Nancy Pelosi's rough beginning as Speaker-Elect of the House caught a fair level of criticism and analysis; I suspect the tough battle over her No. 2 will fade by the time the new class is sworn in during the January storms, when the focus will shift to Bush v. Democrats in earnest. But there's a sour taste that remains, the flavor of something that is unfortunately infecting the so-called enlightened, liberal left - creeping and creepy anti-feminism.
You see, progressives all too often frame their self-criticism in sly sexist terms while overtly lambasting far-right women as nothing better than Republican whores.
And I'll say it here at the top, this has to stop for a couple of reasons: one, it's obviously wrong and well beneath the lofty goals of progressive politics. And then there's the undeniable fact that within the next year or so, there's a better-than-even chance that we'll all be working to elect the first female President of the United States.
Of course, there's always Maureen Dowd's overt lack of respect for any politician not carrying the Y chromosome. Her self-hating misogynist dismissal of Pelosi this week? Madam Speaker-Elect "throws like a girl." That Dowd remains the top Washington columnist for the best newspaper in the world despite her frantic anti-feminist views is as strange as some of Arthur Sulzberger's other talent choices. But I'm sick of waking up to see Dowd take her last-generation, life was better in the cocktail-swigging 50s, women must know their place attitude splattered across the Op-Ed page. (Luckily, that page is becoming ever less relevant thanks to the NYT's incredibly stupid decision to place opinion behind a paid firewall; hence no link here).
Non-opinion coverage also holds women to a different standard, injecting sexist attitudes into every-day copy. Last week, the AP described Pelosi in a photo caption from Capitol Hill as "...dressed in an Armani acqua blue-grey pantsuit as she heads towards her first news conference since Election Day." John Aravosis called it out on AmericaBlog, and lefty bloggers are understandably sensitive on sexism directed at the 66-year-old woman who will be third in line to the Presidency.
Last week, Rolling Stone editor Benjamin Wallace-Wells asked aloud on the Washington Post editorial page whether American politics was more racist than sexist, and whether by extension if Hillary Clinton or Barak Obama had the higher mountain to climb. But he clearly lost his feminist readers with this line:
Repression of blacks was the stuff of massive state-leveraged cruelty -- the police dogs and fire hoses -- while repression of women in this country was made of quieter stuff: bras, aprons and constitutional amendments.
This kind of casual sexism astounds feminists; as Jessica at Feministing wrote in understandable sputtering anger:
While the characterizations of the civil rights and women's movement are both generalized to the umpth degree...bras and aprons?! Bras and aprons?! Seriously?
It's nice to know that a movement that helped women obtain the right to control their own bodies, created a national discourse on domestic violence and rape, and challenged sexual harassment and workplace inequity (just to name a few accomplishments) can be reduced to two words--pieces of clothing, at that!--bras and aprons. Lovely.
And yet. Yet. Yet. Yet. Sexism in what some call the post-feminist age is generally accepted, even in the most active leftist salons - especially when it's directed toward conservative women.
Take a recent post by the prolific TRex at the A-list progressive blog FireDogLake. Entitled The Republicans’ Mad Cow Problem, the post looks at the legal problems of right-wing talking heads Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter, whose opinions I personally find hateful and rather stupid. Nonetheless, here's a taste of TRex's language:
Not only do both Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter share a colorist and perhaps a Clydesdale or two in their respective family trees...
And certain very, very special little girls named Ann who always get what they want...
Here's a woman who is so eager to snatch the Reich Wing Blonde Princess of Power tiara from Ann Coulter's head that her fingers twitch in her sleep...
Enjoy it, Laura, this may be the only time in your life that a sitting US Senator ever addresses you by name except to say, "Your money's on the dresser, Blondie."
Whatever you think of the radical, strange Coulter and the angry, ill-informed Ingraham, what does their sex have to do with their arguments? Yes, their looks have something to do with their television popularity, no question. Hey, that's life among the ratings-conscious. But do we really win converts by attacking their gender? Especially when we know what's coming against Speaker Pelosi and Candidate Clinton - and all the women who run for City Council, Assembly, or State Senate?
On the very same blog, Taylor Marsh bites back at those who would attack Pelosi based on her sex, and quotes Eleanor Roosevelt brilliantly: "Every woman in public life needs to develop skin as tough as rhinoceros hide."
Yet a couple of clicks down from that quote, you'll find Republican women derided as cows and hookers. Very strange.
A commenter dared to challenge's TRex's sexism:
Or maybe, as Shakespeare's Sister suggested in a post on Fox News host Mort Kondracke calling Pelosi "the Wicked Witch of the West":
It's always so nice to let the ol' hair down, do away with the cumbersome pretenses of a civilized society, and expose the raw, unapologetic sexist lurking in all of us.
So it's all in good fun - except that is hurts the cause. The lame, baseless politics of Coulter and Ingraham are easy to deflect on their merits without calling them whores. The political tactics of Nancy Pelosi should be debated without regard to her designer duds. And Hillary Clinton's fitness for the Presidency should be argued with no thought to whether the country is "ready for a woman President."
Haven't the men had their chance?