How to lose some critical votes

There’s a vile photoshopped image of Helen Clark doing the rounds in NZ. It’s posted on one of the more outrageous right wing blogs: go hunt for it yourself if you really want to see it.

I can’t understand why the idiots who put together the image and posted it on a blog would want to do such a thing. It’s puerile, and ultimately, it’s counterproductive. I’m making the wild assumption that people who make and use such images don’t like Helen Clark, don’t approve of her, don’t want to see her re-elected this year. Perhaps they even hate her, ‘though I don’t need to make that stronger assumption to make my argument here work.

Whatever the feelings of the people who made the image, to me the whole process conveys the idea of laughing at Helen Clark because she’s a woman. “Ha ha ho ho! Isn’t this funny? This is person is a woman! Crikey – that’s a good joke! Yep, being a woman sure is a funny thing to be. Sensible people wouldn’t ever dare to be women. Ha ha ha!”

You can imagine it with guffaws or snickers, or snide comments over drinks. Whatever. The point is that being a woman is a joke.

If you don’t think that’s what going on, here’s another take on what might be motivating the perpetrators. Helen Clark dares to be a powerful woman, and for that, she must be put in her place, so that the rightful lords of the universe don’t have to acknowledge her as their equals any more. One sure way of putting a powerful woman in place is to make fun of her sexuality, to constantly deride her in sexual terms, and at the same time, incoherently, to imply that she is somehow less of a woman, because she is powerful. At a minimum, I think the perpetrators are attacking her because she is a powerful woman, in a way that they would not attack a powerful man.

So what, you may think. Who really cares about what deluded fools nudging each other in the ribs and massaging their egos behind the bike sheds think or do? The perpetrators have been taken to task in no uncertain terms for simply being crass, even by people who have little time for Helen Clark. And surely that’s all there is to say.

Except I think there is more to say. These people aren’t merely being vicious and crass, they are also being stupid.

Last election, back in 2005, it seems that women’s votes went to Labour and Helen Clark. A big generalisation, I know – there are plenty of women who voted for other parties, including voting for Labour’s main opponent, National. But the received wisdom has it that National lost the women’s vote, probably because women wanted to retain services like health and education, and whatever the reality of the case, Labour managed to convince women that the tax cuts proposed by National would lead to significantly reduced services in health and education. I have tried, without much success, to track down some detailed analysis of the vote in 2005, particularly with respect to a gender breakdown. Nevertheless, my recollection is that the received wisdom was that National under Don Brash couldn’t get enough women to vote for them. This 2006 transcript from Agenda on Scoop has Dr Brash saying something to the effect of National needing to reach out to women, and this August 2005 Herald Digipoll reports that:

National’s support among women and among Aucklanders is well below its overall support. Only 31.1 per cent of decided women support National, compared with 51.3 per cent who support Labour.

So there’s a key block of voters that National needs to win over – women.

Of course, National is doing well in the polls at present, and as Colin James points out, now that they have a leader who was reared in a state house himself, it won’t be so easy to run the tax-cuts-equals-services-cuts bogeyman. However, no one thinks that it’s likely that National will get more than 50% of the vote come election day, and in order to form a government, it will need to find some friends to play with. Depending on how the numbers fall out for the minor parties, that could be difficult. On most analyses, the numbers are pretty even between the left and the right. So even though National is polling well at present, every vote will count. National simply can’t afford to burn off women voters.

I do not think for the least moment that the National party had anything to do with the nasty image of Helen Clark. I don’t know, and I don’t care, whether the people who made and published it are National party members. I don’t think the image should be associated with the National party, at all. I don’t even think that it will give people a reason to vote against National. It ought not to, because it simply isn’t the sort of thing that the National party, and the great, overwhelming majority of National party supporters and voters would do.

Just in case I’m not making myself clear – this is NOT a National party plot, nor do they deserve to lose votes because of it. Got that? Loud and clear?

But…

Every time someone attacks Helen Clark for daring to be a woman, other women can feel threatened. What will happen to me if I dare to stick my head above the parapets, dare to try to achieve something in public life? Will I too be humiliated and ridiculed, just for being a woman?

Every time someone puts Helen Clark down for daring to be a woman, other women can feel as they too are being put down, insulted, held to be of little account. If it’s okay to put a degrading image of Helen Clark on the web, for everyone to see, will someone hold me in so little regard that my face, my body, my being will used for people to titter over, just because I am a woman?

Every time someone patronises Helen Clark because her clothes are wrong, her hair is wrong, she doesn’t use the same name as her husband, she doesn’t children, she speaks in a deep voice, really, she just isn’t a real woman at all, other women can feel that no matter what they do, they too will be poked at and criticised, for not being a woman in the right way.

Over time, all those attacks add up to sympathy, even identification with Helen Clark. And that in turn can translate to votes. Irrational maybe – it seems odd to vote for someone just because she is a woman, just as it would be odd to vote for someone just because he is a man. Nevertheless, attacking Helen Clark because she dares to be a woman is a counterproductive tactic. Sooner or later, that will translate into votes, and it may be just enough votes to enable Labour to retain the Treasury benches this year. Far better to attack Helen Clark’s record in office, her policies, her proposals for the future. Those are all up for discussion and debate, as they should be for any political candidate. But not the mere fact of being a woman.

Other bloggers are right to criticise the people who made and circulated the revolting image for being nasty, vicious, crude and peurile. But let’s add another adjective to that string of epithets. Stupid. These people are plain stupid.

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7 responses to “How to lose some critical votes

  1. I think you could easily use the word “misogynist” too. Without going into the unpleasant details, that crew has form.

    Cf the t-shirts in this post at Pandagon. Same thinking.

    To be totally fair to the National party though, it’s ACT who has to bear their shame.

  2. To be totally fair to the National party though, it’s ACT who has to bear their shame.

    No, Stephen, I don’t think that’s really fair either. This might sound dreadfully right-wing :), but the the frak-wit involved bears absolute personal responsibility for post the damn thing.

    That’s bad enough, but I basically agree with Deborah (http://craigmranapia.blogspot.com/2008/01/vileness-corner-and-some-questions.html) that the grown-up right is going to get its nose rubbed in this spew for a long time. I’m tired of it.

  3. Good post and good calls.

  4. Cf the t-shirts in this post at Pandagon. Same thinking.

    That post nails it with this:

    “By the way, the … website has the ubiquitous modeling pose that appears on 99.5% of right wing websites hawking T-shirts—skinny white woman with big boobs, wearing a tight T-shirt (maybe a big of belly skin) and otherwise sporting clothes that make you flinch because they are so tacky. It’s embarrassingly transparent.”

    Those t-shirt pics are a staple of both editorial and advertising on that kind of blog.

    Arrested adolescence can go either way. You can be the brilliant endless 14 year-old like John Peel. Or you can be Whaleoil.

  5. Good post.

    Whales habit of using photoshop as a substitute for debate is extremely distasteful. It has come up several times during the debates at the standard.

    It makes him a liability for any cause he supports.

  6. I find all the hate startling. It must be exhausting.