Trivialising Clinton, trivialising women

Judith Warner has an excellent column out.

This was supposed to be the trip that would show exactly how Hillary Rodham Clinton would make good on her pledge, at her confirmation hearing for secretary of state, to make women’s issues “central” to U.S. foreign policy, not “adjunct or auxiliary or in any way lesser.”

There could have been no more dramatic setting: Overruling the security fears of her aides, she traveled to eastern Congo, where hundreds of thousands of women have been raped over the past decade. She visited a refugee camp and met with one woman who was gang-raped while eight months pregnant; she heard of another who’d been sexually assaulted with a rifle. She was told of babies cut from their mothers’ bodies with razors. She spoke of “evil in its basest form.” She promised $17 million to fight sexual violence.

And back home, all anyone could talk about was Bill.

Kate Lindemann, on the excellent SWIP-L, thinks we should make untrivialising women’s issues a major cause. And I think she’s right. She writes:

Can we use this incident to focus on this issue of trivialization that
under girds SO many of the problems women face?

I would like to urge everyone to read Warner’s piece. I would like to urge
all faculty members on this list to include this issue of trivialization
in next semester’s courses. Begin with Clinton’s Africa trip but I am
sure that it will spill out into all aspects of current life.

I would like to urge every student to save a copy of Warner’s piece and
to raise the issues she address in classes next Fall.

I would ask that those who are Internet literate, go to Warner’s piece, read it and LEAVE A COMMENT so the NY Times recognizes that this is an important issue – that maybe women care about it and that we will be heard.

Warner’s article offers us a very special political opening. I plead with
you not to waste it.

8 thoughts on “Trivialising Clinton, trivialising women

  1. Jender, I had been thinking of copying Kate’s article into a post here, and i really like the way you’ve done it. Enthusiastic though i am about her note, it occurred to me about 24 hours later that we need to be really careful here. There are really two connected issues:
    1. The atrocities against black women in the Congo
    2. A white woman’s getting trivialized in the press.

    It could possibly be a parody of the ‘privileged white feminism’ if we treat 2 and forget about 1. Which is not to say that Kate or you is for minute recommending that.

    In fact in trvializing Clinton, the press treats the terrible tragedies in Africa in terms of a Clinton photo op, which is extraordinary.

  2. jj and everyone,

    are #1 and #2 that unrelated? aren’t they both forms of trivialization? isn’t #1 such a problem b/c violence against women, usu. domestic and/or sexual violence, is seen as somehow less “real” or “important” than State violence (wars), piracy, gangs/cartels, etc?

    to broaden out the discussion of trivialization, it seems to me that one of the main ways that academic women trivialize other women is by discounting women’s successes in the realm of commercial mass culture…which, not coincidentally, is a domain where women (esp. young women) have lots of economic and cultural influence. sure, one may find, say, miley cyrus’s music distasteful, but as a young teen she’s managed to accomplish a lot, business wise, positively influence a lot of young women (and men, too), and keep her sh*t together, which is wa-haaay more than i (or many of her colleagues, apparently) could do at her age…beyonce is another good example here…not to say there aren’t things to criticize them both for (e.g., sexual politics), but let’s be attentive in our critiques and not just dismiss MC & BK et al as stupid or irrelevant.

  3. Hi all, thanks for drawing attention to this Jender.

    JJ, I thought one of the worries was that by trivialising Clinton, the press is preventing her important agenda from getting through – one sexist tool is used to thwart crucial issues affecting women’s lives being adequately addressed:

    “the tide of trivialization that washes over all things “Hillary” is just so powerful. That tide threatens to drown out anything of substance Clinton might attempt for a population whose problems have long been obscured in the androcentric world of diplomacy.”

    On the worry about white solipsism:
    I agree that we need to be clear that the problem isn’t primarily “this woman (HRC) can’t get her issues on the agenda” (although that is a problem), but rather “*These issues* (rape as a weapon of war, sexual violence, maternal mortality) can’t get on the agenda”.

    I think this piece is really helpful in showing the far-reaching and incredibly damaging effects of trivialisation (whether these far-reaching effects are intended or not).

  4. Stoat, of course, I agree, and indeed noted that in trivializing Clinton the press treated the Congo simply as her photo op. What I’ve started to worry about is how we go on from this.

    I think two things raised my concern:

    1. KL’s comment: ” Begin with Clinton’s Africa trip but I am
    sure that it will spill out into all aspects of current life.” Whose current lives? I think we could worry that this invites us to take trivialization issue and apply it to our issues, where notoriously these tend to be those of European-American women.
    It doesn’t seem to me bad that we’re concerned about European-American women’s lives, but maybe we could just make sure we don’t say “It was terrible the way Clinton’s visit to the Congo was trivialized; that’s just what happens to me when I try to lobby for better pay for female faculty.”

    2. Many of the comments I saw on the Warner article – indeed maybe all – were about Hillary and Bill. i suspect Warner may have invited that reaction in some way, though i haven’t reread her piece since i started to worry about this. But a person of color, along with others, might well think: what the f..k? How did the Congo become the scene for a Bill and Hillary sitcom?

    Recently I was reading quite a bit about the narrowness of white feminism and i’ve been trying to figure out how we seem to restrict our focus. Focusing on trivialization, while not at all necessitating the narrow focus, might bring it out.

    On the other hand, trivialization is a hugely important issue. Most, maybe all, are cases where an important issue gets lost. But perhaps we should keep a critical eye on which important lost issues we are actually tracking.

  5. I’m inclined to think that we must fight this trivialisation thing on at least two fronts:

    One the one hand, we should fight it directly by making a noise about how irrational it is to treat women as if they had no cause for anger, when they obviously do:

    1. on the basis that they are often, and indeed generally, more poorly treated than are men.

    2. They have the same (or similar enough) physiology as men do, in relation to the capacity for anger and the need to express it.

    Yet, there is perhaps another way to fight the tendency to trivialise women. My view is that if my aura of “femininity” gives what I am doing little value, I can afford to redouble my efforts to the degree that I do have any power, and so maximise my impact, whilst flying under the radar in the disguise of the eternal feminine.

    For instance if $17 million dollars does not draw attention to Hillary’s Congo cause as being ‘serious business’, ie. if it is seen as merely secondary to her putative attributes of femininity, she should certainly double or even triple that amount of money, until attention starts to be focussed in the rightful direction.

  6. I think JJ’s worry is a good one. Hopefully bearing it in mind will help to make sure what she’s worried about doesn’t happen. I know I will bear it in mind in discussing these issues.

  7. doctaj, I’m sorry to say you got caught in the spam filter. Hasn’t that happened before? Youmight consider commenting without your url.

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