Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why Do Sexism Criers Fall Silent When It Comes to Michelle Obama?

One of the many blatant hypocrisies that has stood out for me during this election is the fact that Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin supporters, who are so quick to cry sexism, remain silent when seemingly sexist connotations are assigned to Michelle Obama.

Most recently, Bill O’Reilly stated, “Now, I have a lot of people who call me on the radio and say she looks angry. And I have to say there’s some validity to that. She looks like an angry woman.” I wouldn’t be surprised that if such a description was attributed to Clinton or Palin, supporters would assert that there’s a double standard that women who are smart, serious and professional are considered “angry.” Not to mention that such a statement seems completely untrue. At most appearances, Michelle is either smiling or serious – and certainly does not come off as an “angry woman.” What’s more, the Fox News’ characterization of Michelle Obama as “Obama Baby Mama” in June was also met with radio silence from the feminist community. But why?

Could it be that the intersection of race and gender just gets too hairy and so the battle is best left alone? The “Obama Baby Mama” comment is soaked in both sexist and racist connotations and perhaps many supporters of Clinton and Palin would rather avoid a subject where racism plays a role. It is clear that some republicans are trying to associate Michelle with pejorative images that are specific to African-American females. They would like to perpetuate the image of the “angry black woman” to instill hatred and fear in small-minded people – much like Ronald Reagan tried to do with the image of the “welfare queen” during his presidential campaign.

Or are we dealing with that aged-old taboo question from the Suffragist Movement that Women’s Rights has always been an exclusively white middle class woman phenomenon and black women are rarely invited to the dinner table? Such a question reemerged during the primary election, when Geraldine Ferraro asserted that; “Gender is the most restricting force in American life.” It is a zero-sum game to try to quantify sexism, racism or any other “ism” for that matter, but many women of color shuttered when they heard this comment. It brought back the fears that women of color and black women in particular have always been on the sidelines when it comes to fighting for equal rights for women and that they are virtually ignored when sexist comments are hurled their way.

Cross-posted to Political Voices of Women

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