Founded in 1974, the Women’s Center was established to:
Dismantle, from a feminist perspective, all forms of oppression, including but not limited to those based on ability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Advocate for an equitable environment free from violence and harassment based on gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Create an anti-racist, non-sexist, queer-affirmative space where all people can feel valued and safe.
Facilitate and strengthen connections among people across lines of difference through programming and educational campaigns.
Integrate an appreciation of Women's Gender and Multicultural Studies across the disciplines.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What Would Bill Think of This?

I want to start this post out by talking about what we should be focusing on in regards to Hillary Clinton this week: the message she is bringing to the African people. According to the New York Post Hillary started out this week "on the first leg of a seven-nation tour of Africa, Clinton will speak to Kenya's leadership about U.S. concerns for the country, the homeland of President Barack Obama's father, in the wake of corruption scandals and disputed 2007 elections that led to violence that left more than 1,000 dead."

Clinton has been all over Africa over the last few days, working to spread a message of goodwill from the United States, while simultaneously offering up criticisms of issues on which the two countries disagree:
"Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sought to rebuild American relations with South Africa on Friday after years of frustration over the nation’s approach to issues like AIDS and the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Promising to “broaden and deepen” American ties to South Africa, the continent’s economic and political powerhouse, she said the two countries would “work together to build a global architecture of cooperation.”

But she also made clear her disapproval of the nation’s past policies on AIDS, which have been widely criticized as lagging behind science and allowing the premature deaths of hundreds of thousands of people through government inaction.

[via the New York Times]"
"U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Monday for Congolese youth to lead nationwide protests against massive corruption and rampant sexual violence in the country's violence-torn east.

"You are the ones who have to speak out," she told university students in Kinshasa. "Speak out to end the corruption, the violence, the conflict that for too long have eroded the opportunities across this country. Together, you can write a new chapter in Congolese history."

Clinton travels on Tuesday to the eastern city of Goma, the epicenter of horrific rapes and other sexual crimes committed by the military and rebel groups as they fight over the region's vast mineral wealth.

Clinton said she would press officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo to address the issues. But she stressed that domestic outrage at graft and sexual assaults against women and girls was needed to help prod the government into action.

[via Yahoo News]"

I think its obvious at this point that Clinton's task is not easy in the least - there's historical tension, massive cultural differences, rampant misogyny and much more to be contended with here. She should be commended for this huge undertaking or, at the very least, respected for the effort that she is making as Secretary of State.

She should be, but, of course, she isn't.

Most of us haven't really heard about what Clinton's been doing in Africa, especially those of us who get our news primarily from the television news networks, because the news-media has been abuzz with a very different story. Here's a quick taste of how America's news networks have been covering her Africa trip for the last few days:
"Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lost her cool Monday after a Congolese student, speaking through a translator, asked her what "Mr. Clinton" thought about a Chinese trade deal with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The only problem? Apparently the translator made a mistake and the student had wanted to know what President Obama thought of the deal. A State Department official tells ABC News the student went up to Clinton after the event and told her he was misquoted. No immediate word yet how Clinton responded."

"You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?" Clinton replied, clearly irked by the thought of being her husband Bill's spokeswoman.

"My husband is not secretary of state, I am," she replied. "If you want my opinion I will tell you my opinion. I am not going to be channeling my husband."

[via ABC News]

"The secretary of state bristled Monday when — as she heard it — a Congolese university student asked what her husband thought about an international financial matter.

She hadn't traveled to Africa to talk about her husband the ex-president. But even there, she couldn't escape his outsized shadow."

She abruptly reclaimed the stage for herself.

"My husband is not secretary of state, I am," she snapped. "I am not going to be channeling my husband."

Clinton's presence, so bold in her historic presidential candidacy against Barack Obama, has sometimes been hard to see in the months she's served as the supposed face and voice of U.S. foreign policy."

[via MSNBC]

Clinton's response to this one, highly inappropriate question (that was, in fact, translated correctly all along) has taken center-stage, quickly pushing all of her diplomatic accomplishments in Africa aside. This coverage honestly depresses me, as the more I read about the incident, the more sexism I find myself trying to ignore.

For instance, all of the news agencies I have seen reporting on this event have written it off as Hillary "losing her cool" (or some similar phrase that implies an emotional outburst, rather than an appropriate response to a rude question) a phrase that implies Hillary, rather than the asked of the offensive question, is the one that committed a social gaffe.

There was no "lost cool" here, Hillary handled the question perfectly. As Secretary of State to Bill's former president, it is Hillary (not Bill) that currently has the power and influence that make her opinion (not Bill's) relevant to America's international policies. How could it be considered anything but insulting for an individual to ask her for her husband's opinion on an issue where she is the one who's opinion actually has influence and importance? Framing a question in that way does one thing and one thing only: it belittles Hillary's position and power by implying that her opinion is less important than her husband's. Now, compound this with the fact that the question came during a campaign to end sexual violence against women in Africa and it becomes even more understandable that Hillary would be offended by the belittling implication of the question asked.

Yet Hillary was not phased. She simply reminded the questioner (sternly, yes, but no more so than the situation deserved) that she was the Secretary of State, not her husband, and that she would speak for herself in this interview, rather than be his mouthpiece. Basically, she acted in a manner that asserted her authority, authority that the American media seems intent upon slowly stripping away through coverage that implies Hillary overreacted in some way to the situation, packaged alongside the constant reminder that the question was "mistranslated" (even though that assertion, is actually a "mistranslation" of the facts) - making it seems as if Hillary overreacted to a whole lot of nothing.

This is the face of politics for women in America. Not assertive enough? That's expected, you're a woman. Assert your power and influence in an interview? Whoa there sweetie, stop overreacting now. Don't go "losing your cool" in front of the media. Expect your opinion as Secretary of State to trump your husband's in situations related to your job? Sorry sister, you're married to a former President... who cares about your own credentials? We'll call you next time the White House needs to be re-decorated.

Still doubt that sexism is in play here? Check out this awful video from MSNBC News, provided by Jezebel, in which "reporters" joke that Bill should have flown out to the Congo to "rescue" Hillary from I don't know what... doing her job? And, even more offensively, that Hillary needs to get back to the gym as if that has any relevancy here. You stay classy, MSNBC.

No comments:

Post a Comment