Monday, March 9, 2009

The Effects of the 2008 Presidential Election on the American Feminism Movement

After researching the 2008 election for all this time, I have come to the conclusion that there was sexism in the 2008 election. In fact, the sexism displayed in the election period was so strong that I believe it has impacted our society and brought a new wave of sexism which has damaged and almost undermined the American Feminism Movement. Many have believed that Palin and Clinton have tremendously helped the Feminism movement since they have brought a limelight on the long overlooked plight of American women due to the glass ceiling. For Americans, these two female politicians represented a huge advance in the feminism movement since the women's suffrage movement only ended seventy nine years ago. In reality, the 2008 election became a setback for the feminism movement due to the result of the media portrayal of the female candidates, the campaigns' use of the gender card, and the public acceptance of sexist portrayal of the female candidates.

One of the main causes of the surge in sexism during the past months was due to the campaign tactics that Hillary used. Mark Penn, Hillary's chief strategist, was the man behind the tactics. He suggested that since women make up 54% of the electorate, Clinton could win over as much as 24% of the republican female vote based on the emotional element of potentially having the first female president. In the beginning, Clinton dismissed exploiting women and decided to run a clean campaign. However, when reality hit Clinton that she may lose the nomination, Clinton began to unleash her storm. She began to make well-known comments directly linking herself to the feminism movement. One way she did such task was by making her gender one of the central themes of her campaign. She referenced her gender theme as often as she could in speeches such as one in Wellesley College, an all girls university, where she stated “In so many ways, this all-women's college prepared me to compete in the all-boys club of presidential politics”. In one single swoop, Hillary complained of being ganged up by two “boys”, referring to Obama and Edwards who she insists runs on the same themes. In addition, the New York Daily Times even reported that Clinton said that one of the six reasons Hillary wanted to be president was because of the “women in their 90s who had told her they were born before women could vote, and they wanted to live to see a women in the White House”. Such usage of the gender card did pull on the emotional strings of females across the country, but it also infuriated Obama and non-Clinton supporters which in turn provoked them to make sexist comments and attacks. During her concession speech to Obama, Hillary referenced gender ten times. One of her most notable evocation of gender was when she stated that she had made “eighteen million cracks in the nation's highest glass ceiling”. With many allusions such as the ones she made in her concession speech, Hillary supporters and voters inferred that Hillary ran for women's rights. Therefore, by representing herself as the face of the feminism movement, the feminism movement lost supporters due to the fact that not everybody supported Hillary.

Picking up on Hillary's loss, the McCain campaign was also to blame for the rise in sexism. When the McCain campaign saw how many votes Hillary received from feminists, the McCain campaign decided to take advantage of the opportunity. Surprising the world, McCain picked an unknown Governor from the far away region of Alaska. As soon as she was picked, Palin quickly made her central theme revolve around how she was just like any ordinary “hockey mom”. She fortified her campaign theme with subtle parts in her speeches such as calling herself a “pitbull with lipstick” in her speech at the Republican national convention. She further evoked gender during the Vice Presidential debates when Palin continuously described her role as a mom: “But it wasn’t just that experience tapped into, it was my connection to the heartland of America. Being a mom, one very concerned about a son in the war, about a special needs child, about kids heading off to college, how are we going to pay those tuition bills?” By making her gender a qualification, many opposing Palin were able to use it against Palin. When Americans think of “hockey mom”, they think of protective mothers whose morals and values are reflected by their children. The media and the public soon focused their attention on the Alaskan hockey mom's family and criticized her family. The media and the public made fun of Palin's underage unwed and pregnant daughter and mentally handicapped baby since they thought that they represented values which were opposite to her conservative values. The attacks on Palin due to her family's seemingly nonconservative values soon expanded and the attacks on Palin alluded to attacks on women. By twisting her role as a mom to being a qualification for the vice presidency, Palin further provoked Americans to make sexist attacks. The McCain campaign was also able to use Palin’s gender as a counterargument from opponents. For example, when Obama’s campaign commented on Palin’s inexperience, Carly Fiorina, a senior McCain adviser said “I am appalled by the Obama’s campaign’s attempts to belittle Governor Sarah Palin’s experience. … Because of Hillary Clinton’s historic run for the Presidency and the treatment she received, American women are more highly tuned than ever to recognize and decry sexism in all its forms. They will not tolerate sexist treatment of Governor Palin.” The McCain campaign’s blatant attempt at accusing their opponents of sexism was just one of the many examples doing the 2008 election. Due to the campaign’s abuse of Palin’s gender, Americans and the media make numerous sexist remarks and attacks which proved to be a setback to the American feminism movement.

Even though the campaigns were a major factor in invoking sexism, the media was also partly to blame. Since media is very influential in the United States in terms of the impact it has on the publics' perceptions, its coverage of the election was detrimental to the American feminism movement. Over the course of the election, studies have found that female candidates were getting not only less airtime, but also getting a greater percentage of negative media coverage. Negative media coverage for female candidates came from all spectrum of the media and stereotyped women into two categories: either as a strong, and masculine women or a weak and feminine women. Hillary was identified to be a strong and masculine woman, and therefore considered to be unacceptable. Such stereotyping of Hillary was seen in the media and news portraying Hillary to a cold hearted “witch” with a shrill voice. SNL even called Hillary to be a “boner shrinker”, a derogatory term which suggested that women were sexual objects. Fox news also compiled and played clips which showed Hillary's cackle and in turn molded Hillary into the stereotypical masculine cold hearted women. In contrast, Sarah Palin received a different media coverage radically different but still with stereotypes. In comedy, there were the infamous Saturday Night Live skits which made fun of her previous record as a beauty queen and talent contest type girl. In the news, many topics come and go, but for Palin, they seem to stick. For example, the clothing scandal, which was when Palin instructed some staffers to go on a shopping spree at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, the media still reported the scandal months after it has happened. Such prolonged media coverage on Palin fortified the stereotypical concepts of a feminine women being obsessed with their looks. The conventional stereotypes played out by the media not only incited sexism but also encouraged public acceptance of sexism.

Subconsciously encouraged by the media, the public soon became more willing to accept sexism during the 2008 election. Since the media and McCain campaign womanized Palin, many thought it was fine to accept and display sexism. During the election, many commented on how hot Palin's body was. The magnitude of the publics' obsession with Palin's body was revealed when a high end porn movie featured a Palin lookalike. Called “Nailin Palin”, it featured two Russian solders outside of Palin's governor's man before engaging in sexual intercourse. By allowing people to objectify Palin, society has made it seem that such acts are tolerable and acceptable. However, not all women politicians were treated the same. Since Hillary was more of a masculine women, she was criticized more for her unfeminine behavior. During the democratic primaries, college students could be seen sporting tee shirts stating “Bros before Hoes” with a photo of Obama on Bros and a photo of Hillary above Hoes. Media depiction of Hillary such as Saturday Night Live's website called Hillary the “Bitch in the new Black”. Such sexist language was reiterated in the public and nobody decried such activity. With so much uncalled for disrespect to women politicians in society, the 2008 presidential election was a setback in the American feminism movement.

To many, the 2008 election was a beacon of hope for both Africans Americans and females all over the country. For women, the presence of a female vice president one heartbeat away from the presidency and the candidacy of the first serious woman contestant for presidency inspired women around the world. However, a closer view reveals a far darker secret of America: Sexism is still prevalent today. The provocation of sexism by the media, politicians, and society caused a resurgence of sexism which was so strong that it became a setback for the American feminism movement. When the candidates linked themselves to the feminism movement, they gained female voters but at a cost. With the faces of Palin and Hillary plastered as the icons of the American feminist movement, sexist media coverage and societies' behavior incited sexism. The American feminism movement which is trying to quell sexism have found themselves in a world with even more sexism. What may have been a strong force pushing the feminism movement into the 21st century was only slowed down by the 2008 election.

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