Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What Is It About Hillary?

When I see stuff like this, and read articles like this and this, I don't know whether to laugh or cry over the way women are objectified in our culture.

Never mind that the joke of having a Hillary nutcracker depends on the fact that “strong woman = ballbuster” never needs to be spoken out loud –- it’s a given, like “strong man = role model” and “weak man = pussy.” What strikes me as interesting is that the joke is based on two separate premises: the generic premise based on a sexual stereotype and the specific premise that Hillary Clinton is one nutcracking bee-yatch.

The generic premise says that any woman who attempts to compete as an equal on a male playing field must be competing primarily to stick it to men. As a penalty, the criticism she gets is half-nitpicky, half-gotcha, and the bar for her achievements is always set a little higher than it is for her male co-players, which means that in order to be equal to those men, she has to be superior to them. If she fails at this, her entire sex fails; if she succeeds at this, it only proves that her entire sex will do anything to stick it to men. And if she makes the slightest mistake, especially the kind of mistake that’s excused in one of her male co-players? She gets the book thrown at her. (Hi, Martha Stewart!)

The specific premise says that Hillary Clinton wears the pants in the Clinton marriage -- which means it’s only a matter of time before somebody starts marketing a doll of Bill Clinton in a dress. (You’d think, right? But interestingly enough, the logical corollary to ballbuster Hill –- “Bill has no balls” –- doesn’t seem to have the same currency in the Penile Hive Mind. Unless I’m missing something. My God -- could it be that the Penile Hive Mind is only equipped to dish it out and not take it?)

So we’ve got a joke based on a generic sexual stereotype (woman = nutcracker, and vice versa), as well as a specific swipe against an individual woman who embodies the unspoken male fear of the powerful (and therefore castrating) woman. And I wish I knew what it was about Hillary’s embodiment of this cliché that pushes the Rant Button in people. There’s definitely something about her personally which drives some folks gleefully bazoo. They so totally delight in trashing this woman. I mean me, I think Barbara Bush has it all over Hillary as a vengeful, grudge-keeping termagant (oops -- another stereotype), but you don’t see Barbara Bush nutcrackers on E-Bay. And not just because you never saw her in pants. (Although if you ask me, that has a lot to do with it. Barbara Bush could be an axe murderer, but as long as she wears a granny dress, the PHM gives her a pass as a man-hater.)

So chalk up the Hillary Nutcracker as another in a long line of misogynist jokes, and remember -- that sound you hear in the background is a lot of people with two X chromosomes grinding their teeth like Marge Simpson. Will Homer ever change? Nope. Will stereotypes ever change? Sure. (Two words: Stepin Fetchit.) But the double-standard operates here as well. If a woman doesn't agitate for change? Change never happens. If a woman does agitate for change? She's out to stick it to men, which means she becomes the problem, and change never happens. It's a Red Queen's Race and it always has been: women have to run as fast as they can just to stay in the same place, and if they let up for even a second, they're back where they started. (Insert picture of Bugs Bunny holding up a sign that reads DEPRESSING, AIN'T IT?)

As for me, I have my doubts about Hillary as a politician, but they have nothing to do with her sex, any more than my doubts about Obama have to do with his race. And I suggest that if another company came out with an equivalent Obama toy -- say, the Obama Lawn Jockey? -- there would be such a chorus of pundits using the words "vile" and "disgusting" that those two words would quickly become meaningless.

Just as meaningless –- if you stop to think about it-- as a criticism based on a sexual stereotype. If I can quote myself, from an unfinished project about women in the workplace:

WOMAN #1: He called me a bitch in front of the entire meeting!
WOMAN #2: Good for you.
WOMAN #1: Good for me?
WOMAN #2: Calling a woman a bitch is what a man does when he can’t think of anything else to criticize you for.

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