Sexism and Kamala Harris

Joe Biden's running mate will be highly scrutinized. What's fair game?

Presidential politics has historically involved only white men. Geraldine Ferraro broke the sex barrier in 1984 and Barack Obama the color barrier in 2008. Kamala Harris is the first woman of color on a major party ticket.

Already, there is not-so-subtle race-baiting surrounding her parentage. The gendered lens through which she’ll inevitably be viewed is more complicated.

In “The role we ALL play in keeping sexism out of presidential politics,” Lauren Leader sets the bar too high.

Her starting point, though, is one we should all be able to agree with:

[B]ias against women, especially black women, is insidious and everywhere. It is an affront to human dignity and to all women. And so, in this historic moment (no matter what side of the political aisle you are on) it’s time that every American take stock of these ugly ideas we hold against women, especially women of color, and upend them.

She cautions that we should guard against various tropes.

1. She is too ambitious – the term meant as a slur not a statement. The idea that women should not be ambitious is tired and broken and must be permanently put to bed. Biden, by picking Harris helped shut this notion down, but it most certainly will reemerge.

Here, she’s right. I’ve been paying rather close attention to American politics for more than four decades. I literally can’t recall an instance where “too ambitious” was applied to a male politician, let alone a Vice Presidential nominee. Indeed, it has historically been pretty much a given that the VP slot is a stepping stone to the top job.

2. She is not likeable – gender and racial bias twists all of us into discounting women, no matter how qualified or accomplished if we don’t think they are nice and likeable. This judgement is heaped on visible women leaders in both business and politics. It has followed Sen. Harris with insidious whispers. We expect women to be impossibly warm, kind, motherly, but also hard working, capable and deferential to men. It’s a minefield of impossible standards no woman can meet.

I’m not persuaded on this one. I’ve read a lot of dissections of this concept, with regard to both Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, and get the argument that it’s applied differently to women than men. Because we hold men and women to different social standards, “likability” is inevitably gendered.

Still, variants on the theme have been applied to male politicians for as long as I can remember. Jokes about Ted Cruz’ unlikability abound. And there has long been the “Would you like to have a beer with them?” test.

3. We disapprove of her life choices – Sen. Harris does not have biological children (she has two step children) which will certainly be held against her by some, but even when women candidates do have children, we ask incessantly how she balances career, family and marriage. We judge women no matter what family choices they make. It is not relevant, and we should drop this broken trope forever.

Again, this is inevitably gendered and I’m sympathetic to the argument. Still, we’ve questioned male politicians’ lifestyle choices since the days of the Founders. Usually, it’s about extramarital affairs and the like. But we have tended to questioned the “confirmed bachelor” being unmarried.

4. We don’t like how she looks – Many critique her hair, clothes, shoes endlessly. She has to be attractive but not too pretty, put together but not too perfect. Enough.

Again, there’s no question that we care more about how women look, dress, wear their hair, etc. than we do men. But male politicians are far from free from critique, even ridicule, over their height, weight, baldness, facial hair, and the like. Barack Obama got ridiculed for wearing a tan suit, for goodness sakes. And there is no end to jokes about Donald Trump’s hair, hands, weight, suits, ties, and skin tone.

5. We call them aggressive – Like ambition, aggression is a gendered double standard, extra loaded for black women who must also battle the label of being “angry. ” Why can she not be angry? Why is she not allowed to be aggressive? This trope must die.

Actually, I’d rather we move in the opposite direction on this one—paying more attention to toxicity from both men and women seeking high office. Abusing the staff and flying off the handle are red flags.

(But, yes, there’s no doubt that we have more tolerance for this sort of bad behavior from men.)

Still, it may well be that Leader is right here:

Judging women candidates on their policy, career, character, readiness and skills are fair game. Judging much else is not.

But, if so, strike “women.”

Human beings are intrinsically judgmental and even those of us who are well-trained in policy analysis will inevitably be swayed by things that really shouldn’t matter—looks, manner of speech, etc. Maybe we should work harder to root that out.

The media has the loudest voice and will have the most visible choice to either amplify and reiterate sexist and racially biased tropes, or not. For years activists have called on the media to do better on this front. After the 2016 election and during the 2020 democratic primaries, many people recognized and called out the double standards women candidates endured. Studies showed that the media either covered women candidates less or covered them more negatively.

The link goes to a story from April 2016 about mentions of women in stories; it has nothing to do with women candidates. I’ve certainly seen lots of reports on the lopsided coverage of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the last campaign. But gender is hardly the only explanation for that.

Regardless, I think Leader goes too far in her suggested remedy:

That must immediately and completely change. Women, and especially women of color, remain underrepresented in print and digital newsrooms, as editors and in cable and broadcast TV so it’s imperative that editors insist that women and women of color get the bylines and also review the work of male peers to ensure it does not reinforce stereotypes men may not see. For on air talent, the networks must take swift and immediate action if an anchor says something sexist or racially biased. The media must raise the bar and keep it held high.

Hiring more women and non-whites and ensuring their perspectives are included in reported strikes me as perfectly reasonable. (Although there are a lot of perspectives that are woefully underrepresented in the elite media, which tends to hire from a handful of universities.) But what sort of “swift action” should be taken against anchors who cross some imaginary line? Ands, seriously, male reporters are going to have their work reviewed by the peers?

But it’s not just the media that must do better. We all must. Americans of all political affiliations and backgrounds have a role to play in leveling the playing field. Just as the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor inspired many white Americans to reevaluate and root out their racial bias in language and action, now is also a moment for all of us, male and female, Democrat and Republican to go further and ensure that we disrupt racial and gender biases. When someone complains that they “just don’t like her” – ask if they think she’s qualified. Ask why they need to like her. Push back. When tempted to criticize Sen. Harris’s looks or dress, check yourself and others. Call it out. Challenge it. If someone questions her life choices, ask the questions back, why does that matter to the vice presidency?

So, again, maybe we should all be more analytical in how we evaluate our political candidates.

Our arguments would be more persuasive, for example, if we quit referring to President Trump’s hairstyle, skin tone, tie length, suit size, girth, and the like when evaluating his performance in office. And, certainly, more people should have considered whether he was truly qualified for the biggest job in the world even if they found his bombast endearing.

But it’s not reasonable to demand that we stick to core qualifications for the office for Kamala Harris and yet not apply that standard to the three white men in the arena. That would be a double standard, too.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Gender Issues, Kamala Harris, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. SKI says:

    But what sort of “swift action” should be taken against anchors who cross some imaginary line?

    Off the top of my head? Addressing the issue forthrightly and quickly. Counseling to make sure it doesn’t re-occur. Escalation if a pattern develops.

    Same as any other negative behavior would get in a corporate environment that went against policy, even if done inadvertently/negligently.

    It isn’t rocket science and it isn’t revolutionary. A workforce member does things that upsets customers? They get counseled, disciplined if it reoccurs and separated if they can’t seem to stop doing it.

    Also, what makes the line “imaginary”?

    6
  2. Jon says:

    Judging women candidates on their policy, career, character, readiness and skills are fair game. Judging much else is not.

    But, if so, strike “women.”

    I don’t think you intended it this way, but that has shades of ‘All Lives Matter’ to it. I believe her point was that men are already primarily judged by that list, and we all need to do and be better about applying that evenly.

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  3. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Sen Harris is a big girl. I know how it feels to walk into a room and be the only black man with all eyes on you. Shes walked into rooms as the only woman and black person. I can’t imagine the additional skillsets youd have to develop to navigate that.

    It seem what’s worked for her is to hit the resistance and unfairness head on. Which is how it should be. The key is to never use the R word or S word. For some minorities it feels incredibly limiting if they cant defend themselves without characterizing their treatment as racist or sexist. Not me, I actually think the opposite.

    For some, reason appealing to general fairness is a more productive path. At least in my experience. I expect Harris learned from her attack on Joe and will continue to attack and dismiss the wolves that are comming at her from a different angle than what the expected.

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  4. Teve says:

    Before I went to bed last night I saw right-wingers calling her a slut.

    4
  5. Teve says:

    @realDonaldTrump

    The “suburban housewife” will be voting for me. They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood. Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with Corey Booker in charge! @foxandfriends @MariaBartiromo

    Not sexism, but a different -ism.

    9
  6. Teve says:

    @Teve:

    @gtconway

    there are 277 democrats in Congress why would @realDonaldTrump single out Booker for this please help I don’t understand what is it about Booker could it possibly be gosh it’s so mystifying

    7
  7. Jon says:

    @Teve: Oh yeah, they’re classy folks.

    Kamala the Mattress Did Not Quite Sleep Her Way to the Top

    ETA: that’s an American Spectator link for those who want to avoid it.

    3
  8. James Joyner says:

    @SKI:

    Off the top of my head? Addressing the issue forthrightly and quickly. Counseling to make sure it doesn’t re-occur. Escalation if a pattern develops.

    That strikes me as reasonable. In the current environment, I take “swift action” as a code for “fired.”

    what makes the line “imaginary”?

    Because, in most instances, we don’t know where it is. Leader’s list calls out as “sexist” things that are routinely done with regard to male politicians, including our current President.

    @Jon:

    I don’t think you intended it this way, but that has shades of ‘All Lives Matter’ to it. I believe her point was that men are already primarily judged by that list, and we all need to do and be better about applying that evenly.

    Yes, I understand that’s what she’s arguing but my counter-argument is that she’s wrong. We don’t judge men that way and never have. But I agree with her that it would be better if we did.

    2
  9. Sleeping Dog says:

    Likable
    I’m not persuaded on this one.

    If the justification of your dismissal of this is jokes about Ted ‘the snake’ Cruz, shows you may not be seeing the forest for the trees.

    Dismissing women an not ‘likable’ has long been used by men to put in place women who they find difficult. When the would you like to have a beer with them test is applied to men it is after the pros and cons are weighed, while for women it is invoked as a test they must pass before being considered.

    This is one you may want to check with your wife and daughters (depending on age) on.

    12
  10. Gustopher says:

    The “it isn’t sexist if we also sometimes criticize men for the same” rule sounds good, but it doesn’t really work because there’s a different context.

    Again, there’s no question that we care more about how women look, dress, wear their hair, etc. than we do men. But male politicians are far from free from critique, even ridicule, over their height, weight, baldness, facial hair, and the like. Barack Obama got ridiculed for wearing a tan suit, for goodness sakes. And there is no end to jokes about Donald Trump’s hair, hands, weight, suits, ties, and skin tone.

    I’m pretty sure you would recognize that criticizing Obama’s skin tone would be racist, even if criticizing Trump’s isn’t.

    People made fun of George W. Bush because his ears stuck out, so he looked a little like Curious George. And that was juvenile, but fine. And when Obama came along with his ears sticking out, some Republicans used the same joke about Obama and… you can’t really say a black guy looks like a monkey without bringing up racist slurs and stereotypes.

    It doesn’t matter that Obama and W shared the attribute that made W resemble Curious George. It’s still racist. Because of context.

    So, where does that leave you trying to figure out what is and isn’t acceptable when criticizing a black woman?

    In the middle of a minefield, basically.

    “We would make the same comment about a man” is a starting point, actually, as it helps identify things way out of bounds. But beyond that you have to ask whether something plays into stereotypes about women or blacks. And, even more importantly, you have to listen. When women say something is sexist, Listen to them, and try to understand why they say that.

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  11. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher: “

    We would make the same comment about a man” is a starting point, actually, as it helps identify things way out of bounds. But beyond that you have to ask whether something plays into stereotypes about women or blacks. And, even more importantly, you have to listen. When women say something is sexist, Listen to them, and try to understand why they say that.

    I think that’s fair. But there’s also a tendency to use “that’s racist” and “that’s sexist” as cudgels to poison the well and deflect legitimate criticism.

    5
  12. Jen says:

    The utter relentlessness of having one’s appearance and demeanor assessed is part of it.

    @Gustopher makes some very important points about context–it matters and I agree.

    I don’t think that many men really realize how utterly effin’ constant this modulation is.

    Can I wear heels–how high before they look questionable?
    If I lighten my hair will I be taken less seriously?
    Wait–this person is pissing me off, but I am not allowed to raise my voice or I’m “emotional.”

    Look at the cast of Friends. Compare how everyone looks then and now. There isn’t a different standard for women? Before anyone says “but that’s show business”–appearance matter in politics too.

    Consider Kavanaugh’s testimony. Is ANYONE going to argue that a woman sitting in that chair, sobbing and whining like he did wouldn’t have been roundly criticized?

    There absolutely are different standards, they are unfair, and they need to stop.

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  13. Gustopher says:

    But what sort of “swift action” should be taken against anchors who cross some imaginary line?

    The line isn’t imaginary, it’s poorly defined. That might be worse, if someone is trying to find the line so they can walk right up to the edge of it.

    But, if someone is acting in good faith It’s not a problem. A comment of “don’t call Harris emotional, it’s a complaint that has been used to hold women back for ages and we gots of complaints” will just be heeded.

    Ands, seriously, male reporters are going to have their work reviewed by the peers?

    Yes? Like almost everyone else in the world?

    7
  14. Teve says:

    @Jen: I suspect a woman who cried during her confirmation hearing would be quickly disqualified.

    11
  15. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    But there’s also a tendency to use “that’s racist” and “that’s sexist” as cudgels to poison the well and deflect legitimate criticism.

    Is there?

    Can you give some examples? When was legitimate criticism of Obama shut down because of claims that it was racist?

    (The bubbles I travel in are rarified lefty bubbles, so I might actually be missing something, but I can’t come up with any examples)

    5
  16. Teve says:

    @mikel_jollet

    Dear Republicans,

    Black people were kidnapped from Africa and brought to Jamaica. Black people from Jamaica are descendant from slaves, you absolute ignorant dumb fucks.

    17
  17. Gustopher says:

    @Jen:

    Wait–this person is pissing me off, but I am not allowed to raise my voice or I’m “emotional.”

    I just want to point out that Trump really is too emotional, and we never hear it said that way.

    13
  18. Teve says:

    @DonaldJTrumpjr

    Why is @KamalaHarris the only person that laughs at her jokes… always way to long and way too hard? The most disingenuous person in politics… after Hillary.

    @KamalaHarris

    You wouldn’t know a joke if one raised you.

    God-damn.

    22
  19. An Interested Party says:

    @Jon: And the douchebag who wrote that article is a rabbi!? Oy vey…

    I just want to point out that Trump really is too emotional, and we never hear it said that way.

    Too emotional..ha! He’s a bigger drama queen than any of the Kardashians…Kris Jenner has more dignity than he does…

    1
  20. James Joyner says:

    @Jen:

    Look at the cast of Friends. Compare how everyone looks then and now. There isn’t a different standard for women?

    The main were all well above average attractive. But, yes, two of the women were chosen primarily for their knockout looks and the one there for quirky offbeatness was still beautiful by ordinary standards. By contrast, one of the males was clearly chosen primarily for good looks and the other two for acting chops—with one deliberately chosen to look like an awkward nerd (but only by Hollywood standards).

    Consider Kavanaugh’s testimony. Is ANYONE going to argue that a woman sitting in that chair, sobbing and whining like he did wouldn’t have been roundly criticized?

    Kavanaugh . . . was roundly criticized.

    @Gustopher:

    Can you give some examples? When was legitimate criticism of Obama shut down because of claims that it was racist?

    I wrote dozens of posts at the time the campaigns were unfolding where defenders of Obama (and later Clinton) were crying “racism” (or “sexism”) for things that had been said about white, male Democrats for years. It’s brilliant deflection, in that it puts the other side on the defensive. But we should be aware of the tactic.

    @Teve: There have been multiple episodes of Code/Switch on this issue. There’s a substantial segment of the Black American community that rather resents recent immigrants from Jamaica or the West Indies as having had a much easier path to success here.

    3
  21. Monala says:

    @James Joyner: Here’s an important question: how often in mainstream news do you hear Trump criticized for his weight, clothing, skin tone, etc.? I know he’s criticized for those areas a lot on social media (even on this blog), but I can’t think of any mainstream news media that mentions it. In contrast, I can think of times when the MSM has talked about a woman candidate or politician’s clothing and appearance.

    The “likeability” vs. “who do you want to have a beer with” issue is a valid comparison.

    8
  22. SKI says:

    @James Joyner:

    But there’s also a tendency to use “that’s racist” and “that’s sexist” as cudgels to poison the well and deflect legitimate criticism

    Slight tangent possibly but I think the bigger issue isn’t the communication but the normative context in which it is received wherein the speakers intent matters most of all.

    People can say thing that are sexist and/or racist without being irredeemably sexist of racist but when people in this country, especially white men, hear that they said something that hurt or offended someone else the default reaction is defensiveness and denial.

    “You said something racist” gets mentally translated to “you are a racist”. It prevents them from actually dealing with the impact of their actions because all they can focus on is their own self-image.

    3
  23. Jen says:

    @James Joyner:

    The main were all well above average attractive. But, yes, two of the women were chosen primarily for their knockout looks and the one there for quirky offbeatness was still beautiful by ordinary standards. By contrast, one of the males was clearly chosen primarily for good looks and the other two for acting chops—with one deliberately chosen to look like an awkward nerd (but only by Hollywood standards).

    I didn’t articulate my point clearly enough.

    The three women on that show look darn close to how they did when the show first aired. They are almost instantly recognizable. The men, on the other hand, have been “allowed” to age.

    The cost, time, and effort that goes into this is not inconsiderable.

    Okay, sure Kavanaugh was criticized. But a woman would know she could NEVER, ever go where he did–she’d be dead in the water. Done.

    And on “likeability” for women–this is code for “difficult,” meaning having the temerity to express an opinion without needing to frame it six ways to Sunday. Again, the work that goes into couching everything just so that you’re not considered bossy or difficult or challenging to work with, etc.–it is considerable.

    15
  24. Crusty Dem says:

    Still, variants on the theme have been applied to male politicians for as long as I can remember. Jokes about Ted Cruz’ unlikability abound.

    Ok, but every single woman gets hit with a “likability” question, whereas Ted Cruz should have a photo in the dictionary next to the word “unlikable”. The fact that an attack can conceivably be used on a man doesn’t make it sexist…

    6
  25. Joe says:

    1. She is too ambitious

    I said this when Hillary was running:
    Consider the connotation of the two phrases “an ambitious man” and “an ambitious woman” and what they mean when used alone about a particular person. Any America English speaker will tell you that the first has primarily positive connotation and the second has a primarily negative connotation. Until they have the same connotation, we have a problem.

    9
  26. Teve says:

    @Joe: “ambitious woman” immediately translates to “Lady Macbeth”

    4
  27. EddieInCA says:

    Dr. Joyner –

    Stream of consciousness here as I don’t have alot of time. I think you’re making a mistake by conflating the twitter mob with actual journalists, to some degree. I can’t remember (maybe it happened), where a mainstream journalist criticized Trump’s appearance the way Hillary’s appearance was often questioned by those same journalists?

    I don’t remember mainstream journalists criticizing Bernie Sanders the way Amy Klobaucher was criticized about how they treat their staffs, enough though many more Sander’ employees complained than Klobaucher’s.

    I think that many of the right’s former talking points will fall on deaf ears, and I also believe that the women who came out for Hillary are now energized again. I say that based on fundraising, social media activity, the fact that the Biden/Harris merch store has crashed four times since yesterday afternoon. Yesterday, items would be shipped within 2 days. Today, it’s 10 days. They can’t keep up with the orders. There is genuine excitement out there, and attacks deemed out of bounds will backfire as it will get women, people like my 84 year old mother, off the damn couch to vote on Nov. 3.

    7
  28. Crusty Dem says:

    @Crusty Dem:

    Or NOT sexist. Ugh.

    3
  29. David S. says:

    While I think life choices are fair game, and “likeability” is basically “electability” under a different name, I’m more of the mind that we should stop mocking male politicians’ looks rather than calling it fair game when it comes to female politicians. It can be a neat rhetorical trap for someone who’s vain, but mostly it’s juvenile.

    When “everyone else does it” is the standard, I start to wonder whether the problem is everyone else. For instance, the fact that Cruz is unlikeable isn’t really an issue per se: he’s obviously electable. The issue is that Cruz’s coworkers don’t want to work with him, and “unlikeable” is an uncritical summary of this relevant fact and completely fails to capture why he should be opposed. People opposing Cruz would do better to focus on his actual shortcomings.

    Which is the actual issue in all this. People who oppose Harris are undercutting their own arguments by lazily relying on shortcuts. But the people who listen to them are being equally lazy because those shortcuts are well-established and automatically resonate with a lot of us. If we assessed those remarks critically, the people making the arguments lose a lot of their force: see Dodd’s complaint about the lack of remorse. Everyone saw that that was bullshit and he lost more in face than he gained in pushing against the Harris pick.

    3
  30. Teve says:

    Dinesh Desousa is now saying that Kamala Harris isn’t really black, she has a slaveowner in her ancestry.

    Yeah Dinesh. A lot of black people have a slaveowner somewhere in their ancestry. Do you know why, Dinesh?

    14
  31. Teve says:

    @David S.: Your second paragraph disagrees with your first paragraph.

    1
  32. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner:

    But there’s also a tendency to use “that’s racist” and “that’s sexist” as cudgels to poison the well and deflect legitimate criticism.

    Which is what every racist and sexist–including myself–has said to defend something indefensible that they said. Sorry, but I’m with Gustopher on this one.

    3
  33. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    remove comment duplicated by an earlier post

  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: You’re just willfully dragging a red herring across the path. Jamaica is a foreign country. Completely different people did the enslaving there, so there’s no comparison. Quit it, quit it, quit it. 😉

    4
  35. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Monala:

    The “likeability” vs. “who do you want to have a beer with” issue is a valid comparison.

    I see it as the difference between the admission ticket and a tertiary or quaternary consideration, but YMMV.

    1
  36. An Interested Party says:

    @Teve: Dinesh D’Souza should worry less about the ancestry of Kamala Harris and more about making sure he doesn’t commit any more felonies…after all, Trump won’t be able to pardon him again…

    1
  37. Scott F. says:

    Please, please, please, make the 2020 election all about personal characteristics such as life choices, being like-able, appearance, and aggressiveness with serial-adulterer, boorish, clownish, and bullying Donald Trump at the top of the Republican ticket.

    Even given the skewed standards/contexts by which those traits are considered for women versus men, how does Biden/Harris not show better than Trump/Pence?

    BTW, I’m all for making the election about competence, vision, and leadership as well.

    3
  38. Monala says:
  39. KM says:

    Right now we have running a questionably dressing slut who wears way too much makeup, is way too emotional and ambitious for their own good, has some politically incorrect ancestry that embarrassing to their race… and Kamala Harris. Guess who’s getting dragged right now, though. Damn near any criticism they want to level at her, he’s been there and sinned twice. He doesn’t even has a glass pile left after chucking all his stones and the MAGAts won’t notice the million cuts they inflict on themselves wallowing in the shards.

    So, yeah we should have the bar pretty high in this case. Quite frankly, the criticisms are being pulled up because she’s a woman and IACIYAD while Trump glories in doing the same. Other then her prosecutorial record, I can’t think of a thing that the GOP can hammer her on that wouldn’t smack of sexist double-standards or scandal baiting. Critique of Trump’s looks has been allowed since HE frequently critiques other’s looks and physical state; people were merely following his preferred norm and needling the bully. Harris, however, is a professional and should be treated with the same courtesy she shows others. She starts acting like Trump then by all means, treat her like Trump. Since she’s not and we’re trying to restore some propriety to this country, a high bar seems like a good start.

    4
  40. An Interested Party says:

    @KM: Another very unfavorable comparison this pick shows is that Biden is a mature adult who can handle criticism and still turn around and work with those who criticize him, unlike his opponent, who is so thin-skinned that it’s a wonder that all that bronzer isn’t absorbed into his skull…

    3
  41. MarkedMan says:

    @Gustopher:

    I just want to point out that Trump really is too emotional, and we never hear it said that way.

    Not to distract from the main point, but I see this argument a lot and I don’t get it. Trump is completely despised by a majority of the population because of his childishness and emotional outbursts.

    I think the complaint about anger hits dead on though. In general people are motivated by “righteous” anger and turned off by regular anger, whether it be man or woman. The problem is that women’s anger is rarely, if ever, judged to be righteous.

  42. R. Dave says:

    Question to those who agree that traditionally sexist criticisms should be off-limits or at least presumptively suspect: how do you propose people proceed when those criticisms are actually valid with respect to a specific candidate? Not saying this is necessarily true of Harris, but if a female candidate actually is an aggressive, unprincipled, self-serving asshole, or a vapid, ignorant, petty egotist (or all of the above, like Trump or maybe Sarah Palin) do you honestly want commentators to avoid calling it out, or is there some way you think it can/should be called out without triggering accusations of sexism?

    3
  43. MarkedMan says:

    @Jen:

    The men, on the other hand, have been “allowed” to age.

    In at least one case, “allowed” isn’t the right word. Years of drug addiction and rehab will do that do you…

    But I accept your more general point.

    1
  44. Jon says:

    @R. Dave: Maybe you just call her an asshole? And avoid using words and phrases that have a lot of associated racist or sexist baggage? English does not lack for words to describe somebody negatively. The issue at hand is that there are certain well known phrases that, while on the surface appear to be ‘neutral’ (for lack of a better word), have an implicit gendered and/or racial undertone.

    2
  45. Barry says:

    James, on ‘likability: “Still, variants on the theme have been applied to male politicians for as long as I can remember. Jokes about Ted Cruz’ unlikability abound. And there has long been the “Would you like to have a beer with them?” test.”

    The point about Cruz is that among some unpleasant A-hole backstabbers, he’s in a league of his own.

    Just consider how many male politicians would have been drummed out of public life if their likability had been judged in female terms.

    2
  46. Gustopher says:

    @R. Dave:

    if a female candidate actually is an aggressive, unprincipled, self-serving asshole, or a vapid, ignorant, petty egotist (or all of the above, like Trump or maybe Sarah Palin) do you honestly want commentators to avoid calling it out, or is there some way you think it can/should be called out without triggering accusations of sexism?

    Not only can you find different language that doesn’t invoke stereotypes, as @Jon suggests, but you can also have data to back it up.

    Palin babbles. That’s a statement that’s an opinion (that I share) and also pulls up a huge treasure trove of negative stereotypes of women. But, it’s easily solved by actually quoting what she says.

    Take another example: Harris is too ambitious. It’s again an opinion, backed by nothing, and raises a lot of questions — too ambitious for what?, compared to who?, what problems does it cause? Skip the negative stereotype, and go after the fact that she has a 37 step plan to take over the world and enslave all men, and that she’s on step 28. Or whatever.

    3
  47. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    I wrote dozens of posts at the time the campaigns were unfolding where defenders of Obama (and later Clinton) were crying “racism” (or “sexism”) for things that had been said about white, male Democrats for years. It’s brilliant deflection, in that it puts the other side on the defensive. But we should be aware of the tactic.

    Is this the legitimate criticism that was stifled by claims it was racist?
    https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/obama_waffles_-_racist_or_funny/

    Or this?
    https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/are_all_anti-obama_ads_racist/ (Apparently featuring scary black men, video gone … by most accounts the ad definitely played to racial stereotypes for it’s impact)

    I’m willing to believe that there is legitimate criticism being stifled, but I kind of need an example.

    (Were you thinking of Newt Gingrich referring to Obama as “anti-colonialist”? I can’t think of any other American politician in the last 50 years being described that way…)


    ETA: I noticed an apostrophe error in using the wrong “it’s”, but decided to leave its apostrophe, as I know one of our regulars is trigger’d by bad apostrophes.

    2
  48. Teve says:

    @Barry:

    Just consider how many male politicians would have been drummed out of public life if their likability had been judged in female terms.

    Never, in my life, have I seen a woman be allowed to hold any significant office while being half as disheveled as James Traficant was every day.

    2
  49. Teve says:

    @Gustopher: Oh I can think of two regulars who lap you in the bad apostrophe count.

  50. Teve says:

    trigger’d

    Being a long-time Shakespeare fan, this usage is completely acceptable to me.

    1
  51. Paine says:

    Biden just said Trump is the biggest crybaby president this country has ever had. Off to a good start…

    4
  52. Teve says:
  53. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @R. Dave: Maybe apply the standard that I had for my composition students–evidence. Say what you can make your case support.

    Of course, that will not stop people from whinging, hyperbole, outright lies, disingenuousness, fudging, misrepresentation, and all the rest, but we’re not going to stop any of that anyway. I guess I believe that you can’t really police other people; you can only stop listening to them.

    Unsatisfactory? Eh… okay. It’s still all I got.

  54. Teve says:

    “He inherited the longest economic expansion in history from Barack Obama and Joe Biden, then, like everything else he inherited, he ran it into the ground.”

    -Kamala Harris

    10
  55. Gustopher says:

    @Teve: Sigh. My employer restricts access to wonkette, claiming it is adult content. I hope my boss was notified or something.

    But, it’s clear that we still haven’t had someone who has had the authentic African-American experience run for national office as a major party nominee — and until Tupac comes back from the dead and gets the nomination, it’s just not going to happen.

    I would have suggested Biden resurrect MLK, and give him the VP nod, but I think we all know that MLK would be Republican these days. He had a dream about putting children in cages, siccing the police on protesters and letting coronavirus run as free as racism… where a man is not judged on the color of his skin, but on the size of pocketbook and then on the color of his skin.

    2
  56. Monala says:

    @Gustopher: What’s “the authentic African-American experience”? (emphasis added). I wouldn’t claim that I have it, even though I do descend from slaves in the United States. I grew up in the Rust Belt (the child/grandchild of people who moved north in the Great Migration), and have lived on both coasts. I have an authentic African-American experience, but not “the” authentic one. And I don’t consider black folks whose families immigrated from the Caribbean, or who stayed in the South and never moved North, or who were part of an antebellum group of “free Negroes” in New England (like some of my husband’s ancestors) to be any more or less authentically African-American than I am.

    1
  57. Monala says:

    @Gustopher: I re-read your comment and realize you may have been writing tongue-in-cheek. This sh*t just bugs me, so I tend to react strongly.

    3
  58. Teve says:

    @Teve: Sigh. My employer restricts access to wonkette, claiming it is adult content.

    Sometimes they say Swears!

  59. An Interested Party says:

    Oh shit! It’s not even the stuff of satire anymore…what a pair of idiots…

  60. Gustopher says:

    @An Interested Party: Why would you assume it was parody? Of course some people are saying that Harris isn’t black enough. People have been saying that for ages.

    Here’s The Washington Post just asking the question, back in September.

    At some point they changed the headline, but the title of the page is literally “Is Kamala Harris black enough? Howard University is her answer to racial identity doubters.”

    A lot of it comes from people on the right, and it is definitely encouraged there to try to split her from the Black communities at large — if she’s different, can she really represent them? There was the same push with Obama, since he wasn’t descended from slaves, and had a pretty non-typical life.

    And some comes from the left, where people have their purity ponies’ panties in a bunch. Somehow the ones on the left annoy me more.

    I don’t know if she is best described as Black, biracial, interracial, or whatever, but I have no doubt she’s been called n-gger on enough occasions that she got at least that part of the African-American experience (or as @Monala helpfully points out, “an African-American experience”).

    1
  61. An Interested Party says:

    Why would you assume it was parody?

    I didn’t, but before I found that link, I, trying to make a joke/satire, had already suggested that they would do that…I should of realized that of course they would do that…

  62. Kathy says:

    You know, one thing that must be bothering Trump the Idiot, is that Biden and Harris are getting tons of press coverage that isn’t about him.

    Sure, attacks in the course of a campaign are as common as salt in the ocean, but Trump of the Tiny Hands may figure if his attacks are outrageous enough, he’ll get back the coverage that is, in what passes for his mind, his birthright.

    1
  63. Teve says:

    Harris isn’t black enough. That’s why I’m voting for Tron.

  64. DrDaveT says:

    Still, we’ve questioned male politicians’ lifestyle choices since the days of the Founders. Usually, it’s about extramarital affairs and the like.

    So being unfaithful is now a “life choice”, like deciding to wear a mullet? Seriously?

    James, you just implicitly equated choosing (as a couple) not to bear biological children with choosing (as an individual) to cheat on your spouse. STOP IT. Think.

    6
  65. Jen says:

    @DrDaveT: I thought I was over-reading things when I interpreted it that way. As a childless female, I’ve had no end to bizarre and offensive comments about that (e.g., people I’ve barely met asking me if I have medical problems that preclude me from having children, or am I just selfish? etc.) and thought that maybe I was reading too much into it.

    3
  66. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: And there’s still the question of how we expect to become a “colorblind” or even “multiracial” society while we still spend as much time as we collectively do parsing all of this crap, of course.

  67. EddieInCA says:

    If you haven’t seen it yet, you should watch the Biden/Harris event speeches from today.

    Harris, especially, was….. damn. Just damn.

    Tonally, it was perfect.
    Emotionally, it was perfect.
    Politically, it was perfect.

    She spoke of the relationship she had with Beau Biden. It was moving.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zHxax5Z5MY

    2
  68. Gustopher says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Aren’t we just supposed to celebrate the differences? Jamaican or Indian or a mix…

    There’s a really nice Indian-Jamaican restaurant in Seattle. Pam’s Kitchen, over in Wallingford. Up until just now I had never thought of that restaurant and Kamala Harris at the same time, and assumed each was an unusual one-off combination. Now I’m wondering if there is a big Indian population in a Jamaica.

    And the answer is: yes. And now I shall get lost in Wikipedia articles about it. The world is a far more interesting and complex place than we sometimes assume.

    Also, above I wrote “I don’t know if she is best described as Black, biracial, interracial, or whatever,” and I don’t like the way it came out. She’s all of those, and then a few more. Authentically all of those.

    I’m sure there’s some very precise term for exactly how Black she is and how Indian, and if we were to get out the calipers and measure the bumps on her head and consult our phrenology books, we would find an exact term for her, but fundamentally she is all of those identities overlapping far more than she is one narrowly defined identity. And American. Very, very American.

    Fun Fact, for some definitions of fun: The Nazis studied the Jim Crow laws to see how we classified black folks, and how they could apply it to Jews, but they thought the one drop rule was too restrictive. Genocidal maniacs thought Jim Crow laws were too extreme.

    2
  69. DrDaveT says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’m sure there’s some very precise term for exactly how Black she is and how Indian, and if we were to get out the calipers and measure the bumps on her head and consult our phrenology books, we would find an exact term for her, but fundamentally she is all of those identities overlapping far more than she is one narrowly defined identity.

    The only measure that really matters is “how much does she set off the bigots?”. Answer: “All of it.” So she’s fully black, fully Indian, fully female, fully non-white, fully Other to the only people who define race and gender meaningfully.