Thursday, November 5, 2015

Is Hillary Clinton actually making your arcane point about sexism?

The flap between Clinton and Sanders is about something different from the outright sexism that Sanders swears he didn't intend. What Clinton was pointing out was a subtler, more pervasive kind of discrimination... Clinton didn't say or imply that Bernie intentionally slighted her based on her gender. She did imply that her gender made him see her differently, and that many women have this same experience all the time...Hillary Clinton is playing up her gender and her feminism as a strategy, but it's probably not just a ploy to energize her base. - Emily Crockett
Perhaps one of the most revealing tics among Hillary Clinton's media surrogates is their habit of speaking for her instead of letting her speak for herself.

Crockett has developed an exceedingly narrow indictment of Sanders here, conceding that he did not intentionally insult Clinton, but insisting that he (unintentionally?) voiced something that expressed his sexist perception of women. This, too, is probably unfair, but it's at least harder to argue against, since it abandons the more serious (and far less plausible) charge of deliberate misogyny. Now Sanders is arguably guilty of naivete, depending on how seriously you take the theory that any reference he makes to people shouting is a "women so noisy" joke.

Merits of that grievance aside, what Crockett and Vox both ignore is the (I guess completely incidental) fact that Hillary Clinton did not say any of this. Clinton did not respond to the "shouting" comment with some measured, carefully qualified critique of Sanders. She didn't publish a Voxplainer about passive or unintentional participation in microaggressive discourse. Here is what Clinton actually said - all of it:
"I've been told to stop, and I quote, shouting about gun violence. Well, first of all, I'm not shouting. It's just when women talk, some people think we're shouting."
It's true that Clinton "didn't say or imply that Bernie intentionally slighted her" - but it doesn't follow from that omission that she was necessarily making Crockett's refined argument about implicit bias. There's an unmistakeable generosity in attributing to Clinton the elaboration of nearly 1500 words she never actually said - while dismissing without argument the suspicion that this was just "a ploy to energize her base." The far more plausible interpretation is that Clinton made a vague, lawyerly suggestion of sexism, knowing perfectly well how it would be understood, and leaving her media surrogates more than enough wiggle room to deny any specific criticism. It's remarkable that anyone would take the comment any other way.