by Jessica Mason McFadden
I’m going to take a moment to deliberately not be nice, for the first time on Gender Focus. It’s time to get mad, again, about the archaic scapegoating of women-who-serve-as-public-officials in the guise of slapstick comedy.
If you haven’t already heard, Hillary Clinton is, once again, on the dark side of the news without having done anything to elicit it. A Republican Super PAC, “The Hillary Project,” self-proclaimed as “the only thing standing between Hillary and the White House,” has revived a “Slap Hillary” game that allows “players” to make a Hillary-head speak with the click of a button, and to slap her with another click. These are the only two options in the game. Make her speak and slap her.
The game is simple. Disturbingly so. But there is nothing simple about the message that this game sends about and to women and girls.
Proverbial “slapping” of ambitious women is old, stinky, mothy, moldy hat. Hat with a big hole and fist full of misogyny through it. There is nothing poignant, clever, or funny about it. Anyone who slaps, even virtually, a woman in earnest or in humor has made a cowardly, unfortunate choice. One with many consequences.
Since when is it okay to invoke a visual rhetoric of violence in order to … wait, I’m hard-pressed to even guess as to a motive. It’s certainly not to promote a political position, that’s for sure. As a matter of fact, it has nothing at all to do with governmental politics. Let’s call it what it is: what’s we’re dealing with is the politics of misogyny, plain and simple. Take the donkey vs. elephant element out of this because that’s the guise misogyny’s hiding behind.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and trust in my personal ethics enough to believe that most rational people who read this article will find themselves in agreement. For starters, people should not be slapped for being outspoken and staking a political or intellectual position. Not Palin. Not Clinton. Not your mother. Not your sister. Not your daughter. Not your brother. No one. If you’re truly angry, then find a productive, non-violent, non-bullying way of expressing it. Advance society rather than devolving it. It can’t be that hard to talk about issues rather than slapping people, right?
Sometimes we need to growl that collective growl, and let loose a big: Humanity, get your shit together!
If you’re just making “fun” of someone because s/he annoys you, do it in the privacy of your home, preferably deep in your cellar, where you, yourself, and (only) you can enjoy what most of us find to be a hateful and extremely offensive promotional expression of violence against women. Once a misogynistic act becomes public and has the ability to affect people,the act of violent (not civil) political disobedience becomes a threat to the safety of women everywhere.
Yes, there is a link between violent images of women in the popular media and the perpetuation of violence against women in real life. If this sounds unfamiliar, here are a few facts over which you should mull:
The World Health Organization reports that violence against women is a “major public health problem and violation of women’s human rights.” It is well known and reported that between 15 and 76 percent of women are targeted for physical and/or sexual violence, internationally. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women lists astonishing and disturbing numbers related to violence against women, not the least of which is femicide, which, in Guatemala occurs nearly twice each day.
As long as violence against women is in a wide scale state of sociocultural crisis, we cannot afford to be making “jokes” that make “fun” of a very real, appalling reality for women and girls across the globe. We need a movement to end violence against women that crosses boundaries, one whose message starts here, wherever we are, at this moment, traveling across borders until women no longer have to suffer the consequences of this pervasive and devastating mentality.
I will also go against the grain and say that, yes, this is about Hillary. Hillary Clinton is a human being, with human rights, and her role as a public leader does not render her fit for a double standard as untouchable-but-slappable. The Hillary Hate has been going on for too long and it needs to stop, or at least to be exposed for what it is: hate that goes beyond just Hillary Clinton.
I have heard people shiver from their mouths at the mention of her name. I spent years, as a young person, going to family parties in which debates ensued over too-strong-cocktails on the subject of Hillary. The woman, the former United States Secretary of State, former Senator, and diplomat, has been roasted for far too long and it’s time for the roast-standers to step up and speak out against undignified games that not only disrespect her but women all over. Have we taken the human out of Hillary so much that we, as a society, think it is okay to be so cruel, dehumanizing and hurtful toward her?
When a political group with a social agenda uses the notion of “slapping” in order to dredge up a history of sexism and its violence, however; it’s time to make a fuss about it. So, please, if you read this, by all means: fuss. Never stop.
For a moment, pretend that you’re at the office and someone makes a bad, sexist joke about one of your coworkers – over and over with others joining in or just sitting by. What are you going to do? It’s time to answer this question, and act. This is an opportunity to rise up against it with intelligence, discourse, and policy— all employing an egalitarian code of conduct that utilizes a rhetoric of respect.
As far as humor is concerned, here’s an easy rule on how to try a higher plane of humor (for more lessons, see Ellen DeGeneres): it’s funny when the person can be in the room, too, and think it’s funny. It’s funny when it does not perpetuate a very real history of violence that still exists.
But we’re not talking about funny; we’re talking about something else: dirty sexist politics. The kind that harms women. The kind Hillary Clinton has been dealing with for years. The kind that she’s been standing up against so that our daughters have a chance at having a better time when they decide to go into politics. And this isn’t about her politics; it’s about the politics of progress: the progress that paved the way for Sarah Palin’s entry into politics, the progress that will bring a female president into the White House, the one to which Hillary Clinton has made historic, exceptional contributions.
Slapping a woman for speaking in order to keep her out of a high position of power, even in game-form, is blatant sexism. The game is an insult to animation, but, monumentally worse, a frightening threat to women, and people, everywhere. You slap Hillary for speaking, you slap me, you slap my friends, you slap my neighbors, you slap someone ten thousand miles from me who matters, someone who might be experiencing the real threat of being slapped by a husband and a society that sanctions it.
Finally, to turn this matter around and change the focus of this conversation, I would like to thank Hillary Clinton for being a role model for women and girls and for blasting her way through the glass ceiling. The age of Hillary-bashing needs to end; let us hereby proclaim this a new era of Hillary-high-fiving.
Have you high-fived Hillary today? Seriously. Have you?
What’s more, have you, if you have it, thanked her by demanding and exercising your right to vote?