February 17, 2008

On "periodic" mood swings

I just read most of a hot discussion going on about whether Obama's words are being misinterpreted, or he was telegraphing an "emotional women don't belong in the White House" message.

I'm not shocked and appalled that Obama's speech might contain subtle - or not so subtle - negative cues and certainly don't think that kind of stuff is grounds for claiming you'll never support that candidate. Let's face it, they all do nasty things, and holding firm to that kind of purity standard would leave you voting for nobody.

On the other hand, it seems pretty clear to me that all those people - blog authors and commenters who vehemently deny that Obama's turn of phrase could possibly be interpreted by reasonable people as a suggestion that women are too emotional to get the job done - have never been on the receiving end of "looks like somebody's on the rag today" whenever they express anger, a strongly held opinion, or you know, humanity.

Women do hear that message, because it's one we get hit with all the time, and one that implies we are too unstable to be reliable, too emotional to be trusted, and better off having what we're saying/doing ignored.


Posted by binky at February 17, 2008 11:25 AM | TrackBack | Posted to Petty Rants | Politics


Well okay, I'm not on the receiving end of that kind of thing - but I think I'd go with a combination of Cole and Hilzoy's take on this. It'd never have occurred to me that using the word "periodically" in this way was somehow sexist. It seems simply a more efficient thing to say than "every so often" or "from time to time". And yeah when it's pointed out I guess I can see how it can be viewed as having sexist undertones - but given the context of the comment it really didn't strike me as sexist.

And given all the sexist stuff that is in the air relating to her campaign (mostly from the media), it seems weird to me to highlight this comment that isn't clearly sexist when there is so much language that clearly is.

Posted by: Armand at February 17, 2008 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I agree wholeheartedly with this:

"At worst, this is a pretty minor slight in a pretty ugly race."

Agreed. I'm just bothered that so many won't call it what it is.

Swear, this race is like a Rorshach test for liberals.

Which was the point of my post, that in the scheme of life, these kinds of things are going to happen, and I wouldn't dump Obama simply because of a statement like this. However it gets galling when the Saint Obama people act like he is immune.

Posted by: binky at February 17, 2008 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Y'know, I think if he ever said "looks like SOMEBODY'S on the rag today" to Michelle, she'd kick him in the balls.

Just sayin'.

Posted by: jacflash at February 17, 2008 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

And regarding your point about the word "periodically," that itself doesn't get me as being an attempt to say "period." It could have been "from time to time" or any other phrase that suggests the pattern. It's more the "feeling down" causes her to react part, than the word period.

Posted by: binky at February 17, 2008 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Really? Okay, that's another thing I just don't get. I mean I could totally see him saying the same thing about Edwards if Edwards was still in the race - the campaign's not going that well for him, so ...

Posted by: Armand at February 17, 2008 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

actually maybe it's not feasible, but this brings something to mind - do you think that she could make the central front in this a war on the new york times? i mean schuster and matthews don't have big ratings, hitting obama could just be seen as competitiveness and fighting for territory in a close race - but fighting the editorial pages of the times would be 1) huge news, 2) get the debate over this in a realm that'll get lots of attention but not necessarily get labeled political gamesmanship, 3) likely affect the language of others, and 4) strike an important populist thread before voting in places like OH and PA - and c'mon, between Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich and that crowd it'd be really easy to bash the Times on this front

Posted by: Armand at February 17, 2008 01:23 PM | PERMALINK

But he didn't say "when the campaign's not going well for her." He said when she's "feeling down." And then when she's feeling down, she reacts badly. I know you don't hear it, but read how many of the women commenting out there are hearing "somebody having a bad day? must be that time of the month." The other thing is that Obama excels at the "mean girls" or frenemy digs at Hillary, with the vocal condescension. Who knows if its calculated or just a vocal habit, but combine the tone with the implication, and the message that a lot of women are hearing is the old pat-on-the-head there there now you just go take care of your emotions while we rational people get down to business.

Posted by: binky at February 17, 2008 01:26 PM | PERMALINK

feeling down could just as easily conclude "in the polls," and i'd point to the clause immediately following the highlighted language, referring to "gamesmanship," as clearly reinforcing the i-guess-poor-choice-of-words' intended meaning of "down in the polls" = "go on the attack."

i'm not saying i don't see how those really angling to see offense can't find it in these words, but the lexical gymnastics required to turn this into an openly sexist remark are a little bit too elaborate for me to follow.

if that's sexist on its face, then WJC's much more nakedly condescending comparison to jesse jackson are a hair's breadth short of calling for a lynching.

Posted by: moon at February 17, 2008 04:18 PM | PERMALINK

Because of course, lots of people seeing a slight are only "really angling" and engaging in "lexical gymnastics" to create something "too elaborate." Oh gosh, we girls are just so sensitive and let our emotions get away with us, when thinking logically would clearly show that there must be (must!) some other way it can be interpreted.

If only all these hysterics had been out there denying alternative interpretations, eh? Instead what they are saying is that given the context (including the gender of the target) and the intonation and the casual (and not so casual) sexism that is flung about daily towards Hillary, this sounds like "she's an emotional woman, and acts irrationally." And as more and more Obama supporters pile on adding insult to injury by making the same claim against his critics that they are calling him out for, the worse it gets. You're denying that Obama's statement is a casual condescension against women for being emotional by making a condescending argument that women are emotional and taking this all too seriously. For future reference? It's not working.

I'll leave it with Ms. Lauren again:

It's not about dog whistles, it's about dismissing HRC with careless sexism. If you've never been told you are 'ruled by your emotions' in a professional capacity, you probably wouldn't get it either.

Posted by: binky at February 17, 2008 04:46 PM | PERMALINK

/me wonders how binky feels about HRC's opportunistically-timed teary-eyed moments, which were from some reports carefully planned and staged.

I say there's a case to be made that if she gets to do that, Obama gets to bust her chops for it.

Posted by: jacflash at February 17, 2008 08:47 PM | PERMALINK

I think they are well taken advantage of. Gosh! Did I not say as much above? That's what is so frustrating about this whole discussion, is that the Obamites can't admit that their guy might be doing it too.

Posted by: binky at February 17, 2008 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

"Because of course, lots of people seeing a slight are only "really angling" and engaging in "lexical gymnastics" to create something "too elaborate." Oh gosh, we girls are just so sensitive and let our emotions get away with us, when thinking logically would clearly show that there must be (must!) some other way it can be interpreted."

and here i was thinking this was a discussion.

Posted by: moon at February 18, 2008 01:13 PM | PERMALINK

While I fear siding with Moon in this kind of argument, having had some time to sleep on it, this still strikes me as something of a stretch b/c of if it's not the "periodic" comment but the "feeling down" comment ... Well you wrote:

"But he didn't say 'when the campaign's not going well for her.' He said when she's 'feeling down'."

But I can't see why anybody would think he's commenting on her life aside from the campaign. I mean what would be the point about referencing non-campaign elements of her life, or "feeling down" from something not tied to the race? That would just be ... weird. So it's either what you are suggesting, or it seems to me a harmless reference to her getting frustrated that she's not doing as well in the election as she'd hope. And this seems really vague language if the point is to dig or slam her as you suggest.

But then, as you've noted, I might well not hear it, given my life experience.

Posted by: Armand at February 18, 2008 01:34 PM | PERMALINK

and here i was thinking this was a discussion.

Yeah, that's what I thought too before you responded so emotionally. If you can't talk about the subject rationally without being so defensive, it's no use trying to involve you.

Posted by: binky at February 18, 2008 01:53 PM | PERMALINK

you're kidding, right? show me where there's any emotion in my original comment, seriously, unless what you really mean (and it sure seems to be the case on issues like this) is only hatred and chauvinism could possibly animate any disagreement with you on issues of gender, when you're so plainly completely, indisputably correct.

my initial comment reflected the exercise of what i do for a living: interpret things, usually acknowledging fuller context, since when one ignores context one can turn just about anything into just about anything else.

if you're so dispassionate, prove it by actually responding to my substantive point -- that the use, immediately, after the offending comments, of the word "gamesmanship" informs the comment and militates in favor of a more robust, non-offended reading of the comments in question, which it bears noting were clearly extemporaneous. my additional tacit point in noting that word is that none of the commentary anyone has linked acknowledges the use of that word either way, which strikes me as and incomplete. i'm not saying that word necessarily fixes things, but it has a place in the conversation, if interpretation, rather than naked umbrage, is the goal.

conversely, it's the you-can't-know-my-offense tone of your and others' responses that strikes me as manifestly emotional.

i also agree with armand that, even if there is sexism in the statement (and as i have clearly, and unemotionally said, i see where people can arrive at that conclusion), she started it with the tears stunt. a guy does that and he's done. a woman does it and she wins a primary she was almost certainly going to lose otherwise. and that calculation was surely made by HRC in the run up to that appearance. please note that this ascribes a great deal of cynical calculation to hillary, a decidedly un-stereotypical-female attribute i readily grant her.

Posted by: moon at February 18, 2008 03:00 PM | PERMALINK
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