Friday, January 11, 2008

Sexism or Satire? HRC as Half-Nekkid Chipmunk

It turns out that if you search YouTube for Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman," one of the hits that pops up is a grotesque video of Hillary Rodham Clinton chirping the song in a Chipmunk-y voice. Her head is pasted on top of a female torso wearing only a bra, and her mouth looks a bit like it was lifted from a blow-up doll (but maybe it's just the bad animation).

I hesitated to include the actual video here, because it's fairly offensive and has very little humor as a redeeming value, but it's hard to convey its yuck-factor in words alone.

When I brought this up in class as an example of sexism, not all of my students were convinced. One pointed out that there are fake videos of Dubya in a diaper. I looked but couldn't find any on YouTube. If they're out there, then yes, depicting an adult in diapers is infantilizing. It's in poor taste and not particularly funny either. But it's not mocking him as a man. It's not reducing him to his sex organs, his sex appeal, or his supposed lack thereof. It's not reminding the world that this candidate has a vagina, and so she must be weak, emotional, erratic, and thus unworthy of office.

What I did turn up was a depiction of Senator David Vitter in diapers, apparently feeding off a rumor that he indulged a diaper fetish with prostitutes he frequented in Washington. I guess I missed that salacious detail because I was out of the country when the Vitter scandal broke last summer. But nah, it couldn't be true, because Senator Vitter is such a strong supporter of family values and the sanctity of marriage. (For the record, he's 'fessed up to his prostitution habit, but not to any kink.)

The same caveats as above apply to the Vitter video, too. It's not exactly hilarious and the diaper thing is pretty darn gross. But is it sexist? If so, the sexism is mostly an accidental side effect of its main point, mocking Vitter's alleged pervy fetish. While I admit I'd never even heard of this particular fetish before today and it seriously squicks me out, I would agree that if it's part of the man's private life, it would really be his business, and his alone, except that he ran for office on the promise of regulating other people's private lives.

Of course, sexism can be used against men, too. John Edwards has been repeatedly spoofed for his supposed effeminacy and "Breck Girl" hair. That, again, is incontrovertibly sexist, because the whole idea is to discredit him by associating him with all things girly. Because, you know, girly men are weak, emotional, erratic, etc.

This video is a great example of how sexism can be aimed against men, and when it is, it's almost always tangled up with homophobia. It's instructive in two other ways as well: I'm inclined to believe it when it says Ann Coulter called Edwards a "fag" because she's just jealous of his glossy hair. And it shows what a bad idea it would be for Edwards to grow it long; with photoshopped long tresses, he looks alarmingly like Björn from Abba.

I'd be interested to know if there are examples of sexism being used to mock any of the Republican candidates. I would never suggest that Democrats take the high road - far from it. But if a Democrat overtly uses sexism as a tactic, he gets thoroughly spanked for it by even his strongest supporters, and rightly so, as happened a few days ago when Edwards suggested Clinton might not be tough enough after she choked up in public.

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