PEORIA -- Deeply rooted sexism in the US as seen in the campaign coverage of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton “hurts us all,” Bradley University professor emeritus Barbara Pendleton told the Peoria chapter of the National Organization for Women at a March 8 meeting to commemorate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month.
“The press has been brutal to Sen. Clinton. Consciously or not, many reporters, commentators and pundits appear to be unable to criticize her without dusting off their favorite sexist clichés, stereotypes and insults. Together they create an environment of hostility toward all women, not just Sen. Clinton,” she said.
Pendleton noted four common themes in the media coverage:
Gender bias: discussion of how Clinton looks, laughs, wears, talks, behaves, “even how she claps.”
“A man demonstrates roughness and strength. A woman who behaves similarly is called icy and rigid.
“His behavior shows compassion and warmth, her behavior shows emotions and weakness. He knows how to work the system, she is manipulative” and “calculating.”
Discussion of ambition, motivation and drive: “Frequently Sen. Clinton has been charged with being willing to do or say anything to win. When she campaigns hard she is often described as strategizing, calculating or fake. But when men campaign hard it is refusing to cede an inch.”
Discounting of qualifications and accomplishments: “Since her first run for the Senate she has been presumed to be where she is today because of her husband. They discredited her achievements and implied that she never could have made it on her own. There were no such implications that George W. Bush got a leg up because he was the son of a president and a member of a powerful, rich family.”
Pendleton quoted pundit Chris Matthews who attributed Clinton’s success as a politician to her status as a victim. Matthews said, “we know that Hillary Clinton succeeded as a victim after than whole Lewinski mess. She gets to be elected senator. People of New York sort of cheered her on as a victim.”
Attacks on supporters: “There is the claim that women who voted for her are somehow irrational, and voting only on the basis of gender. They implied they were stupid or shallow.”
Some women including those in the media, also have succumbed to sexist criticism of Clinton, Pendleton said. But why?
“We all know that part of oppression is to convince the oppressed to internalize their own subordination and to some degree accept the old stereotypes as valid descriptions of themselves,” she said. She noted New York Times columnist Maurine Dowd commented, “unfortunately for Hillary there is no White Bitch Month.”
Pendleton continued, “when you’re surrounded by negativity, it’s difficult not to internalize” the stereotypes and negative messages about women.”
Media sexism means that “daughters everywhere are hearing the message that women are not competent and not as effective as leaders as men. Or that all strong women are bitches or just ball breakers,” she said.
She urged the group to continue to monitor sexist coverage and send messages of protest to the media.
During a question session, Pendleton said, “It’s fair to criticize (Clinton’s) policies, philosophy and ideas,” but not use sexist attacks. “I take issue with below the belt terms” such as “white bitch day.”
Asked why there is so much hostility against Clinton, she responded “a lot of people were hardened against the Clintons” due to “the anger” about the president’s indiscrete behavior and his wife’s response to it.
The chapter presented awards to several area leaders, including:
Denise Adams, choral teacher and musician, who established a program at Woodruff High School so parenting students in this urban school who cannot stay after school can participate in choir during the noon lunch hour.
Adams commented, “the benefits of music in people’s lives is incredible. Sometimes (music) is the only place where urban school students can find peace and beauty.”
Dorothy and Elliott Murray, long time professionals and activists, for their example of equality and human rights in their work, volunteer activities and personal relationship.
Cassandra Powell, for her work in preventing teen pregnancy and helping the community become aware of HIV/AIDS issues.
Stacey Robertson, whose work as a Bradley University history professor includes bringing prominent women speakers to the community.
Martha Herm, executive director of the Center for Prevention of Abuse, who has expanded the agency which works with more than 5,000 victms of sexual, domestic and senior abuse every year.
Herm commented that the Bush administration has eliminated $175,000 in grant funding that the center has been receiving for years, though Illinois members of Congress are working to restore it to the budget. “These funds have been under attack since Bush has been in office. Now they’re zeroed out,” she said.
Their loss endangers several vital programs including the center’s work with the Family Justice Center, which took 18 years to develop, Herm said.
“The boys at that table came because of the funding. That’s the carrot that got them there.” Eliminating that program will impact the entire local criminal justice system, she said. “We can’t let it fall apart.”
-- Elaine Hopkins