Race to the Bottom
The sexist attacks on Clinton are outrageous and deplorable, but there's reason to be concerned about her becoming the vehicle for a feminist reawakening. For one thing, feminist sympathy for her has begotten an "oppression sweepstakes" in which a number of her prominent supporters, dismayed at her upstaging by Obama, have declared a contest between racial and gender bias and named sexism the greater scourge. This maneuver is not only unhelpful for coalition-building but obstructs understanding of how sexism and racism have played out in this election in different (and interrelated) ways.
Yet what is most troubling--and what has the most serious implications for the feminist movement--is that the Clinton campaign has used her rival's race against him. In the name of demonstrating her superior "electability," she and her surrogates have invoked the racist and sexist playbook of the right--in which swaggering macho cowboys are entrusted to defend the country--seeking to define Obama as too black, too foreign, too different to be President at a moment of high anxiety about national security. This subtly but distinctly racialized political strategy did not create the media feeding frenzy around the Rev. Jeremiah Wright that is now weighing Obama down, but it has positioned Clinton to take advantage of the opportunities the controversy has presented. And the Clinton campaign's use of this strategy has many nonwhite and nonmainstream feminists crying foul.