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June 19th, 2008
05:01 PM ET

Unaddressed sexism now shifts focus to Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama on 'The View' yesterday.

Michelle Obama on 'The View' yesterday.

Faye Wattleton
President, Center for the Advancement of Women

The dissection of the mainstream media’s role in the downfall of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is not yet exhausted. The power of the print, electronic and cyber press to reflect society’s values and reinforce or influence change is indisputable. While the media washing cites isolated incidents of gender bias and overblown reactions, the debate revealed an often unspoken truth: sexism is not dead. In fact, it is broadly tolerated, beyond the candidates, crushing in various ways the lives of more than half of the electorate. Each of us must take responsibility for making sexism as unacceptable as racism.

Mrs. Clinton’s run for the Democratic nomination taught us that today’s sexism is cast at the individual, not at a system that’s capable of supporting a woman conduct a credible and competitive campaign for the presidency. She emerged from the fabric of our society’s sexist stereotypes as a lightning rod aspiring to the highest male bastion of arguably the most powerful political position in the world. However, her ascent was laced with shockingly open and often unspoken intolerance and hatred, not unlike the challenges women encounter in their daily lives. Gender bias is often insidiously subtle, sitting on the fence between humor and questionable behavior, and pernicious to the advancement of our country.

The conversation becomes more complicated by the intersection of gender and race, as the laser is now especially focused on the novelty of Michelle Obama as the first African-American aspirant for First Lady of the United States. In the absence of defining positions articulated by senators Barack Obama and John McCain on issues important to women, the focus is easily turned to their wives.

Women are a central part of the electoral process. We are 54 percent of the electorate; now, 57 percent of registered Democrats. Candidates must address our concerns in specificity and with seriousness and respect. This must not be relegated to surrogates and committees. Mr. Obama carries a heavier burden, given the resentment generated by the treatment of Mrs. Clinton during the latter stages of her campaign and exit. Charges of sexism could become as explosive as the Jeremiah Wright controversy. A nationally televised speech denouncing sexism in America and outlining how each candidate’s presidency would improve women’s lives would be a modest, yet powerful, start.


Filed under: Faye Wattleton • Hillary Clinton • Raw Politics
soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Jesse Davis

    media leave out "really" when they quote Mrs Obama about being proud of my country, the public can make up their own mind on who they believe, and if the republicans keep going after her, instead of explaining how they are going to get us out of the mess they have us in, its going to backfire on them, former republican,

    June 20, 2008 at 3:39 am |
  2. Foley in Idaho

    I am refering to Harry Reid of course in regards to squeezing nancy Pelosi's arm.

    June 20, 2008 at 1:23 am |
  3. gjfountain

    Hey A.C. you sure seems to have truly zoomed in on the negatives when it come the Barack and his wife, I guess your not "keeping it honest" that means you. I'm informing you as much as you try in hide it , it show maybe you need another acting class, but try in just report the news, not take sides. I must put you on notice I'll be watching as well as many other Americans.

    Gary

    June 20, 2008 at 12:13 am |
  4. bk

    They are going to make Michelle Obama a puppet on a string just like Barack. He hides from the media and does not want town hall meetings or debates. He is only to read the speech given to him and act how they tell him to act. They don't want the american people to know who these people really are, or you probably wouldn't vote for him. DUH! Demand town hall meetings and debates before its too late.

    June 20, 2008 at 12:09 am |
  5. J Mack Kelly

    This Cindy McCain/Michello Obama thing is not about sexim, but about race, and it's time we called things what they are and stop sugar coating them!!! I am very sick and tired of Cindy McCain and her pseudo patriotism!! What does she know about patriotism!? Did she ever have to or know anyone, as I do and as I am sure Michelle Obama does, who as an African-American had to fight for this country without even having the prividledge of voting its leaders? Did she know anyonoe, or did she, have hoses turned on her to get the basic rights that others have in this country?

    I think it is very short sided, yet typical of the lily-white world of Ms. Blond, Blue-eyed, Cindy McCain to not at least acknowledge (not wallow in) the fact that those stories and memories are part of Michelle Obama (and other African-American's). I would have had a lot more respect for her had she at least shown some respect for that time period, and celebrate the triumph of the first African-American presidential nominee from the tragedies of the peirod from slavery to the Civil Rights movement! THAT IS SOMETHING TO BE REALLY PROUD OF!!!!

    June 20, 2008 at 12:08 am |
  6. cwhyms

    What does Cindy McCain mean when she says she does not know why Michelle Obama said she was proud of her country for the first time in her life. Was Cindy born on some remote island just yesterday? Does she not know the history of the United States and its inhumane treatment of a segment of people called African Americans who were major contributors to this country's prosperity yet considered mere property? Anyone with the slighest sense of human decency and with the smallest degree of intuition, and with a heart that even mimick's Christ's heart would know why Michelle would make such a statement. People can dish it but they sure can't take it. Cindy, the supposed astute, shrewd, and compassionate business lady, if you want to be first lady, study your history.

    June 20, 2008 at 12:04 am |
  7. maureen

    I like Michelle Obama too I think she is very down to earth as far as her saying " I have never been 'SO' proud of America. All she was saying we were seeing hestory being made I wimen and a black man could be the most powerful person in the world.

    I just heard on a another station that McCain has said more then once and I McCain said " I never loved this coantry untill I was a pow"
    why don't we hear more of that. Stop picking on Michelle.

    June 19, 2008 at 11:58 pm |
  8. TC Jones

    "Sexism is alive and well; it’s funny now that Clinton is out of the race this admission isn’t so controversial. Anyways, isn’t now the time to talk about the full spectrum of both sexism and racism. How this fight against those words often inspires further hatred. Woman vs. woman. Woman vs. man. Black vs. black. White vs.black. White vs.white. That foolish attempt to gain pride through one’s gender or pigment of skin. White pride, Brown pride, Black pride, Male pride, Female pride. As if it was a choice that the individual made. Like a young kid hollering out the area code they live in with pride. If they were from some where else they would yelling some other numbers. The foolish battle against those words by adopting them and using them because one has been victimized by them. How disgusting revenge is. Gandhi said “If eye for an eye was true and right we would all be blind.” So many of us are in fact blind and let others put blinders on us. Pride is only meant for the individual. The sooner we all come to that conclusion the better off we will be. This struggle must be done carefully." - James Dylan

    Wise words James...too bad we all didn't think and live this way!

    TC Jones

    June 19, 2008 at 11:51 pm |
  9. EBRIMA

    I agree, Kathy. I do not care what they say about Michelle, she is my star. Let's go, Obama!

    June 19, 2008 at 11:51 pm |
  10. TC Jones

    It seems odd to me that peppered in an article highlighting sexism, the use of "Mr." and "Mrs." is expecially distracting. Is this an intentional jab or just some writer's way of trying to be funny?

    Why use labels like "Mr." or "Mrs." when sexual ambiguous titles as "Sen." or "Senator" will do just fine without the gender quips.

    Let's get real, men and women have the same capabilities and abilities to succeed or fail in life, and this does not depend on having external genitalia.

    TC Jones

    June 19, 2008 at 11:44 pm |
  11. Jolene

    Faye: How about the media describing Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain as catfighting? Can we get any more sexist than that? And this just happened this week. Your article has some great points. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    June 19, 2008 at 11:32 pm |
  12. Kathy, Andover

    I like Michelle Obama just the way she is.

    June 19, 2008 at 10:52 pm |
  13. Franky

    Are you kidding me??? I wish I could meet a woman like that........I mean, I don't wanna have to pay for anything, you know. LOL!!!

    June 19, 2008 at 10:48 pm |
  14. Mary

    Sexism is still alive and strong. This is a mans world. Hillary Clinton was brought down because she was a stong, powerful and capable woman. The Democrat boy club set out from the beginning to take away the presidental nomination from her. If you learned anything from watching this come down you know the DC boys club did this to Hillary and they are continue to carry it through by not allowing her the VP.

    If Obama was a strong candinate he would put Hillary on the VP ticket. They are looking every where to find a Hillary with a fly. Why can't they take the woman who had the original ideas that the Obama campaign is trying to get like her 18 million delgates she has. Simple but Hillary is a woman and Obama has his feet tied down by the DC boys club.

    June 19, 2008 at 10:39 pm |
  15. Leo Rochon

    I'm gonna just say this without sugar coating it with regards to Michelle Obama's statement about being proud of her country for the first time in her adult life. I don't know why people are afraid to say it. What most white Americans fail to realize is that we are just now arriving at the point in American history where African Americans can truly say that they are proud of this country. Look back at what black people have been through here. Do you realize that this is the first African American generation to not be subjected to open and blatent racial discrimination? It's not so much that Michelle Obama did not love America and all that America could be, but she can now without reservation say that she is truly proud of this country. I wouldn't even expect white America to understand that, and it appears that most don't. you truly must walk in a man's shoes.

    June 19, 2008 at 9:48 pm |
  16. Annie Kate

    Presidential candidate's wives have always been nice targets to buffet about during lulls in the campaign; its nothing new and probably will continue. I don't think its sexism – its just politics. Hillary has seen it from both sides – as a candidate and as a First Lady Jackie Kennedy was highly criticized in her day for her spending, her clothes, and the money she spent on the re-decorating of the White House. If Hillary had won the nomination rather than Obama the spotlight would be on Bill Clinton. In this case at least the "new" politics Obama talks about looks a lot like the "old" politics we have had for years.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    June 19, 2008 at 9:33 pm |
  17. jess

    One thing you cannot say about Michelle Obama is that she is gracious & gentile. Can you picture her standing with some of the glamorous & sophisticated women who are the wives of other world leaders. She will stand out like a sore thumb!! They are trying to give her a makeover. Give me a break!! You first need something to work with.

    June 19, 2008 at 9:12 pm |
  18. Cynthia

    I think a lot of the bloggers need to read the newspapers or watch the news more often than they do because they are still being misinformed or worse yet choosing to ignore the truth. There is racism and sexism and we as Americans are not yet ready to confront it. I didn't see Hilliary Clinton do a speech telling people if they were voting for her because she was white that she did not want their support.

    June 19, 2008 at 9:06 pm |
  19. James Dylan

    Sexism is alive and well; it's funny now that Clinton is out of the race this admission isn't so controversial. Anyways, isn't now the time to talk about the full spectrum of both sexism and racism. How this fight against those words often inspires further hatred. Woman vs. woman. Woman vs. man. Black vs. black. White vs.black. White vs.white. That foolish attempt to gain pride through one's gender or pigment of skin. White pride, Brown pride, Black pride, Male pride, Female pride. As if it was a choice that the individual made. Like a young kid hollering out the area code they live in with pride. If they were from some where else they would yelling some other numbers. The foolish battle against those words by adopting them and using them because one has been victimized by them. How disgusting revenge is. Gandhi said "If eye for an eye was true and right we would all be blind." So many of us are in fact blind and let others put blinders on us. Pride is only meant for the individual. The sooner we all come to that conclusion the better off we will be. This struggle must be done carefully.

    June 19, 2008 at 9:04 pm |
  20. Paris

    Anderson cooper you failed to address the sexism about Hillary
    but now it is a topic to be looked at because of Michelle Obama!!!

    June 19, 2008 at 9:00 pm |
  21. from Canada

    Ann

    Michelle Obama said really proud and she explained what she meant so many times and the whitey comment was just rumor. However, i understand if you don't like the Obama's but be fare probably you know most of the rumors are not true.

    June 19, 2008 at 8:30 pm |
  22. Ratna, New York, NY

    Dear Faye Wattleton,

    I like Michelle Obama's down to earth attitude within the campaign.
    No, she is not too bold for me. Bolder is better.

    The women on "The View" are also breaking the female media stereo types and they are real women. In the beginning, I thought that Elisabeth Hasselbeck was too Twiggy-like, but I am warming up to her. I like Sherrie SHepherd and I have seen her life performance in stand-up for a fundraising and unlike Star Jones, Sherrie shows a lot of confidence and good self-esteem about herself.

    News woman Katie Couric is not so bold, but she got really a swipe down of her image by the media.

    My conclusion is for women in power in America and media: The Bolder, The Better!

    Too be honest Mrs Mc Cain is not coming over as a strong personality to me – too mild in character.

    June 19, 2008 at 7:58 pm |
  23. Sabrina in Los Angeles

    Michelle shows a "common" person side but she also needs to polish herself and show the "sophisticated" side as well.

    Stand with the shoulders back and walk with the hips not leading with the shoulders.

    Be more conservative on dress to show the status level she obtained on her own....let that show.

    But retain the approachability for the masses.

    June 19, 2008 at 7:37 pm |
  24. Ann

    I personally do not see a reason to bring media coverage to this Michelle Obama. Let's remember her earlier words about just now proud to be an American. And what was her comment about "whitey". She's not worth the time nor the attention you people give her. Just like her husband. And "first lady"!!! I doubt that. It will be McCain's wife.

    June 19, 2008 at 7:26 pm |
  25. Marla OK

    From what I have seen, it seems to be against Cindy McCain rather than Michelle Obama. Michelle brought it on herself with some of her remarks.

    June 19, 2008 at 7:09 pm |
  26. Larry

    I looks like the Obamas are deciding what issues we should be concerned about as they see fit to address. Its only race when the Obamas say so, its only gender when the Obamas say so, how elections are funded is decided by the Obamas;

    I'd like to see an open look at the contributions list for Hillary, Obama & McCain.
    .

    June 19, 2008 at 6:40 pm |
  27. Marilyn Brussels

    As much as i do agree that the society is still infected by sexism, i strongly do not believe it played a major role in Mrs. Clinton's failure to grab the nomination. I affirm that Hillary Clinton's fall was due to the fact that she had already counted her chicken before they were hatched. She was too sure of herself and that is why the shock. Afterall a lot of the male Candidates left the race long before her. well, i wish her all the best as she lives to fight another day.

    June 19, 2008 at 6:09 pm |
  28. Apple In Tampa

    I believe that sexism would have played an even larger part in this election for Sen Clinton if Sen Obama was not also breaking ground at the same time. In other words he took some of the heat off of Hillary being a woman. I believe gender bias might be an issue in some areas but the issue of race really seems to be of concern. Generally I think people are open minded but the ones that are not are really digging in and unwilling to accept change.

    June 19, 2008 at 6:08 pm |
  29. Foley in Idaho

    Dear Faye, While I certainly respect your experiences in oyur life, it was not Barak Obama that brought up the notion of the Glass ceiling, but Hillary Clinton, in her now infamous speech at her alma mater. this notion of the boys club is what brought up the spectre of sexism, and not barak Obama's supporters.

    As well, you are mistaken in thinking that womens issues have not been addressed or spoken to. Barak has after all, done something that I personally detest, but which, suprisingly enough, has not sent most women voters, democrat and republican, concerned with the sanctity of their own bodies and sense of persobnal "privacy", (which certainly reienforces womens emotional priorities and seeks to validate their feelings) flocking in waves to his campaign. He has voted present on the issue of Partial Brith Abortion. As well, he, more than any other man in history has spoken out in support of equal pay for equal work, and has as well, wondered out loud at why this is still an issue, as have I and many of his supporters.

    No ma'am. What really did Hillary's bid no justice and did in fact do her a gross disservice, was the vehemance of some of her more rabid supporters. Supporters like the old white woman at the May 31st DNC rulles committy's meeting on the seating of the Fl and MI delegates, who did in fact engage in a break with the rules that others had no problem following, delegates who did in fact turn the process into a pouting session, that called Senator Barak Obama, a man who did nothing to her or to Hillary, an inadequate black man, as if that were actually true or bear any sort of reasonable relevance or warrant. People like Roseanne Barr, who's website, until very recently engaged in horrible slanders, insinuations, and farming of heinous misconceptions and passing of disproved rumors most notabley the insinuation that he and his pastor which you seem to enjoy rehashing, hate women, that he is a baby killer, that he hates jews, and that he is a secret Muslim, and Hillary for all she did spoke in uncertain terms about such rumors, allowing her supporters to bash him in such an ignoble way.

    The only media I have seen bash Senator Clinton and engage in sexism was Fox News, and Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, and yet here you are, the representative of the Center for the Advancement of Women, taking the bait that is tossed you like a trained seal by such dubious and ignoble people, and granting it credibility with the authority of your position behind you.

    Hillary Clinton spoke herself of the idea that now, now, just now, that SHE, Hillary Clinton has run the race she has run, women in authority and having their eye on the white house as the leader of this nation, can now consider it no remarkable thing that a women has done so, thanks to her efforts, and I find that to be highly disingenuous. throughout my entire high school years, I was often educated on the abilities of woemn to do anything in this world, and I support and encourage and promote that, and yet I am continually compared to my father, and painted in a false light, and you enable such misconceptions. I am my mothers son, not my father.

    So, in my 34 year old, white, male defense, thanks for the stellar upbringing mom.

    What may really reunite this party is the sincere apology from Hillary supporters for their presumptions, their unwillingness to break with the past, and their predisposition for assuming we have not advanced since the dark ages. The Sufferagettes did not expect the public at large to go easy on them, as have many Hillary supporters, and at times, Hillary herself. They did not want, when arrested, to be placed in soft cells, but to be treated equally among men and stay in the same type pf accomadations that the men did, and when not in such unsavory postition to be treated fairly and equally, and to be paid honestly and fairly and equally to what a man was paid and not confined to traditional, archaic, and let's face it, demeaning roles, and we, men, couldn't agree more.

    In short, methinks, madame president, thou dost protest too much.

    June 19, 2008 at 5:45 pm |
  30. JC- Los Angeles

    Although I firmly believe that sexism, racism and bigotry exist in most cultures, the unquestionable application of it to all subject matters is troubling. Far too many people make race or sexism a lightning rod. While the mainstream media asked if the American people were ready for a black President, it turned out that it was the Obama's spiritual advisors who shined an inadvertant light on racism. The real question was not whether the American people were ready to accept a black President but rather was Barack Obama, a black Presidential candidate, ready to accept the American people. One has to be very careful when broadly applying race. In the context of Michelle Obama and possible sexism, it's premature to link the two if at all. People may not like her church; this has nothing to do with gender. They may not like her delivery; this also has nothing to do with gender. They may not like her tone, her messages, her associates, spritual advisors or political positions. For some, there are ample reasons to critique Michelle Obama with none involving her gender. One could make a rightful argument that Hillary was not supported by the mainstream media. Maybe it was because the Obama story had more legs, sold more magazines and newspapers, generated more advertising revenues or represented a fresh story. Or maybe the media didn't like the baggage that came with Hillary, Bill and Chelsea. They were old news. I find it hard to believe that it was sexism or the broad application of it. The American people deserve an apology from our leaders, executives and politicians. Although I firmly believe that most people can look past race and gender and support someone on merit, I have reservations about whether the media can achieve such a distinction.

    June 19, 2008 at 5:37 pm |
  31. Cindy

    Faye,
    I totally agree!! Sexism is far from dead and is way more tolerated than racism is. You go anywhere and you hear phrases that belittle women and nothing is thought of it.

    I do think that a lot was said by the media and pundits about Hillary that was so sexist. If something similar were said about Obama then all heck would break loose. But nothing was ever said or done to stop the trash talk about Hillary. Now it seems some of that is starting up again towards Michelle and even Cindy. To me that is crazy and we all need to put a stop to it. There shouldn't be room for any intolerance in our country or the world. It is time that people stand up and say that enough is enough.

    Cindy...Ga.

    June 19, 2008 at 5:21 pm |