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Two demons in cahoots.

In 1992, more ink and more verbiage were devoted to Hillary Clinton, pro and con, than to any other woman in the United States - even Madonna. Having declared, falsely and incessantly, that 1992 was "the Year of the Woman," the media anointed Hillary the woman, the embodiment of American feminism. It is now a commonplace to note that she has become the lightning rod for people's deepest anxieties and most fervent hopes about the role that women should play in shaping the future of the country. Hillary-bashing and Hillary-boosting became especially epidemic in the land of punditry during the "transition," when obsessive speculation about her role in the Clinton Administration often eclipsed speculation about the role that Bill himself would play.

It comes as no surprise, as women commentators have pointed out, that much of the male commentary about Hillary has been sexist.

But there are other insidious implications of the Hillary-bashing. The first is the way that feminism, through Hillary, is stereotyped as some monolithic fringe movement completely out of the American ideological mainstream. The second is the way that feminism and the Left are used to further demonize and marginalize each other.

A discourse about patriarchal capitalism threatened by two demons in cahoots - feminism and radicalism - has dominated the transition. Feminist here refers to any woman who refuses to shut up and bake Toll House cookies, and radical refers to any person who has concerns about militarism, pollution, corporate malfeasance, racism, or Government policies that primarily benefit rich people.

Let's sample a few observations from our nation's alleged opinion leaders about women, "the Left," and power.

Morton Kondracke worried that Hillary Clinton would persuade Bill to appoint "a bunch of wacko-leftists to the Supreme Court" instead of "decent people."

Evan Thomas fretted that Clinton was giving "the Left" too much of what it wanted because he was listening to Hillary and even appointing some of her "friends" to high office. (When a woman's close associate gets appointed to high office, it's only because they're friends; when a man gets appointed, it's because of merit, not because of anything "personal.")

One such "friend," Donna Shalala, Thomas dismissed as so politically correct, heaven help us, that as Secretary of Health and Human Services she was "going to be handing box lunches out to poor people in the street." Kondracke, evoking witchcraft and cultural primitivism, called Shalala the "high priestess" of political correctness. Repeatedly the pundits have bombarded the public with the assertion that Hillary and her girlfriends are "way to the left" of Bill.

Even some of the boys got tarred with this brush. Sam Donaldson, who seems to regard anyone with a cerebral cortex as a radical, referred to Robert Reich as a "bomb thrower." And Evan Thomas characterized "liberal interest groups" as an "unruly mob."

So we see a lasting legacy of the Reagan-Bush years, the characterization of liberal positions, even moderate positions, as "leftist," and thus beyond the pale of reasonable, neo-con thinking. Feminist positions are, ipso facto, radical and, because they come from females, irrational.

Images of the Bastille, of Salem, and of dark, secret, violent cults swirled together in punditland, creating a vision of complete societal breakdown should the ideas of feminists and leftists commingle and cast their evil spell over "normal" people. Feminists and leftists are ideological, crazy, and dangerous; neo-con men are the embodiment of neutrality and sanity.

Few have been more hysterical about the new girls in town than John McLaughlin. Referring to Hillary as "Aphrodite," and speaking of her as if she were Rasputin in drag, he begged Eleanor Clift to reassure him that the First Lady would not claw her way into the job of Chief of Staff. To show that he truly understands what women do best, McLaughlin asked Clift whether she'd be helping Hillary redecorate the White House. And he concluded that the separation between Charles and Di is a victory for feminism, because Diana gets to keep one of the castles. What image of the feminist do we see here? The age-old stereotype of the grasping, relentless, selfish, castrating Amazon.

Hillary is fair game because, as Evan Thomas put it, she's "one tough mother." Charles Krauthammer warned, "If she's gonna play a hardball game, she's gonna have to be prepared for attack hardball" - as if, once a woman gives advice about governing, it suddenly becomes "hardball." Thomas actually blamed the victim, saying that Hillary was "setting herself up as a fall guy" for the press, as if it's her own fault for being smart, accomplished, and therefore terrifying to most male pundits.

How have the other appointees fared? McLaughlin warned that with Carol Browner as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, we'd be in for "a green reign of terror." Evan Thomas described Dr. Joycelyn Elders, the new surgeon general, as "rabidly pro-choice." What does "rabidly pro-choice" mean? You force people to get abortions? Cokie Roberts dismissed the day Clinton appointed Shalala, Browner, and Laura Tyson to his Administration as "Ladies' Day," and added, "It's just been a little weird, this whole thing." Note the repeated connections between feminism and disease, alien invasions, and contamination.

At the same time that McLaughlin and Fred Barnes fulminated over Hillary and her strident, power-hungry friends, they also asserted that "sex stereotypes have been completely shattered" and that "the revolution is over." This highly effective combination, which demonizes feminism while asserting that it's anachronistic, has played a major role in the stunting of feminist and leftist possibilities in the United States.

When a young woman says, "I'm not a feminist, but ...," she is saying that these media stereotypes have worked all too well.

Susan Douglas, who teaches at Hampshire College, is the author of "Inventing American Broadcasting. "
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Title Annotation:Pundit Watch - 'feminism' and 'radicalism'
Author:Douglas, Susan
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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