Monday, June 25, 2007

Surrounded by women

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I know I shouldn't even bother asking this question, but:

What the hell's wrong with Chris Matthews?

As if his man-crush on Fred Thompson. weren't enough, his sexualization of politics came through once more, and as blatantly as ever, on his eponymous show yesterday.

"Okay, let's put the gender thing in here," he said. "I love gender politics, guys. We have two women here all the time to make sure we're balanced on this show." Fantastic. He must feel so good about himself. Some of his best friends are women, surely.

And then it got bizarre. He brought up "last supper scenes," pointing out (as if it needed pointing out) that the Last Supper -- you know, Jesus's -- was "all men". (Seriously, I'm not making this up. Check out Media Matters.) But just when you think Dan Brown was about to show up with a counter-theory, he leapt from Jesus's Last Supper to Hillary's lunches. Yes, that's right. (I'm not making this up!) Hillary Clinton's lunches, which are "all women". (Does this make Hillary the anti-Christ? Chris, you must explain. Otherwise, we'll have no choice but to call you a fool.) At these lunches, he claimed, Hillary is -- and here one imagines how threatened Chris must feel -- "advertising her sisterhood". (Say what? Yes: "advertising her sisterhood," like her campaign is one big episode of The View. Have I mentioned that I'm not making this up?)

Now, Matthew seems to be a sort of homoeroticized ass-slapping sort of guy. (Hence his man-crushes.) He also seems to like women but to be simultaneously attracted to and frightened by feminism. (Why remark, as he did earlier in this exchange, that his two female guests, Elisabeth Bumiller and Kathleen Parker, are feminists? Are you not a feminist, Chris? Are women only on your show to provide "balance" and to be ogled?) And so he doesn't quite know what to make of Hillary's sisterhood lunches: "Is that something she can use to help sell herself as a future strong person defending this country, or does it get in the way?" This may be one of the stupidest questions ever asked in the history of cable news -- and there's an awful lot of competition. It may make sense to ask about sex and gender in American politics, to ask whether voters will vote for a woman, and even to get into gender politics more broadly. (Of course it matters that Hillary is a woman. I don't deny that.) But to connect these lunches to strength and toughness, and to ask this question without a trace of irony? Come now, Chris, stop the inanity.

In response, Bumiller mentioned that women are "the base of her support" -- which is also exaggerated inanity. (Women voted for Hillary, but so did men. Her base is hardly gender-specific.) But Matthews took it even lower. Hillary appeals not to women generally but to "[w]omen with needs". (What does that even mean? Women who need health care? Women who need social security? Women who need tax cuts? Women who need abortion rights? How ridiculous, and insulting. How does Chris even have his own show?) And then this follow-up question: "[B]eing surrounded by women, does that make a case for commander in chief -- or does it make a case against it?"

Thankfully, Parker and Richard Stengel rallied to push back against this nonsense -- really, this sexism. Stengel: "What are you suggesting by saying does that diminish her as a commander in chief by being surrounded by women?" The obvious answer: That a woman shouldn't be president, or at least not a feminist, a women who holds sisterhood lunches. Such women are too needy, too weak and yet too threatening to the regressive sexual identity of a real man like Chris Matthews. But of course that's not the answer he gave. Instead of being honest -- and I'm not sure he's even capable of such honesty -- he got "historic": America's never had a woman president, and so voting for Hillary, or any woman, would be "an historic decision for people". Fine, but that's not the point. The point is what you, Chris, think of women who run for high political office, of women like Hillary. Bumiller mentioned Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher, two tough women who always get mentioned when the topic is women in politics, but, in response, he made one of the stupidest comments in the history of cable news: "But we've got Patton and John Wayne on our side." (Remember, I'm not making this up!)

What does that mean? That America is a land of bigoted blowhards who would sooner shoot Injuns than vote for a woman? That Chris Matthew is himself a bigoted blowhard who would sooner "worship" Thompson's manhood than vote for Hillary?

Seriously, what the hell's wrong with you, Chris?

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