Women, News, Media and Politics: I’m Exhausted

Wow—has it ever been a week for women, politics and the media. It started with the unthinkable—Hillary Clinton showed emotion. (I’m not going to remark upon the blood-pressure-raising aspects of this being front-page news across the nation, because we’ve got a lot to get through, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t steaming up as it happened.) Hillary Clinton then won the New Hampshire primary. Whether those two events are related or not is not an issue within my limited understanding, but boy, did that upset some people. And I’m not talking about the usual suspects, either, misogynists and Republicans and conservative pundits like Chris Matthews. No, the most hurtful shit-slinging came from inside the ranks of liberal-leaning women. (Of course, the misogynists, Republicans and conservative pundits all had plenty to say as well. I just try not to listen too much.) She only won because women felt bad for her, women voted for Hillary to spite the horrendously unprofessional news coverage of her, women are stupid and vote out of female solidarity instead of any understanding of the issues—all theories treated as valid in the aftershocks of the news that there would be no Democratic coronation, and that maybe it’s not okay to trash powerful women for fun in front of female population of over 50%.

But certainly the news didn’t stop there. On the morning of the primary, Gloria Steinem wrote an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times. It’s too long to explain fully here, so go read it for yourselves, but the point I think (and hope) she really wanted to make was that, while racism and sexism are both huge problems in our society, it’s much more acceptable to be overtly sexist than overtly racist. I happen to agree that there’s tons of evidence to support this theory, but Steinem included a lot of information that was somewhat extraneous to that thesis, and it created some drag. A lot of drag, in fact. This time, I didn’t even bother to read the reactions of right-wing America—I was too busy following the Talmudic deconstruction of Steinem’s comments by fellow feminists. Sometimes measured and thoughtful, sometimes incredibly scrutinizing, I could feel these comments tugging at the sometimes tenuous connections between waves. The next generation of every movement needs to rebel, friends assured me, but I’ve always taken particular pride in how respectful the inter-generational feminist dialogue has appeared, at least to me. I was also very scared, in this age when bloggers end up on pundits’ shows, of watching this vivisection move from my computer screen to the television screen. I was afraid of a shande in front of the not-so-friendly neighbors.

But barely had the emails stopped whizzing about Gloria Steinem when they fired up anew. This time, two of my personal greatest loyalties were straining against one another, and the issue still is still hot. As reported by the JTA, the Forward and a few blogs, the American Jewish Congress had an ad rejected by Ms. Magazine. The ad was about Israel and featured three prominent Israeli politicians. Once the news hit the internet, the accusations started flying, and it makes me nervous. That being a good liberal and a good Jew leaves room for many different feelings about Israel—a complicated psychic space where nothing reduces well—is an argument I feel like I’ve been having for years and years, and to have feminists specifically drawn in—well, it makes me antsy.

The moral of this story is not that we, feminists, women, Jews, citizens, need to be a house completely united, to butcher Lincoln’s famous phrase. I believe in an America where we can disagree. But this is definitely an age when disagreements can become public—and thus ten times as nasty—in the time it takes to click a mouse. So unless we can disagree respectfully, and always work towards improving our ideas and ourselves instead of tearing each other down, I worry that we’ll leave ourselves open to attack from our real opponents—people who scream about socialized medicine and rapist immigrants and baby-killing abortionists. And fighting them off is work enough, no?

–Mel Weiss