Paul Waldman's piece (from TomPaine.com via AlterNet) on the right-wing fear and loathing in response to newly empowered Democratic women gets my vote for the putdown-punditry-of-the-month award. Basically he takes the sexist crap recently slung at Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer and Hillary Clinton and shapes it into a deft bit of psycho-belittlement: The slingers are overcompensating weenies with a castration complex.
He describes Boxer's brandishing a gavel when dressing down former chairman of the environment committee and global warming skeptic James Inhofe during global warming hearings: "You could almost see the steam coming out of Inhofe's ears, not only because he had been deprived of his power, but because he was deprived of it by a woman. She even held up the gavel, the symbol of that power, and practically taunted him with it. Freud couldn't have scripted it much better."
Then Waldman analyzes conservative pundits who employ words like "bitch" and "harridan" when talking about female politicians, suggesting that these men are responding to something deep and vaguely atavistic. Whether it's MSNBC host Tucker Carlson calling Hillary Clinton "castrating, overbearing and scary" or Chris Matthews wondering if Nancy Pelosi was "going to castrate Steny Hoyer," Waldman makes a worthwhile point: If you take these men at their word, they must be frickin' terrified.
But it's his discussion of Clinton's candidacy that cuts most closely to the bone. As he observes, the male gender gap in voting tends to be more pronounced than the female one (among male voters, George W. Bush beat John Kerry by a margin of 11 points), and the prospect of a female president will only fan the flames of the fear that "if you vote for a woman, then you must not be a real man."
As Waldman tartly observes (and as Salon's Glenn Greenwald has discussed before), "One can't avoid noticing that as a group, conservative media figures are not exactly secure in their masculinity. Forever promoting war when they avoided military service themselves and doubling over to protect their tender parts every time a strong woman appears on their television screens, it's no wonder they are so impressed by politicians who may not be real men but know how to present a convincing facsimile of manliness."
If Bobbitt-on-the-brain media figures can really influence a nationwide election by talking about "scary" women and severed penises, we should address that front and center. Who's afraid of a big bad woman? But what's far more subtle -- but probably also more likely to influence Clinton's fate as a female candidate -- is how even the liberal discussion of her candidacy can veer into veiled sexism. In the posts in response to the article, the presumably liberal readers began immediately debating Clinton's lack of "qualifications" and her depending on "Slick Willie" to get where she is, as well as her essential emptiness. Of course, all's fair in love and campaign politics, but I can't help wondering: When subtler forms of sexism creep into conversations that profess to be about something more, will we even notice?