Saturday, June 11, 2005

Political Notes: Sexism Scene and Heard

I was reading a political column in the local weekly, the Nashville Scene (member of the Village Voice family), when the author suddenly forced his sexuality into the lingustic space. Bluntly, he reminded me that I have a female body.

In that moment, I lost interest in the topic I thought he was addressing, i.e., the viability of Howard Ford Jr. as candidate for Frist’s seat. Instead, I reflected on the fact that political columnist, Roger Abramson either imagines that all his readers are male, or he just doesn’t give a good goddamn about his female readers.

Abramson was arguing that Harold Ford might get the “pity vote” like Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton supposedly did when she won her senate seat. “Pity” because both could be viewed as “victims” of the “exploits” of their scandal-ridden family members.

It’s certainly not uncommon for political pundits to use language to demean or trivialize political players. Which is, no doubt, why the conservative Abramson referred to democratic Sen. Harold Ford Jr. as “Little Howard” and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as “the breasted Clinton.”

A few decades ago, columnists like Abramson commonly used both sexuality and race to demean and trivialize. Maybe the conservative columnist should get a point for not injecting the color of Ford’s skin into his column. Or, maybe not.

While Abramson and his male readers were ogling “the breasted Clinton”, I thought about the many other ways Abramson might have delighted his club of male readers, or the many other ways he might have inserted Sen. Clinton’s sexualized body parts into the political discussion.

Never mind that Sen. Clinton is a powerful politcal figure, when all is said and done, she is the Clinton with boobs. Does that make you feel superior, Abramson? Does that make you feel like politics has always been a male sport and it always will be?

Since 1789,
2% of members of Congress have been women. Representation of women in the Tennessee legislature is stuck at the pathetic all-time high of 17%. Women hold a paltry 15% of the 535 seats in the 109th U.S. Congress.

Political participation by women is not a tradition in the U.S., or in Western political thought. The only two major political theorists in our long history who could envision such a thing were Plato and John Stuart Mill. It was a scant four decades ago when the idea that large numbers of women might one day hold office first became believable. Some of us have since stopped believing.

Among the 50 states, women in Tennessee consistently rank last or next to last in political participation. In a
million little ways, men like Abramson do their part to keep it that way. But why should the question of alienating female readers ever enter Abramson’s ‘little’ mind? After all, in his world, or at the Nashville Scene, commentary on the male dominated sport of politics is the dominion of a white middle-class fraternity. Little wonder the paper reeks of male arrogance.

When men start treating women as equals rather than sexualized objects or enemies, we can revisit the idea of equal representation in government, or the idea of democracy.