Saturday, December 6, 2008

Nice Try, Campbell Brown, But You Are Wrong About Hillary Clinton

Cambpell Brown has weighed in on the embarrassing news that emerged yesterday regarding Jon Favreau, Obama's young, lead speechwriter. A photograph posted on MySpace shows Favreau groping a cardboard likeness of Hillary Clinton, while an unnamed male holds a bottle of beer in front of her.

Favreau has reportedly attempted to apologize to Clinton. While she has not publicly responded, a spokesperson dismissed the picture saying: "Senator Clinton is pleased to learn of Jon's obvious interest in the State Department, and is currently reviewing his application." This response sent CNN's Campbell Brown into orbit. On a weekly show that she anchors, Brown scolded Clinton for not taking "sexism" as seriously as she did during her campaign:

I'm sorry, but this is the same woman who, during the campaign, pointed to example after example of sexism directed at her saying that, quote, "It's been deeply offensive to millions of women"? Is this the same woman who pointed out
the references to her cleavage or her cackle, the comments by certain pundits and the media? The same woman who concluded, quote, "the remnants of sexism are alive and well" after someone at a rally shouted out "iron my shirt"? She made a point of calling people out during the campaign, and for that, she became a hero to millions of women. But now, the campaign is over. She is joining Team Obama, and, apparently, this photo of her likeness being groped by another key member of Obama's team doesn't bother her a bit. Just good-natured fun, or so her spokesman says. Really, Sen. Clinton? Boy, have you changed your tune. You really think this photo is OK? Put another woman in that photo, just an average woman who supported you during the campaign. Have it be her image being degraded by a colleague of hers. Would you be OK with that? You drove an important conversation about issues just like this during the campaign.
Hold on a second Brown. First, Clinton did not spend her campaign pointing to example after example of sexism. In fact, she attempted to downplay gender discrimination during most of her campaign; I always wished she had spoken out on the subject earlier. We heard far more about Obama's race and racism than we did about sexism towards Senator Clinton. When Clinton finally became more vocal about sexism towards the end of her campaign, commentators bickered and groaned that she was simply exploiting sexism to win sympathy. Brown's argument similarly tries to suggest that Clinton was simply manipulating sexism for political gain.

The media also whined endlessly about her supposed effort to exploit an under-developed tear in New Hampshire in order to save her campaign. Given the immaturity and nastiness of the news media, I am not surprised that she did not raise the issue of sexism as much as she could have.

Second, I believe feminists can have an interesting conversation about whether a young man placing his hand over a cardboard breast is inherently sexist (in addition to being desperate and stupid). Brown simply states the picture is sexist as if all must agree. Personally, the picture made me uncomfortable, and the word sexism came to mind immediately after I saw it. But thinking that the picture might constitute sexism and calling Clinton a hypocrite for not protesting it are two different things. Before accusing her of downplaying sexism, I would rather spend a little more time considering how women feel about the issue. Although Brown is a woman, she can hardly speak on behalf of all women in saying the picture is undeniably sexist.

Finally, even if the picture is sexist, this does not mean that Clinton (or other women) have to respond to it the same way they would respond to other acts of sexism. People who face discrimination often develop a set of "coping skills" to deal with the situation without always mounting an explicit protest. Typically, when people encounter discrimination, they want to diffuse the situation and move on from the moment. During the primaries, for example, Clinton often ignored sexism and just kept campaigning.

Victims of discrimination learn to prioritize the battles they fight. It was very important for Clinton to challenge men in the media and Democratic Party leadership who failed to appreciate the significance of a potential woman president and who acted with blatant sexism in their treatment of her. Their power and influence potentially inflicted harm upon all women and was offensive to all persons who want a society that takes women politicians seriously. Although the "iron our shirts" neanderthals probably lacked power relative to Clinton, they shouted at her during a critical town-hall meeting. Her witty response was tailored to the situation.

This picture, by contrast, essentially involves a kid, far junior to her in the administration, behaving inappropriately. Given Favreau's relative lack of power over Clinton, he is probably crawling to her in order to apologize. They can simply deal with this matter on a personal level without heightening the situation through public verbal exchanges which the media would spin into an unseemly circus.

Hot off the Press: MADE IN IOWA: Did Company in Chicago Sit-In Illegally Discard Its Workers and Quietly Relocate While Liberals Forced BOA to Pay for the Shady Scheme?


Anonymous said...

You know, let this be a lesson to all these Gen Y and Z folks about putting every photo and thought online: it can come back and bite you in the ass.

This was likely just a bad judgment call after too many beers with friends, but, here it is in the news and possibly affecting this man's career.

1950 Democrat said...

Bad judgement, yes. By someone who wrote speeches about judgement and is going to be put in charge of White House speechwriting--? He's not ready for prime time. Suppose that had been a card-board cut out of some Middle Eastern ruler's wife?

The kid isn't up to a White House job.

The response from the Hillary camp was perfect: funny, sarcastic, calling him an idiot, and invoking reality....

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Yes, I understand that it was bad. Sometimes the best responses are just to dismiss other people's bad behavior. Whan Rick Lazio stormed across the stage asking Clinton to sign a document during her first senate debate, she said something like "I was a kid sister so I am used to that behavior." It was perfect.

Double Jointed Fingers said...

I believe it was sexist. For God's sake - why was there a full size image of Hillary at the party if they didn't intend to demean her? Presumably, they were sober at some point. The fact that anyone thinks this was just bad judgment shows how little regard there is for women.

What if it was a full size likeness of your mother, your sister or your daughter? Would you still call it bad judgment?

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

DJF - I still believe that feminists could debate the matter. They are even split on whether "prostitution" (or sex work) is sexist, so I imagine this picture could receive similar treatment.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. VERY well put.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Thanks, anonymous.


We do think that the picture was stupid and sexist, and that Favreau definitely owed Hillary that apology. But we don't agree with many of the comments we've seen in the feminist blogosphere calling for him to be fired because what he did was "sexual harassment" or "mimicked sexual assault".

In our take on the issue we also addressed a similar point to the one you raised - that as the "victim" in this situation, we think some attention and respect should be paid to the way that Hillary chose to handle this. And it's interesting to see so many comments along the lines of 'Obama ignored this! He wasn't punished at all!'. That may be true, but we're at least willing to entertain the possibility that it was just handled privately without every detail being leaked to the media.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hello "Evil Sluts," thanks for the comment. I visited your blog and read the thread. Great analysis. Sometimes I think the "agency" feminists go too far (because they fail to consider class, race, and sexuality), but it's just too hard to see Clinton as a victim in this situation. Even if she were, she has so many opportunities to remedy the situation. Most women in the workplace lack the ability to have "heads roll" the way she does. So I disagree with the feminists who want some huge spectacle over this one.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Darren Hutchinson's responses here, with one important exception. Why take a cue from Sen. Clinton? The SOS-elect has, in fact, no obvious choice other than to follow the Obama administration's cue on this. Therefore, we see Obama actually reward the 27-year-old immature Jon Favreau'misogyny and appoint him to the post of Director of Speechwriters, rather than fire him on the spot. After all, it was Barack who wrote a letter to NBC telling them that as "father of two daughters I don't want them feeding into sexist-racist stereotypes in the media and I would fire anyone in my staff who said this". Right? So why should Darren or anyone concerned with misogyny's ugle societal impact NOT want to follow Obama's own advice in his letter to NBC only a few months ago? What happened since then, is that the Prez-elect's arrogance and inherent misogyny ("periodically, Hillary feels down and launches attacks to boost her appeal!" "the claws are comin' out" "Obama gives finger to Hillary--youtube) has become transparent for all to see the errors of their having placed their faith in his Empty Suit rhetoric. Inviting a homophobic, misogynist like Rev. Warren puts the nail in the coffin for Obama's own base in the next election. He will have to start praying that the evangelicals will place their faith in Him, rather than their own right-winger.
I say, bring back Rev. Wright. At least he wasn't wrong when he said this summer:

"Barack's just another typical politician. He'll say anything and do anything to get elected". I'll pray for uncle Jeremiah to return as Obama's Spritual Advisor. Preferable to Barack's promotion of women being called Nazis for having abortions and gays called polygamous incest promoters!

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hello, anonymous. Thanks for your post. I disagree with the public move to fire Favreau, and I have stated it here and elsewhere. The main reason is that I believe that part of empowering women must involve allowing them - when they have sufficient power -- to decide when and how they respond. I disagree with the argument that Clinton is completely powerless in the situation. I also disagree with the assumption that the ONLY response that happened here was the public response. We do not know what type of reprimand, if any, took place behind the scenes. Nor do we know what conversations, if any, Clinton had with Favreau.

Second, while the contradiction between the way Obama responded to Favreau and Imus are just as blatant as the one between Imus and Warren, I personally did not have an opinion on whether or not Imus should lose his job. I thought that civil rights groups focused too much energy forcing him out, when they could have been dealing with actual inequality - either in the broadcasting industry or society at large.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hello, msakel. I am very happy that you are posting. Sorry that you had trouble earlier. Google is having glitches all week! Don't get me started.

Anyway, feminism is something I take as seriously as I do racial and economic justice and gay rights. In fact, I believe they are all connected. I have seen some feminists say that even though Favreau's poster is sexist, they do not want to usurp Clinton role on this. I have seen other arguments by people I greatly respect call for Obama to fire him.

I think that this issue has generated mixed feelings among people who respect/support Clinton and who believe she was the recipient of nonstop sexism during the Democratic primaries. I actually started this blog to express some of that anger. Here are some posts you might like:

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