personally, I think odds are that the next president will be John McCain. He might be old, he might be sick as some say but he’s still a White man.

    Clinton has got baggage but most of it is her husband and because she’s a woman, his baggage becomes hers and she becomes defined somewhat by him and his actions because she’s a woman in ways her racial privilege doesn’t erase. But she does benefit from racial and class privilege. Most people who run for Congress benefit from class privilege because a lot of them are quite well off and will leave office richer, which is part of the gulf between them and most of the people they represent.

    We only ever see the sexism overtly played towards ‘uppity’ WW, hence I think the misconception of all this ‘white privilege’ that WW roll around in, all warm and fuzzy. (If being raped and beaten in fairly much the same numbers is privilege?)

    I so disagree with this statement, I don’t know where to start. For one thing, Clinton does enjoy racial privilege both individually and through her husband. As hard as her life as a White woman may have been or may be, there’s many things that she’s never had to experience, because she’s White.

    Racial privilege like racism is manifested in so many different ways, beyond rape and beatings (and men and women of color do face higher rates of police beatings for one thing, than White men or women, outside of police DV). Whether the rates are the same or not, the treatment’s not generally the same.

    In my city, police and prosecutors believe White women can be raped especially if the rapist or rape suspect is a different race. But women of color still can’t be raped and the police won’t even take reports, saying no crime has happened. That’s happened to daughters of women I know and sisters too. That reminds me in a sense of how the rape of Black women, American Indian and Latinas has been seen that way all throughout history. Partly because they aren’t viewed as human at all. Not to mention that women in these groups have been sterilized against their will in large numbers or forced to use birth control because of racism. With White women, it’s a bit different as it’s usually ableism and homophobia at work, rather than race and women of color are very much impacted by this discrimination in addition to that of racism.

    Sexism is overtly played against women of color by White men and men of color but the sexism we see involving Black women, i think is very much different from the different ways Black women define it. We tend to separate the two into two discreet categories, racism or sexism like for them, there has to be a choice or even a heiarchy but it’s not like that. For me, that’s a lesson I’m still learning b/c I’m guilty of compartmentalizing.

    I have received complaints where Black women were sexually harassed, said they didn’t want to be treated that way and then harassed with racist slurs in retaliation which is similar to what one commenter here mentioned in their post.

    Posted by Radfem | February 7, 2008, 7:30 am
  10. We should use Heart’s phrase, “the central and primary subordination…is sexism, misogyny,” as an axe (preferably a double-edged one, aka labrys) repeatedly to hammer and hammer and hammer at everyone’s consciousnesses whenever and in whatever context sexism is presented as defacto reality/business as usual/harmless diversion–in “humor,” religious settings, the media, campaigning, courts, ads, conversations, etc. etc. Sexism is real, it is terrible, and it hurts, maims, and limits half of the humans on this planet. Women in and of themselves are supposed to be a joke AT BEST.

    Most people in American society seem to have gotten the memo that racism is real, terrible, hurtful, and limiting and at least don’t particularly want to appear as racist whether or not they are. Now why does almost nobody seem to be similarly aware about sexism and afraid of appearing misogynist? Well, for one thing, every man on earth has a stake in sexism, so if it were perceived as a real and bad thing that might become socially unacceptable every single one of them would stand to lose privilege as well as more tangible benefits such as more salary than women, preference in almost any situation, ad infinitum. And virtually every woman on the planet has been conditioned to not notice and not point out sexism by virtue of their social and religious indoctrination as well as by being beaten down by the manifestations misogny has taken in their individual lives (if you grow up watching your mother being browbeaten and kept on a budget by your father, hearing sermons about God expecting female suborindation to males, and/or have male relatives using you sexually, for example, you are apt to be highly subdued for a very long time if not forever).

    K.A., Satsuma, yes, I get you about talk of sexism = real and primal and bad getting one accused of participating in oppression olympics by the “fun feminists.” I cannot believe the discussion that took place elsewhere in the blogsphere where Feminists Lite have declared sexist talk is All Good because that means it’s really been defeated to the point it’s only in the harmless talking phase. What the???? A wolf pack went after ginmar for calling them on this one. Fortunately, she is fierce and smart enough to fend off the attacks and stick to her guns even when attacked in waves.

    Those of us who see the sexism need to call it every time for what it is.

    Posted by Level Best | February 7, 2008, 3:13 pm
  11. I see typos in my former post. Sorry, all. Those photoshopped images of Condoleeza Rice made me see red and type at speed of consciousness rather than speed of accuracy.

    Posted by Level Best | February 7, 2008, 3:16 pm
  12. I have read and reread and reead – about ten times – the original post here and I can not for the life of me understand what Heart is saying. I’m really trying! Obama is not subjected to sexism, right, I understand that – but then neither is Clinton subjected to racism. Why are these things not viewed as symmetrical issues?

    I read these discussions and wonder if any of the rest of you are living in the Amerian South. Racism IS still okay here. It’s overt as well as institutionalized. It’s still considered natural – that is, the superiority of the white race is widely seen as “natural.” EVERY white person DOES have a stake in perpetuating racism (just as some have pointed out that every male has a stake in perpetuating sexism), since white people have always run this state, since working class whites have always been able to count on being at least better off than most African Americans, and since, for example, it’s primarily people of color who do the work in the hospitality industry that puts money into the state coffers for everyone’s benefit (and disproportionately white people’s benefit).

    Here, we had an election for governor four years ago that ended up being a Democratic white woman against a Republican man whose parents were Indian immigrants. So, it was sort of a Louisiana version of the current Democratic nominating process. This was in a state with a gradually increasing Republican majority. Nonetheless, huge numbers of white Republicans crossed party lines to vote for “the white woman” because, they said, “that guy is too dark and too foreign looking.” That is what many Republicans told pollsters and members of the media. And that is how Kathleen Blanco became governor – people crossing party lines in droves to choose a white woman over a man of color.

    I’m trying so hard to follow these commentaries about feminism as it relates to racism in this presidential race, and the one thought I come away with is that it just doesn’t sound to me like the writers live in the South! If you did, you would know that, here at least, racism is MORE politically damaging to a candidacy than is sexism (I’m talking about statewide and national offices; local races are different, since we are so often geographically segregated; New Orleans, for example, has been electing people of color for some time, but I’m talking about higher races where the entire electorate is racially mixed; in those cases, white racism trumps all else).

    I also keep hearing that overt sexism is more tolerated than is overt racism, and I definitely get it that that’s the case in the broader culture, but I’m not sure that is the case where I live. They are both normative here.

    I know lots of white Democrats here who will not vote for Obama, period, while I don’t personally know ANY who are saying they will not vote for Hillary period (I realize that’s not a scientific survey, but it is what I’m hearing). My aunts and mother, who raised me to be a Democratic party activist (although I’m far more radical than Democrat now) and who have been Democrats their whole lives, are saying they may vote REpublican for the first time in their lives if Obama is the nominee. They’ve told me I should be “ashamed” of myself for even considering voting for him. They also said John Kerry should be “ashamed” of himself for endorsing Obama.

    Also, I get it that in this campaign nationally, the sexism has been much more overt than any racism, but, you know, you don’t have to look too hard to find that the racism is out there nationally either (and it will only get more overt if Obama is the nominee). I did a quick search on Obama over at FreeRepublic and on “anti-Obama” at CafePress and found images of Obama as bin Laden, a terrorist, a mullah, and dozens of him as an ape or a chimp. It took less than five minutes.

    As for every man on earth having an interest in sexism, might not one say that every white person on earth has an interest in maintaining racism? Look at how we still rely on the exploitation of other countries to maintain our way of life.

    I’ve been so confused by this whole conversation. I went back and reread some stuff I hadn’t looked it in several years, and I realized that it’s womanist/multiracial feminist theory that has influenced me probably more than anything else. I think we each exist in a matrix of sex, race, and class and that these elements are inseparable aspects of our situations in life.

    I just don’t understand what exactly Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinam were trying to say in their essays (which disturbs me greatly, because they’ve been sheroes of mine for so long and for the life of me, I can’t follow their arguments in these pieces), but my foggy impression is that they see an analysis of gender separate from one of racism, with the former being more pervasive than the latter. Going back and rereading Alice Walker and Audrey Lorde, for example, I just don’t understand what Morgan and Steinam are trying to say about sexism and racism when, to me, they’re inseparable, pieces of the same puzzle.

    I think my head might explode.

    Posted by ceejay1968 | February 9, 2008, 5:56 am
  13. ceejay, my post above was in response to a turn the discussion in another thread took in which a commenter was objecting to feminists comparing racism against Barack Obama with sexism against Hillary Clinton in the campaign for the Democratic nomination. My response was that if both candidates were women, but one was white and one was a woman of color, then it *would* be wrong to compare the racism against the woman of color candidate with the sexism against the white woman candidate because it would make the racism the woman of color was experiencing, fused as it is with sexism, invisible. I wanted to show that although Obama is experiencing racism, he isn’t experiencing the sexualized racism that is apportioned to women of color, and I used what has been done to Condoleeza Rice as an example of that.

    Morgan and Steinem are basically saying the same thing, and I think what you may be missing — which is why it isn’t making sense to you — *is* this very important difference I am talking about. Racism against Obama does not remove his gender privilege. And Hillary Clinton being white doesn’t remove the stigma associated with her sex.

    The point I was making here (again following from the discussion in the other thread) is that it IS appropriate (also inevitable and unavoidable) to compare racism against Obama with sexism against Clinton. As you say, there is a symmetry there. Where it would NOT be appropriate would be, again, to compare racism against a woman of color as against sexism against a white woman.

    I know you keep saying that racism trumps sexism in the South, and you live there, I don’t, and so you are in a better position to know (although a million times I have heard, from progressive people, that racism is not worse in the South, to the point that I just don’t say anything about that anymore! There’s no real way to verify that statement in any event, it’s always going to be subjective, a matter of opinion, politics, etc.), but again, Obama did take Georgia and Alabama, Hillary Clinton did not. What would you attribute this to, because I haven’t seen the breakdown of the vote demographically. Would you say this is because more black voters voted? Or that more black voters and white women voters showed up to vote and voted for Obama?

    Posted by womensspace | February 9, 2008, 1:23 pm
  14. I think yankees just plain don’t have any concept of just how MANY black people really do still live in the cotton belt.

    (saying this as one – I sure didn’t know until I moved to GA)

    Posted by funnie | February 9, 2008, 3:03 pm
  15. Sexism: thousands and thousands of years old. So old it seems embedded in stone, so old it seems ‘natural’. If Hillary Clinton were a man, she would be given the same dignity as John McCain. All men are bonded through the hatred and oppression of women. Women are on the bottom, women of color on the rock bottom.

    If Hillary Clinton is too corporate for you, then support someone who can speak her mind because she has left the Democratic Party: Cynthia McKinney. She will say what Barak Obama does not dare to say.

    We can use this moment to really look at our situation as women in this country. Women are subject to male violence every few minutes. Women do the free labor that keeps this country alive, the child-bearing, child-care, house-work, c ooking, cleaning and often working for money as well. We make the lowest wages and have the worst jobs. We have very little protection under the law – a man who rapes a woman, assaults her, sexually harasses her or stalks her is more likely to walk the streets than be jailed. And the woman will be treated like dirt for having the ‘gall’ to speak up.

    Our situation as women in the richest country in the world is despicable. Until we are willing to draw the line and stand up for ourselves and for each other, nothing will change.
    I am sick and tired of men who call themselves ‘left’ who will lay their bodies down to fight racism and homophobia but not sexism.

    This is a wake-up call for feminism. We have to join together, and we must do it now.

    Posted by julia | February 10, 2008, 2:21 am

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