Thursday, February 9, 2017

Going After Women

After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used a rule dating back to the time when discussing abolition was forbidden on the floor of the Senate to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a number of senators, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, got up and read the same letter that got Ms. Warren banished from speaking.  Why weren’t they silenced?  Because they are men.

Institutional misogyny is so ingrained in the fiber of American culture that people of every stripe often fail to see in such attacks on women leaders the particular markers of that disease. But in our hearts, women know. Elizabeth Warren was effectively told, in the words of Politico’s Seung Min Kim, to “sit down—and shut up.” Any domestic violence expert will tell you that those are the sort of words that often precede the connection of a male fist to a female face.

Never mind that Warren wasn’t reading the King letter to comment on Sessions’s motives or conduct in his role as U.S. senator; she was speaking against his nomination to one of the most important jobs in the executive branch—a job that is, among other things, charged with enforcement of the citizens’ franchise of the vote. Never mind that King’s letter spoke directly to that concern. Never mind that over the course of the last two years, as The New York Times reports, both Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas appear to have violated the rule according to its true intent, without having it invoked against them. Cruz’s 2015 impugning of a fellow senator’s conduct motives was a critique of McConnell himself, described by Cruz as a liar. They’re men, and white men at that (and Republican).

Senate Republicans may not all love Donald Trump, but a significant aspect of their agenda dovetails nicely with Trump’s base-stoking, and that is the revival of a white male patriarchy that sees itself as threatened by a multicultural population and the changing roles of women in society. Trump’s courtship of the religious right speaks to this, as does his chief strategist’s courtship of white nationalists and supremacists, whose ideological misogyny is often overlooked.

Make no mistake: McConnell’s bullying of Elizabeth Warren for reading the words of Coretta Scott King was intended to convey to women—white, black, and of every other color and identity—just who’s boss.

I am very glad that Senate Democrats rose to fill in for Ms. Warren, and perhaps if there wasn’t institutional misogyny in American politics no one would have noticed what she read on the floor of the Senate except for the watchers of C-SPAN.  But in doing so, one might hope that shining this glaring light on the He-Man Woman-Haters Club might actually do some good.

5 barks and woofs on “Going After Women

  1. It occurs to me that McConnell hasn’t quite twigged to the fact that the Internet is going 24/7/365 and that social media is omnipresent.

    But then, I also doubt that he’s smart enough or subtle enough to be able to mask his prejudices effectively.

    Short answer: It’s called “shooting yourself in the foot.”

  2. I wonder what would have happened if Warren had simply refused to shut up and sit down and continued speaking. My guess is some higher level of censure.

    Besides the male privilege angle, I don’t see how you can effectively argue against the cabinet appointment of a fellow Senator with this rule in place. Especially if motives or conduct are the major reasons to oppose the nomination. It’s a stupid and outdated rule, besides being arbitrarily applied. But that’s the Senate for ya.

    • On your first point, I don’t know what the penalties might be, but I’m sure they’re severe — McConnell might even have had her ejected from the chamber.

      On your second, it depends on who’s running the proceedings. The current breed of Republicans have no trouble in changing the rules to suit their agenda. I read one account that noted that Teddy Kennedy originally read that letter in the hearings for Sessions’ nomination to the federal bench in 1986. And it’s worth noting that four male Democratic senators read that letter in the chamber right after the vote to discipline Warren, with no reaction from the Republican leadership.

  3. She was talking to an almost empty room and no one would have noticed if McConnell had simply ignored her, but she gets under his skin like no one else and he couldn’t resist. The outcome now is that everyone is aware of his tantrum and Warren is getting more publicity than ever before. I thought Mitch was smart.

  4. Hello all –

    I found this incident quite interesting. Thanks, Hunter, I did not know that the letter had been read in the Senate before!

    It reminds me of the incident with Marian Anderson and the DAR. The DAR would not let her perform in their hall, so it ended up she sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to more people than had she done the original concert and more notice in the public sphere as well.

    Ya know, we’ve come far; but we STILL have a ways to go.

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