Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Girl Elephant in the Room

I spent the last few weeks devoting all my free time (all 32 seconds per week) to the Martha Coakley campaign to represent Massachusetts in the US Senate. I missed both my chance to volunteer during the primaries, and celebrate her win, when I had an emergency appendectomy the early morning hours of December 8th. But that didn't stop me from voting. My father brought me an absentee ballot to my hospital bed and I proudly filled it out, hours after surgery.

So I jumped into phone banks leading up to the general election and drove people to the polls on election day who had no means to get there. I talked her up to anyone who would listen. I was committed to getting her elected.

It is old news that she lost. That she went down in flames. All the talk is about how poorly her campaign was managed. Few people are willing to acknowledge that something much more insidious was involved.


During the first hours of the polls being open, I stood with a large Coakley sign outside an elementary school. As young children walked on the sidewalk past me a man who looked to be in his 50's rolled down his car window. There was a sidewalk and an entire lane between us requiring he had to yell to be heard.

Very clearly he shouted "She's a fucking beast".

During the days leading up to the election I would call voters, asking them to vote for Martha Coakley and half the time they would say to me that they hated her negative ads. When asked about Scott Brown's ads they insisted he was never negative. And yet, several years ago during the Presidential campaign when Senator John Kerry ignored the Swift Boat negative ads, he was considered weak. So according to those callers a woman couldn't fight back.

Later, after the polls closed, I was at a town gathering unrelated to the Senate race. I was surrounded by Democrats, Republicans and unenrolled voters. I started talking to a man I know. He isn't someone I know well but we've interacted over the years. We got to talking about the Senate election and he made it clear he voted for Scott Brown in part for his position on abortion.

After a discussion of Brown's failed amendment to create a massive loophole in a bill to protect rape victims, the man suddenly said,"If my daughter was raped, she wouldn't get an abortion. Two wrongs don't make a right."

I thought I had been kicked in the gut. I started to cry, describing the hell of pregnancy - even when that pregnancy is a product of love - and asked him how he, sans overies or a uterus, could even think that he should have a say.

I returned home late election night, reeling from my bookend experiences. A man who felt no inhibition to yell such profanities in public and a man who would look a woman in the eye and say that a woman should be expected to carry a pregnancy from a rape. I cried until 2:30 in the morning. I awoke at 4:30 in the morning only to start crying again.

I would talk to liberal men about the sexism and be brushed off. "It was all about her bad campaign. It had nothing to do with gender" declared one young [male] colleague.

Yet every woman I spoke to agreed. Agreed that there was vitriol directed at a female candidate that would never happen to a man.

So why is it o.k. to diminish the impact of gender on this race? Why is it o.k. to yell obscenities about a woman candidate? Would the driver that morning have felt it was alright to yell a racial epitaph if the candidate was black? Why is it o.k. to be matter-of-fact about options for a female rape victim? Would the man at the party have said the same about denying treatment to the victim of any other form of assault?

I have no answers. I'm still too raw from Tuesday's results. Both inside and outside the polls.


Gunfighter said...

I suppose that one might say that detecting the misogyny in a campaign comes from perspective.

During the last Presidential campaign, many of my female friends who were supporters of then-Senator Clinton, found many instances where they believed that misogyny was the reason that she was denied the Democratic nomination. Many, or most men that I know didn't find that to be accurate.

Likewise many black people found elements of racism in Clinton's and later, McCain's campaigns, flung at Barack Obama. Many or even most of the white people that I know, saw no such thing.

Regarding the driver of the car... I am sad to say, my friend, that depending on where he was, he might very well have been comfortable shouting a racial epithet.

I was sorry that Coakely lost, and am sorrier still for those things both said and done, that hurt you so much.

Be well.

Bree said...

You are so right, and so right to be angry. This campaign exposed much ignorance on the part of our neighbors and fellow MA residents. Folks felt free to mutter or shout comments that I hope they wouldn't dare direct at their female relatives and friends. The comment boards for CNN, BBC, NYT, Globe and Herald articles were filled with the most base, undignified, vitriolic, and yes, ignorant, comments from Brown supporters. Here's to better days ahead and to hoping that Brown inspires more intelligent, enlightened and polite thinking from his supporters.

Jami said...

I think the very fact that the reasons being put forward for her loss center on HER inability to lead and HER ineffective campaign are proof of the misogyny of not only the opposition but of the good ol' boy political network in general. The opposition to Coakley was not just the Brown campaign, it was the entire right wing's hijacked Tea Bag "movement" ("We are NOT a political party." Sure). Given the overt misogyny of the ultraconservative right, it's no surprise that it carried over into the opposition to Coakley.

Finally, I have to wonder just where this "she lost because she's ineffective" analysis of her loss is ultimatly originating. Is it from the folks like you who know damned good and well that she DID run an effective campaign? Or is it instead from those folks who have a vested interest in making sure that Brown gets re-elected in his next real election? Or perhaps even from folks who want to run a tame male political animal against Brown?

You KNOW how sorry I am that you had to deal with the scum that surfaced both during and after the campaign. Much love and lotsa hugs to you to help offset some of that!

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Yes, he would have yelled a racial epithet had that been his inclination. I disagree with Gunfighter, much as I usually agree with him, as a white woman working for the Obama campaign I can absolutely agree that racism was alive and well.

I wonder if this was more an abortion issue than misogyny, although it was probably both. I can't get over how much abortion is THE ONLY ISSUE for many people I work with, and yes, they feel that rape victims, women who are both victims of rape AND incest, children who are victims, but able to procreate, should not be permitted to have an abortion, and that abortions have CAUSED every problem the U.S. has now because God is punishing us.

Uh huh.

Sad, sad, sad.

I'm so, so sorry for what you went through, and so sorry I couldn't get to this til now.

Love you!

susan said...

Thanks for your work and for your blogging about the sexism in the campaign. I have no doubt that played a role, as evidenced by your experiences. We need to continue to support women, and call out misogyny when we see it. Many people - male and female - seem to be in continual denial that these forces are at work.

Anonymous said...

I'm in agreement with your perspective here as well, and am still scratching my head over the loss. I really don't see what Scott Brown has to offer and honestly, naively, figured MASS was more sophisticated than to fall for a good ol' boy act in a republican candidate. Again, I thank you for your effort. It's not my state and I couldn't do anything to effect the vote, but you could, and you did, everything you could possibly do.
What I see from this election and all of the recent campaigns, is that we've got a long way to go, baby. Kudos for coming this far, but, we've got so much more road to cover.