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feminism

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Fair Weather Feminism

This morning, a woman I am following on Twitter ~ @goldenlady ~ posted this tweet:

Commentary: Clinton changes her tune on sexism http://bit.ly/kChh
{What do you think about this? I’m seeing both sides – outraged and not.}

The article is an editorial by CNN’s Campbell Brown in which she discusses Hillary Clinton’s reaction to a photo posted on Facebook showing Jon Favreau, a speechwriter for Presidet-elect Obama, standing next to a cardboard cutout of Clinton and pretending to grip her breast while his friend pretends to hold a beer bottle to her mouth.

My reaction to his photo was unusually strong, because it immediately pulled me back to an evening six years ago. As I was waiting for a chance to cross a city street, several men came up behind me, two of them flanking me on either side. One of them put his arm around me and grabbed my breast, while the other one shoved a bottle of alcohol in my mouth, and I heard the voices of other men behind me laughing. I spend several moments wondering if I was about to have the experience every woman prays will never happen to her: was I about to be dragged behind the train station and gang raped? I am at an absolute loss for words to describe the terror that flooded every corner of my body as I elbowed and shoved and twisted my way out of the grip of those two men, and dashed out into speeding traffic to get away from them.

So it’s not without a sense of anger and even betrayal that I read Clinton’s official response: this photo was “just good-natured fun”, apparently. I assure you, it didn’t feel particularly good natured when it happened to me.

This is the response from Clinton, the same Clinton who never hesitated to “cry sexist” at every inequity and stupid joke on the campaign trail? I am not here to tell you she shouldn’t have made those claims several months ago, but there’s not a doubt in my mind that Clinton is more concerned with her potential role as Secretary of State than she is about responding to a callous photograph with the voice of a feminist.

But do I think Clinton should be publicly outraged? In fact, do I think that President-elect Obama should be publicly outraged? Actually, I don’t. I think outrage in this situation would only serve to put people on the defensive, roll their eyes and think, “Here we go again with the politically correct posturing”. I think outrage tends to be seen as vitriolic, and it rarely changes people’s minds.

What I would have liked to see from Hillary Clinton is a calm but straightforward explanation of why this isn’t funny, something that is heartfelt and honest and not politicized, something that might actually make the cads in the photograph understand for a second what it’s like to be objectified and groped. Most of all, I would have liked to see Clinton respond with something that would reassure the women who supported her that she wasn’t full of hot air when she positioned herself as their champion.

Considering what a tight ship Obama’s administration has been running vis–à–vis the vetting process, I am sure this issue will also be addressed aggressively from within the administration. When it is addressed, I similarly hope that Jon Favreau ~ and everyone of his ilk in the administration ~ will hear the kind of response that will make them behave more respectfully, not because they’re afraid of who might post their photograph on Facebook, but because they actually have gained some respect.

Image Credit: Secretary Clinton on WordPress