Feminist Resurgence?!

Since Ms. Clinton began her campaign, there certainly has been a public resurgence in misogyny, starting with my long-lost father sending me Hillary Clinton jokes via email. No call on my birthday or Christmas, but I warrant jokes in which a presidential candidate ends up dead, raped, and mocked? That’s emotionally-charged action from a man worth standing up and questioning!

I don’t care if you think her politics are straight from the devil himself; what I don’t get is how so many men are freely telling jokes, using Clinton as a prop, as a basis for venting their anger toward women — and they’re doing so while the women in their lives stand by and either laugh along or remain silent. I mean, she’s just a strawman, so to speak — Clinton is being used by these guys as a cause to make fun of attributes assigned to the female population. Let’s check out a random Clinton “joke”. In fact, let’s just pull the recent one up sent courtesy of my father:

Hillary Clinton and her driver were cruising home along a country road one evening when an old cow loomed in front of the car. The driver tried to avoid it but couldn’t.

The aged cow was struck and killed. Hillary told her driver to go up to the farmhouse and explain to the owners what had happened and pay them for the cow. She stayed in the car making phone calls.

About an hour later the driver staggered back to the car with his clothes in disarray. He was holding a half-empty bottle of expensive wine in one hand, a huge Cuban cigar in the other, and was smiling happily, smeared with lipstick.

“What happened to you,” asked Hillary ?

“Well,” the driver replied, “the farmer gave me the cigar, his wife gave me the wine, and their beautiful twin daughters made passionate love to me.”

“My God, what did you tell them ?” asked Hillary.

The driver replied, “I just stepped inside the door and said, ‘I’m Hillary Clinton’s driver and I’ve just killed the old cow.’ The rest happened so fast I couldn’t stop it.”

Let’s be clear: this “joke”, like nearly all of them, has nothing to do with Clinton herself or her politics. It sounds like something Rush Limbaugh himself would have told. But nope, our fathers, brothers, husbands, boyfriends, uncles, and friends are guffawing over the basic elements of sexism, ageism (Women get old and become “cows”), the sexual trade in women (the driver’s reward is the farmer’s two daughters), and general misogyny (Clinton’s death is celebrated and rewarded in this joke, after all). If this joke cast McCain as the butt, would my father and his pals be elbowing each other in the ribs and mass-emailing the joke on to their co-workers and daughters? No, they’d be asking where women get off celebrating the death of a man with champagne and cigars. They’d be asking how this joke is relevant to the presidential campaign. They would be angry and demand that the idiots perpetuating such jokes be sat in a corner with the dunce cap on.

To the few women who are going along and “fitting in” with these guys, I offer this quote from Maragaret Atwood, “She even had a kind of special position among men: she was an exception, she fitted none of the categories they commonly used when talking about girls; she wasn’t a cock-teaser, a cold fish, an easy lay or a snarky bitch; she was an honorary person. She had grown to share their contempt for most women.” Your compliance and passivity will only get you so far. Eventually, you’ll learn to hate yourself too well. . . .


From The Feminist Reawakening: Hillary Clinton and the Fourth Wave (New York Magazine) by Amanda Fortini:

Of course, we weren’t delusional. Even before Tina Fey declared, “Bitch is the new black,” before female outrage had been anointed a trend by the New York Times, many women were clued in to the numerous gender-related issues that lay, untouched and unexamined, at some subterranean level of our culture: to the way women disproportionately bear the ills of our society, like poverty and lack of health care; to the relentlessly sexist fixation on the bodies of Hollywood starlets—on the vicissitudes of their weight, on the appearance and speedy disappearance of their pregnant bellies—and the deleterious influence this obsession has on teenage girls; to the way our youth-oriented culture puts older women out to graze (rendering them what Tina Brown has called, in a nod to Ralph Ellison, “invisible women”). But who wanted to complain? It was easier—and more fun—to take the Carly Fiorina approach: to shut up and compete with the boys. Who wanted to be the statistic-wielding shrew outing every instance of prejudice and injustice? Most women prefer to think of themselves as what Caroline Bird, author of Born Female, has called “the loophole woman”—as the exception. The success of those women is frequently cited as evidence that feminism has met its goals. . . .

Who wanted to think of gender as a divisive force, as the root of discrimination? Perhaps more relevant, who wanted to view oneself as a victim? Postfeminism was also a form of solipsism: If it’s not happening to me, it’s not happening at all. To those women succeeding in a man’s world, the problems wrought by sexism often seemed to belong to other women. But as our first serious female presidential candidate came under attack, there was a collective revelation: Even if we couldn’t see the proverbial glass ceiling from where we sat, it still existed—and it was not retractable. . . .

A greatest-hits selection provides a measure of the misogyny: There’s Republican axman Roger Stone’s anti-Hillary 527 organization, Citizens United Not Timid, or CUNT. And the Facebook group Hillary Clinton: Stop Running for President and Make Me a Sandwich, which has 44,000-plus members. And the “Hillary Nutcracker” with its “stainless-steel thighs.” And Clinton’s Wikipedia page, which, according to The New Republic, is regularly vandalized with bathroom-stall slurs like “slut” and “cuntbag.” And Rush Limbaugh worrying whether the country is ready to watch a woman age in the White House (as though nearly every male politician has not emerged portly, wearied, and a grandfatherly shade of gray). . . .

And so, in our reluctance to appear nagging, scolding, hectoring, or petty, many of us have made a practice of enduring minor affronts, not realizing that a failure to decry the smaller indignities can foster blindness to the larger ones. We then find ourselves shocked when one of the smartest, most qualified women ever to run for public office is called “fishwife-y” by a female pundit on national television. . . .

Old-guard feminists, for their part, seem not yet aware—or prepared to believe—that the younger generation is coming around. “Young women take a lot of things for granted,” Geraldine Ferraro told me . . . For another movement to reach critical mass, she said, women in society may need to experience what she calls “an accretion of insult.” But with the inequities highlighted by Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid reminding us of the inequities we experience on a regular basis, the insults may have, well … accreted. . . .

“It’s just a vibe when you’re a woman and you walk into a room and you’re in a position of power and you have to convince them of something,” a movie producer told me. “You’re constantly juggling: When you’re soft, you’re too soft; when you’re strong, you’re too strong. It’s a struggle in business and a struggle in relationships. It’s always a struggle.” . . . They may be more likable, more approachable, when playing to notions of traditional femininity (mother, wife, victim), but this doesn’t fly in the workplace. “To try to hide her womanliness or enhance it—that’s a decision Obama would never have to make,” said one woman. “I’m not saying it’s harder to be a woman. It’s just a choice she has to make that he doesn’t.” . . .

The past few months have been like an extended consciousness-raising session, to use a retro phrase that would have once made most of us cringe. We’ve parsed the gender politics of the campaign with other women in the office, at parties, over e-mail, and now we’re starting to parse the gender politics of our lives. This is, admittedly, depressing: How can we be confronting the same issues, all these years later? But it’s also exciting. It feels as if a window has been opened in a stuffy, long-sealed room. There is a thrill at the collective realization. Now the question is, what next?

–From The Feminist Reawakening: Hillary Clinton and the Fourth Wave (New York Magazine) by Amanda Fortini



Fourth Wave Feminism and Real Men

On-the-go Chinese women in no hurry to wed

Feminism’s Fourth Wave by UTNE Reader

Being a Feminist in Japan; Watching the Election From Afar

The New Feminists in The Observer


They must go for Hillary Clinton: Forget all the razzmatazz over Obama. The Democrats have only one option for president

Media Girl: Feminism


P.S.  Did I mention I’m hosting this fabulous poetry reading this coming Friday?  And that I’m feeling a bit better?  And that you should come?!!!


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AMY KING View All →

Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She co-edited with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edits the anthology series, Bettering American Poetry, and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.

17 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Thank you so much for this. The sexism in so much of the discussion about Clinton makes me nauseous, as does the way so many people seem inexplicably unable or unwilling to see it as such.

  2. It is great to hear you’re feeling better, and wonderful to see you posting again. I’ve got to catch up with all these posts, actually, but I’m running short on time.

    Take care, hope to talk soon: I should send an e-mail with “where the dissertation is” stuff sometime this week.

  3. Amy, thank you SO MUCH for posting this! I began receiving *not even barely veiled* misogynistic “Fwd:” emails, “jokes” and YouTube “comedy” skits when Hillary announced she would run for president. And I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard, “This country isn’t ready for a woman president,” quite often from the mouths of women! Well, when the *hell* will we be ready?!

    Someone in power needs to have the ovaries to stand up and call for a national dialogue on the treatment of women and misogyny in the same way that Obama called for a national dialogue on race. Citizens United Not Timid, or CUNT, is lauded, by men and women alike, yet SCUM (Society for the Cutting Up of Men) (http://www.womynkind.org/scum.htm)was/is vilified and its founder, Valerie Solanis, treated as an aberration of nature. God Forbid we be called the F word! I am absolutely livid at the treatment of women and the acceptability of misogyny, which has been brought out in full force in the United States with this election. If we’re not slaughtering women emotionally, physically, and psychically here at home, we’re committing full-scale femicide in the Middle East and sitting idly by as similar crimes against women occur in the rest of the world. What a sick sick society we live in!

    I love your statement, “Your compliance and passivity will only get you so far. Eventually, you’ll learn to hate yourself too well.” Yes, women have internalized the hatred to the point that most women hate themselves and are willing to put up with such abuse and sit by passively as other women are abused.

    A man recently told me that men, as a general rule, stick together, and think that women are catty, backstabbing, bitchy and can’t agree on anything, much less stick together to use the power of our sheer numbers in this country. They find that behavior incomprehensible. Said behavior (he said) only goes to “prove” their point(s) that the stereotypes of women are truewhe. And when men are openly criticized for hating women or any other sexist behavior, the typical male response is “Well, women do it too.” Again, as if that justifies misogyny and sexism.

    I did a Google image search the other day for a photo of Hillary, and the first several pages were filled with images of ridicule and hatred, photos of her with her mouth wide open in a scream or eyes bulging, or other derogatory PhotoShopped images. The “Anti-Hillary” movement has brought the misogynists out from every crevice of the woodwork, as never before.

    In an article worth reading: columnist Bob Hebert wrote a year ago (almost to the day) about misogyny and homophobia being the roots of most of the violence in this country (in the context of the Virginia Tech killings by Cho Seung-Hui). An excerpt:

    “Dr. James Gilligan, who has spent many years studying violence as a prison psychiatrist in Massachusetts, and as a professor at Harvard and now at N.Y.U., believes that some debilitating combination of misogyny and homophobia is a ‘central component’ in much, if not most, of the worst forms of violence in this country.”

    ” ‘What I’ve concluded from decades of working with murderers and rapists and every kind of violent criminal,’ he said, ‘is that an underlying factor that is virtually always present to one degree or another is a feeling that one has to prove one’s manhood, and that the way to do that, to gain the respect that has been lost, is to commit a violent act.”

    “Violence is commonly resorted to as the antidote to the disturbing emotions raised by the widespread hostility toward women in our society and the pathological fear of so many men that they aren’t quite tough enough, masculine enough — in short, that they might have homosexual tendencies.”

    In a culture that is relentless in equating violence with masculinity, “it is tremendously tempting,” said Dr. Gilligan, “to use violence as a means of trying to shore up one’s sense of masculine self-esteem.”

    I’m voting for Hillary come September! And I can only hope that a new wave of feminism in this country can help set things on a different path than the one we’re on now.

  4. P.S.S. I added this to my blog sidebar:

    Sojourner Truth (1797-1883): Ain’t I A Woman?
    Delivered 1851
    Women’s Convention, Akron, Ohio

    Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?

    That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

    Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

    Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

    If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

    Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.

  5. Interesting post. The most important point I think you make is that most of the ridicule directed toward Clinton has little or nothing to do with her policies or politics.

    Also, thank you for linking to my blog post. I’m really glad you found it relevent to your discussion.

  6. I think the appeal of such politically incorrect jokes lies in their expression of something that is taboo. Humour is a lot about release, and this gets reflected on an, admittedly, primitive level here. I am pretty sure similar jokes can be constructed and are constructed that are based on the perceived masculinity or lack of masculinity of men. What reason do you really have to believe that just since someone enjoys a politically incorrect joke that this person is more likely to be a misogynist, racist or whatever have you? I realize that it may seem as simple as that such jokes are disrespectful and reflect something about the person who enjoys them, and sometimes this is of course true, but having respect for other people is something very complicated and it doesn’t always work in a straightforward way. There are those who will enjoy these kinds of jokes because they really are racists or misogynists and it just seems natural within their subculture, but there are also those who will joke around about almost anything and very much realize that the joke is not so serious and is playing around with stereotypes and taboos, then forget about it and go out and treat everyone with a lot of respect. I am looking forward to your politically incorrect joke about McCain! ;-)

  7. Invcit –

    Except the vitriol and proliferation of the misogyny you’d like to render invisible under the umbrella of “political incorrectness” is much more publicized, pronounced, and multiplied than any politically incorrect jokes that mock the masculinity of men. The hate and anger that go into the distribution and telling of misogynistic jokes overshadows and overpowers any jokes that dare to mock the manhood of McCain or Obama or Bush. Where are these innumerable jokes that mock and express anger towards the maleness of politicians? Just do a google image search of Clinton and no problem finding images on page one that mock her femaleness. Same thing for image searches of the men? An emphatic no.

    Humor is always about something serious. The best comedians never deny that and openly tackle the big issues head on: Chris Rock, Tracey Ullman, Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart, Lewis Black, etc. Jokes reveal a lot about what’s going on in the collective psyche of society, and in this case, men in particular (and by default, through the complacency/passivity of the women who stand by these men). Do you think Andrew Dice Clay’s hate jokes towards women would have found an audience if there was not a backlash against women in the eighties and nineties? He would not have become one of the richest comedians of all time if he did not tap into that anger towards women for moving into the public sector, threatening jobs that only men previously held, asking men to hold a more egalitarian view of personal relationships, etc. He tapped into and made a real income on that anger — as expressed, without repercussion, through comedy.

    I know firsthand how politically incorrect jokes work – and the permissions they give. Thanks for the explanation though. One gets to express and laugh at the “taboo” without repercussion. In other words, it’s cool to be disrespectful and not have to worry about being called on it — because it’s “just a joke”! Some laugh at Bush’s supposed stupidity for the relief you mention, meanwhile we don’t have to answer to anyone for mocking such stupidity, nor do we have to do anything about what that supposed stupidity has gotten us in the last eight years. We shrug it off and feel better? So what does mocking the female aspects of Clinton achieve? ** What is being relieved? ** Where is the relief? **

    The relief comes in expressing the anger that a number of men, and some women, feel towards a woman daring to throw her capabilities into the ring and deem herself worthy of an office historically only held by men. And that one gesture frightens a lot of men. How does one go about killing the message that Clinton might be capable of holding that office, as a woman, and doing so even better than her predecessor? One kills the messenger by mocking her, especially the aspect of her that threatens the most: her womanhood. One need not hear the message and respond when the messenger herself is under attack. Call her a cow and her politics fall by the wayside. One does not have to engage with them. Call her a bitch or a cunt or whatever olde time anti-woman slogan you can conjure under the ruse of a joke, and he doesn’t have to answer for why he’s so angry that a woman is daring to run for president. Same old story, but you can dress it up if it makes you feel better.

  8. thanks for your post and your response to the defender of disrespectful jokes. i would have a hard time voting for hillary clinton if my life depended on it, but that in no way dampens my disgust with the misogyny that envelops her campaign, from the media and from the general public. i’m no less disgusted with the way the media and public are dealing with race in this election — which is to say that i reject the claim that racism is dead while sexism is (as always) the # 1 basis of oppression in our society. do we really need to have that oppression-ranking stuff going on (robin morgan!), when what is abundantly clear is that neither obama nor clinton are able to conduct their campaigns without being made to feel (sometimes by each other!) that their basic identity is an outright disqualifier and must be muted, “erased,” or denounced — or, just as bad, that their basic identity is their *only* qualification and must be played (as in “a card”) or sold to the highest bidders??? whatever. thanks again for creating this space of sanity.

  9. Amy,

    I am not in the least angry at Hillary for daring to run for president. I think it would be a good thing if the US had a female president precisely because it would (one hopes!) highlight various issues from the perspective of women. This includes, but is not limited to, the kinds of attitudes that you touch upon. Yet, while I don’t count the appreciation of the joke as one of my greatest achievements in life, it nevertheless brought at least a smile to my face – I found it moderately funny, if somewhat predictable. Why did I have this reaction? Because I have some unconscious hatred towards women in general that I am unaware of? You almost seem to assume that this is the case. To me, well, it was a simple joke, with a simple resolution: the two interpretations of killing a cow. Perhaps coupled with that what little I have seen of Hillary (I am not American), her personality did not particularly appeal to me.

    You can construct a case that these kinds of jokes reflect unexpressed sentiments within a culture and it can be made especially convincing given the context and the history of women and so on. It is the kind of thing that makes for a good story, but its validity must be seen at the individual level. Otherwise, those who end up being portrayed as misogynists might just sarcastically thank YOU for your explanation of what they really feel and think. In short, I think you are reading too much into this.

  10. Apologies if no sarcasm was implied in your response when you thanked me. I might have read too much into that.

    Also, it occurs to me that perhaps I cannot fully understand the offensiveness of this joke, partly because I am not American, but European, and at least in some corners of Europe, I would say that there is a lot more equality between men and women than in the US. Better protection against discrimination in the workplace (for example in the case of pregnancy), more opportunity for both men and women to take time off because they have a baby, right to abortion not even questioned, female leaders of political parties more or less as common as male leaders, and so on and so forth.

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