Some of the most recent weeks in American history alert us, if we’re paying the least bit of attention, to the fact that sexism is alive and well, indeed robustly thriving, in U.S. culture and society.
Last March 11 brought a moment of victory and also frustration in the struggle for women’s rights, for human rights, in the U.S.
Notable Hollywood producer and notorious serial sex offender Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for multiple sexual assaults against women, a victory pending a probable appeal.
Weinstein, while not testifying during his trial, did speak up at his sentencing hearing, unleashing a spate of sexist commentary which we should understand not as idiosyncratic to the mind of man in weakened and aging state, arguably on his last leg, but as sadly and dangerously symptomatic of a prominent strain of sexism characteristic of, dominant in, American life and institutions.
Here’s one of Weinstein’s comments in which he credits himself for the rise of the Me Too Movement and also excuses himself and men in general for basically being confused, not understanding that sexually harassing and hating women is wrong, a violation of human rights:
“You know, the movement started basically with me, and I think what happened, you know, I was the first example, and now there are thousands of men who are being accused and a regeneration of things that I think none of us understood.”
And then he effectively made himself out to be a martyr, blacklisted because of some irrational feminist ideological movement out to deny capable and ingenious men like himself—and Dalton Trumbo—of their freedom and livelihoods.
“You know, I just — dealing with the thousands of men and women who are losing due process, I’m worried about this country in a sense too. I’m worried there is a repeat of the blacklist there was in the 1950’s when lots of men like myself, Dalton Trumbo, one of the great examples, did not work, went to jail because people thought they were communists.
You know, there was a scare, and that is what happened, and I think that is what is happening now all over this country.”
So, recognizing women’s human rights and holding men accountable for violence against women is . . . just a grandiose scare?
This trial exemplifies how, even in the face of apparent progress–Weinstein’s conviction–the struggle against pervasive sexist cultural attitudes persists.
While we can hope that November 2020 brings the removal of likely the most grotesque and obscenely overt sexist from the presidency, let’s not be fooled and let’s understand that America has quite a ways to go in addressing the sexism so deeply rooted and embedded in the culture of the United States.
Certainly the Democratic primary process left many rightly outraged and deflated by they take as unmistakable sexism. This process, for example, featured questions regarding the “electability” of the super-qualified Elizabeth Warren, a candidate with far more detailed plans and arguably superior political skills in comparison to those of the other major progressive candidate, Bernie sanders.
Denials that sexism and misogyny are at play just make it work. As Jessica Valenti writing for Gen put it, “Pundits will all have their theories; fears over “electability” will likely be their #1 explanation. Don’t tell me this isn’t about sexism. I’ve been around too long for that.”
And the documentary Hillary, now airing on HULU, makes an equally compelling point as it exposes the sexism at work in the political universe of the 2016 presidential election. And that analysis, too, will no doubt spark outrage and denials of the virulence of misogyny in U.S. culture. As Chauncey Robinson emphasizes in her discussion of the fil, writing for People’s World, “The documentary zeroes in on the history of women’s rights in the U.S., indirectly painting a picture of how sexism played a huge role in Clinton’s defeat by Trump. Some will agree with that message, while others will vehemently disagree. The documentary is just as polarizing as the woman it centers on–and it’s worth the watch.”
This polarization itself signals a deep experiential and ideological divide, largely along gender lines, speaking to the reality of sexism, that our society distinguishes people on the basis of sex and gender and legitimates different, meaning unequal, treatment.
And taken both the silence around Kobe Bryant’s alleged past sexual assaults when his life was celebrated, and also the backlash journalist Gayle King experienced when she brought it up in an interview with former WNBA star Lisa Leslie.
On the morning of February 24, the day of the memorial service for Kobe and Gianni Bryant at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Eddie Glaude Jr., Chair of the host Department of African American Studies at Princeton University, appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. He and host Joe Scarborough praised Bryant for his achievement and excellence. Glaude, I recall, hailed Bryant as an exemplar of excellence across lines of race and gender.
Really? Across race and gender lines? Here we see the silence.
And when King brought it up in an interview, she was faced with death threats, including highly publicized if somewhat veiled threats from rap star Snoop Dog which he circulated widely on social media. King had to get bodyguards just because she asked Lisa Leslie whether or not the rape charge brought against Bryant, which he later settled out of criminal court in a civil proceeding, negatively impacted his legacy in any way.
King, I guess, is just some kind of federal feminist agent leading the scare against excellent men.
Like Glaude and Scarborough, we are just supposed to celebrate these men for part of their accomplishments, not be truthful about all of their deeds.
Keep it silent. That’s how sexism breeds and goes viral, enabling pandemic.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.