Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Public displays of normal humanity not allowed

During Tuesday's announcement of a slew of gun control measures that won't pass this Congress but might be enacted in some better day, President Obama cried in public. At the Kennedy Center Honors in tribute to Carole King, Aretha Franklin performed "Natural Woman" and the Prez teared up in delight.

At long last, we can see some emotion in this man whose political stock-in-trade has required him to repress evidence of every human feeling. No Black man who showed his emotions freely could have been elected President. White America would have called him "violent", or "angry," or "biased" or "weak" or even "pathetic" if he'd just acted human. On those rare moments when Obama responded without repressing himself -- saying the Cambridge police acted "stupidly" when they arrested Professor Gates on his own doorstep; mentioning that the murdered Trayvon Martin could have been his son -- he was roundly attacked and forced to equivocate.

Obama is not exactly letting it all hang out these days, but it sure is nice to see a more rounded man than we've glimpsed in the past.

We all better get ready for at least eleven months and perhaps eight more years of watching how we constrain the emotions we are willing to see coming from leaders who aren't senior white males. I'm no fan of Hillary Clinton (she's too bellicose for my taste), but I cringe at the storm of crap I can expect this woman to endure. This description rings true to me:

Hillary Clinton absolutely cannot express negative emotion in public. If she speaks loudly or gets angry or cries, she risks being seen as bitchy, crazy, dangerous. (When she raised her voice during the 2013 Benghazi Senate committee hearings, the cover of the New York Post blared “NO WONDER BILL’S AFRAID.”) But if Hillary avoids emotions—if she speaks strictly in calm, logical, detached terms—then she is cold, robotic, calculating.

You’d think the solution might be to put on a happy face, to admit to emotions only when they are positive. But it turns out that people hate it when Hillary Clinton smiles or laughs in public. Hillary Clinton’s laugh gets played in attack ads; it has routinely been called “a cackle” (like a witch, right? Because she’s old, and female, like a witch); frozen stills of Hillary laughing are routinely used to make her look “crazy” in conservative media.

She can’t be sad or angry, she can’t be happy or amused, and she can’t refrain from expressing any of those emotions. There is no way out of this one. There is no right way for her to act.

... You’d think, given the impressive amount of unfair and often cruelly personal scrutiny this woman faces, it would make sense for her to be pretty cautious about how she presents herself in public. Bizarre, then, that Hillary Clinton has developed a reputation in the press for seeming distant—even secretive or paranoid! It’s almost as if, after a quarter-century of being attacked for her appearance, personality, and every waking move, breath, and word, Hillary Clinton is highly conscious of how she is perceived and portrayed, and is trying really hard to monitor her own behavior and behave in ways people will accept. Which is “disgusting,” of course. We want “authentic” candidates.

Hillary is sure to evoke every nugget of sexist, agist sewage that lurks in the ugly crevices of our polity.

Those of us who don't warm to Hillary better be ready to have her back against this stuff, even while we critique her policies and political inclinations. If we can't straddle that complexity, we're showing ourselves as unserious about women's equality.
Naturally there has been buckets of political science research on how the electorate reacts to women candidates. I found this synopsis from a paper by Nichole Bauer persuasive -- and worth remembering as we watch the coming campaigns.

Voters do not automatically consider female candidates to be weak, passive, or emotional. At the onset, gender stereotypes are not an obstacle for female candidates. But support can be reduced if voters see campaign messages – in speeches, ads, websites, or news reports – that describe the woman candidate as caring or compassionate. Female candidates need to be incredibly strategic in crafting and controlling their campaign image. As long as they avoid invoking feminine stereotypes, voters will evaluate them in nonstereotyped ways.

Good luck ladies.


Brandon said...

I don't know if Obama repressed himself; he seems pretty mild-mannered to me.

Rain Trueax said...

They ridiculed Boehner for the same reason. Men are not supposed to show emotions to be considered manly. Well, it's not how I raised my son or how I believe about manly men. The emotions Obama was feeling were those of a father and you'd think all human beings when we think of the lost lives-- especially the children. Anyone who can't cry at that is denying normal emotions.

Brandon said...

The big thing among some right wingers is that Obama was faking his tears by touching an irritant to his eyeballs.

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