Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Trivializing pursuits

One might be excused for thinking, for a moment, that columnists and pundits would be slightly more sensitive to stereotypes after Chris Matthews was forced to apologize to Hillary Clinton for a long series of misogynist remarks. Not so.

A case in point is a snide and profoundly unfunny column by Joel Klein that appeared in the Los Angeles Times (and locally in the Portland Oregonian). Professing that he will "miss" Hillary Clinton, Klein regurgitates clich├ęd references to her physical qualities, appearance and gender-based expectations:
  • "her creepy laugh"
  • "the way she tried to bring back the pantsuit"
  • "The woman even managed to get better looking as she aged." [A comment that, somehow, doesn't come across as a compliment.]
  • "You wanted cookies, and she whipped up an oatmeal chocolate chip recipe."
  • "As the mean kids figured out in high school, you can make the smart girl do anything."
  • "Hillary's problem is that she was too good."
  • "...such personalities are far less annoying whiny than self-satisfied."
  • "...that awful burst of cackle stayed with me."
Klein's litany overlooked only a handful of the more familiar adjectives that are applied to Clinton, like shrill and Tucker Carlson's castrating, overbearing and scary.

Unfortunately, the ancient sport of ridiculing women (and specifically Hillary Clinton) for their appearance is not limited to Maureen Dowd or the conservative right, as a minute of surfing will reveal.

Ridicule is a uniquely powerful, and often unanswerable, political tool. Hillary Clinton or any other other politician can, and certainly should be, subjected to a din of satire and ridicule when they deserve it. Everyone invites public derision when they act or speak stupidly—politicians especially, since their bad choices affect so many other people. But it's unfair and offensive to perpetuate stereotypes by ridiculing people for qualities that are beyond their control [1], including gender, race, age and physical appearance.


[1] Okay, fashion choices are within our control. But critics who dwell at length on Hillary Clinton's outfits—or Condi Rice's for that matter—would rarely report on the wardrobes of John McCain or (unless he's wearing a turban or no flag pin) Barack Obama.

PHOTO: Clinton and Obama making fashion statements.

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