The Gender Tightrope

By | 3/30/2016 Leave a Comment
Corey Lewandowski Bob Woodward Bernie Sanders

In political campaigns, candidates will always seek ways in which to turn their opponent’s words against them in order to score points, often unfairly. But when it comes to accusations of gender bias, fraught as it is with ambiguity and nuance, there’s a fine line to walk between pulling the sexism card and abusing it.

In the first democratic debate, Mr. Sanders got into hot water when he stated that “all the shouting in the world” would not keep guns out of the wrong hands. After a peculiar lag of almost two weeks, Mrs. Clinton later called him out on his words, saying, “I’ve been told to stop, and I quote, ‘shouting about gun violence.’ First of all, I’m not shouting. It is just when women talk, some people think we’re shouting. I’ve been told to stop shouting about ending gun violence. Well, I haven’t been shouting, but sometimes when a woman speaks out, some people think it’s shouting. But I won’t be silenced.”

Yet is it valid to infer, as she clearly did, that Sanders was intentionally using sexist rhetoric when in fact all he was doing was using a common turn of phrase that many of us have uttered at one time or another, without the gender of the recipient of our remarks being of the slightest consequence?

A bigger brouhaha occurred when the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, in an interview on Joe Scarborough’s “Morning Joe,” commented on her vocal delivery. “I think a lot of it with Hillary Clinton has to do with style and delivery, oddly enough,” he said. “She shouts. There is something unrelaxed about the way she is communicating.”

A veritable firestorm erupted soon after and accusations of sexism came fast and furious. But this consistently loud tone was something I had noticed myself before he’d made his feelings known, especially around the beginning part of the year, and it was becoming a painful aural experience every time a clip of her on the stump was aired. It was akin to seeing a person attempting to communicate with someone who didn’t speak English, imagining that the louder they spoke the better chance they had of being understood. Was I sexist in thinking that? Some would still probably think so, but it wasn’t the gender of the person attached to the voice that bothered me, it was the LOUDNESS.

My thoughts were my own, of course, but Mr. Woodward’s were public and he took a lot of incoming for them.

And now there’s Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, recently charged with battery for roughly pulling a reporter, Michelle Fields, out of his way as she persisted in attempting to ask Trump a question as he was leaving a press conference.

I don’t think anyone is under any illusions about how rough and tumble life for members of the press can be, and in that dog-eat-dog world you often have to have the sharpest elbows lest you come up empty-handed, so no one can fault her grim persistence. At the same time, it’s the campaign team’s responsibility to protect their candidate and shield him (or her) from pushy members of the press who won’t take no for an answer, so it’s not surprising that now and then some sharp words or some pushing and shoving is going to occur.

But if Michelle Fields had instead been, say, Michael Fields, and Michael had been vigorously badgering Trump with a question as he attempted to leave the room, only to find himself grabbed by the arm and tugged away, would we be talking about it? Would charges have been filed? Would it still be churning around the 24 hour news cycle as one of the most important stories of the day?

One thing is for sure: with a female candidate not shy about raising the “S” card on one side, and a male candidate who’s already developed a reputation for not respecting women enough on the other, there’ll be plenty more of this to come.

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