Bully for Nancy Pelosi!

The speaker of the House affirms that she, too, is the victim of sexism, yesiree.

Published June 25, 2008 3:30PM (EDT)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn't want to miss the bus on the whole "sexism" thing everyone seems to be yakking about now that Hillary Clinton has stepped safely away from the White House.

Pelosi, the highest-ranking woman to hold elected office in the United States, remained officially neutral during the primaries, but was widely seen as sympathetic to Barack Obama's campaign. But at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Tuesday, Pelosi decided to get in on some Monday-morning quarterbacking about what happened to the first serious bid by a woman for president. "Is there sexism? Probably so," said Pelosi, adding that she hadn't examined the issue closely enough to identify whether misogyny might be responsible for Clinton's defeat, but had examined it closely enough to know that gender certainly gave Clinton a boost. "I do think that being a woman has a positive upside in the campaign, probably offset by more sexism. I don't know. Of course there is sexism, we all know that. I mean, but it is a given, it is a given."

A total given. Which is why you heard it addressed by the Democratic Party with such vociferousness throughout the weeks and months that people were making money off Hillary nutcracker dolls and talking on television about her cackling desire to cut off penises. Anyhoo ... Pelosi continued, keeping upbeat and nonsensical, "In any event, I think that on the positive side, Senator Clinton has advanced the cause of women in government and her candidacy has been a very positive tonic for the country and had a very wholesome effect on the political process."

Wholesome? Seriously? Was that the part about the sexism, the racism, the ageism, the fact that Clinton lost or the fact that the party is riven by anger? Don't get me wrong. I agree that this prolonged primary race was terrific fun, not to mention invigorating, necessary and ultimately good for both candidates and the country, but I would not call it "wholesome," or "a very positive tonic," especially while I was discussing the sexism involved, which I hadn't really studied the effects of, but which was probably also a given, and which ultimately only offset all the positive upsides of girlness. Follow?

Lest you be confused by Pelosi's slightly stingy circularity, she also wanted to make sure, as long as she was talking about wholesomeness and misogyny, that everyone knows that Clinton isn't the only female to experience gender injustice. "I'm a victim of sexism myself, all the time," said Pelosi. But despite being an all-the-time victim, the one thing she's not is a "victim." "I just think it goes with the territory," she said. "I don't sit around and say, 'but for that.'" In fact, Pelosi stressed, she too gets a boost. "I myself find that I get a tremendous upside from being a woman," she said, "and I don't spend a lot of time worrying about sexist remarks that people make." Pelosi stopped herself before adding, "Unlike some people."

This whole thing was such a weird mix of bandwagon jumping, overidentification, mean-girl distance and retroactively unpersuasive appreciation for Clinton's historic bid that it's tough to know what to say about Pelosi chirruping, "I think her candidacy was just a bright, bright moment for us and she may run again," except: What are you smoking, lady?

Pelosi's rambling remarks are symptomatic of how, in the calm following Clinton's barrier-busting storm, the confusing and sometimes shamefaced conversation about whether she faced sexism seems to be all anyone can talk about, including those Democratic Party leaders who seemed not to notice, while Clinton was battling for the nomination, that there was anyone but Obama making history.

Now that the Clinton juggernaut has petered out, everyone wants to pat the old girl on the back for having done something that was, apparently, challenging!

Two days before the end of primary season, party leader Howard Dean was moved to tell George Stephanopoulos that "there has been an enormous amount of sexism in this campaign on the part of the media ... There have been major networks that have featured numerous outrageous comments that if the words were reversed and they were about race, the people would have been fired ... What you don't get over is deep wounds that have been inflicted on somebody because they happen to be a woman running for president of the United States ... I do believe that the issue of sexism in this country has to be addressed." And, really, what better time to address the issues of sexism than two days before the first serious female contender for president is about to lose her bid!

Seriously! Dean then went on a kind of magical misogyny media tour, telling the New York Times that he didn't catch on to the gendered language used about Clinton because he is not a regular viewer of the cable television politics shows (inspiring confidence in Democrats who might kind of wish that the chairman of their party made it his business to see what talking heads were saying on the only stations that cover his business 24/7!), but that after conversations with one or two of 18 million sentient Clinton supporters, his eyes were really opened. The sexism, said Dean, was "pretty appalling," and "many of the most prominent people on TV behaved like middle schoolers," and "the wounds of sexism need to be the subject of a national discussion." A national discussion that is definitely not related in any way, shape or form to a woman threatening to enter the White House, but in which we congratulate her heartily for having given it the old college try!

So thanks, Democratic Party leaders, from feminists from both the Clinton and Obama camps. Your commitment to tackling the hard issues a day late and millions of dollars short is deeply inspiring to us all.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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