Hillary Clinton’s Hit List

January 20th, 2014 | Categories: Uncategorized

Often when I have a conversation about pretty much any topic, I hear someone mention that some behavior is because of gender. Whether it is “boys will be boys” or “that’s because she’s a woman” or another version. It all is so strange for the Stereotype Guru to hear. After all, I wrote the book on stereotypes of this kind and many of the folks who say this to me know that I did. Imagine how much more I would hear of these stereotypes if people didn’t know about my research. Imagine too how much I’d hear these stereotypes if I didn’t live in Manhattan–a socially liberal city.

Of course, I don’t begrudge people their right to free speech. I also recognize that stereotypes are so ingrained in our thought processes that they are an automatic way to respond to difference, to something that stands out as unusual, or to explain behavior. They are like myths that people use to make sense of something unknown. So I don’t hold anything against those I speak with who say these stereotypes.

Still…sometimes it seems I am the only one who notices that these comments are odd. Recently, I was happy to have reinforced that I am not the only one.

On a recent episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart made a similar point about using gender as a go-to answer to explain something. He didn’t call out the stereotype, but it’s there. Check out this clip to see how Stewart calls out a person who comes to Hillary Clinton’s defense. As the defender accuses people of stereotyping Clinton because she is a woman, the defender ends up stereotyping Clinton because she is a woman.

The first stereotype is that women are petty and vindictive and, so, presumed to have hit lists. The defender comes to Clinton’s rescue by calling the media out on this stereotype. In doing so, she communicates her own stereotype. Stewart caught it and points out its absurdity. But he doesn’t name it as a stereotype. It is a very subtle stereotype. Stewart points out that it is ridiculous to defend Clinton in this way because her behavior does not need to be defended. After all, plenty of other people — men and women — engage in the same behavior. So why does she need to be defended at all? The answer is the stereotype.

Clinton needs to be defended because, stereotypically speaking, as a woman she is powerless to defend herself and needs to be protected.

This argument is similar to one made by Judith Butler in her book Excitable Speech. The idea is that hate speech and words like the n-word are horrible. But the act of banning them in and of itself is an act of stereotyping the ‘victims’ of these words as powerless and unable to defend themselves (i.e., weak).

The n-word is a perfect example. It is a word. It’s not a billy club, or a dagger, or a shotgun. It can’t hurt anyone physically. Yet, periodically supposed champions rise to defend blacks from this word. In 2007, New York City Council members banned the n-word. While this may seem a noble act, it merely reinforces the false perception that blacks are weak and unable to take care of themselves (think welfare stereotypes). The implication of banning the n-word is that blacks are so fragile that the mere reference to a derogatory word would crush them. To defend them, those in power — like New York City Council Members — decide for blacks what blacks would and should find. This presumably heroic act is paternalistic and only serves to reinforce the dominance of an already politically powerful group at the expense of an already less politically powerful group.

Humorously, the New York City Council Members acknowledged “The ban has no legal weight and will not be enforced. Instead, the resolution encourages New Yorkers to voluntarily eliminate the word from their vocabulary.” It strikes me to be a group of people who ‘like to hear themselves talk’ because it reinforces how powerful they think they are.

Despite being the Stereotype Guru, I admit I used this same language recently in a conversation. I said that someone was particularly picked on because he was a man. I said his aggressive behavior would not have been interpreted as negatively as it had if it come from a woman.

Clearly I didn’t think I was stereotyping when I said it. No one does. In retrospect I wonder though. I accused a group of women of stereotyping this particular man as aggressive. I was coming to his defense. Was I doing the same thing that Stewart is accusing Clinton’s defender of doing?

The difference could be that I was using the stereotype to defend someone who isn’t marginalized. He is a white middle aged male in great health. Yet, after watching Stewart’s segment and working on this blog my participation in this type of stereotyping doesn’t sit well with me. As it turns out, in retrospect I was stereotyping a marginalized group. I was stereotyping the women who found this particular man aggressive as being easily intimidated by men, unable to ‘handle it,’ and weak. In doing so, I dismissed their potentially legitimate concerns about his behavior. Shame shame Stereotype Guru. Shame shame. And thanks Jon for setting me straight.

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