In both cases, the two sides have put forward arguments about female sexuality and maternal conduct. The Right has additionally served up attacks on Democratic candidates that utilize social constructs of masculinity and femininity to keep the campaign focused on personalities and avoid issues.
The Left blogosphere thas treated three prominent women, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin, with varying degrees of contempt and levels of demonization. Each woman has been the subject of a slightly different kind of attack.
The brutal assaults on Hillary are taken almost word for word from the Right Wing Noise Machine and are no more true coming from the Left. She has been treated the worst and continues to be impugned and badgered at every turn. Key to her demonization is the attempt to desexualize her. Her looks are derided, from her age to her fashion sense, her sexuality is a subject of speculation, her emotional availability and empathy is dismissed (cold, heartless, calculating, castrating, etc.), and the result is not a masculine figure, but an inhuman one. She is also cast as a bad mother, someone who pimps out her child, refuses to properly surrender her life to the cause of Obama, and overall fail to prevent young men with dumb ideas from getting themselves into trouble. If she had been a good (sexually available, enticing and submissive) wife, her husband would not have strayed and she would have kept her house in order. When she is compared to Grendel's mother (and I don't think the columnist meant the Angelina Jolie version), the demonization is complete. She is denied both sexual agency and maternal impulse, and ecomes a mythologcal creature like Medusa or a Harpy. Reducing her this way makes it possible to igore her as a political actor and a public servant.
Also in the progressive blogophere, though in a complicated way tied up with points of congruence with the Right due to Republican drift, are slanders against Michelle Obama. These attacks focus on her role as wife and her ostensibly illegitimate participation in the campaign. I also see her as a target of racism that cannot be expressed directly towards Barack Obama. I have read any number of allegations, all leading back to "anonymous" (i.e., non-existant) sources in the campaign that it was Michelle Obama's decision to not allow Hillary to be VP. I have no idea what Michelle's input on the VP selection was, and I assume that she is a highly trusted counselor to her husband, just as Hillary obviously is to Bill (and vice-versa), but I doubt she was the only person who said no to that choice, assuming she even said no. Michelle is getting the Lady Macbeth treatment, cast as the scheming woman who drives her husband over the edge and into villany. Given the opposition of the current DNC leadership to all things Clinton, making Michelle the fall guy (gal?) for Barack's decision smells to high heaven - someone is gladly trading in character attacks on her to get themselves off the decision hook.
Something that may not be as obvious is the way in which Michelle is being domesticated and disciplined into the role of good First Lady. It is ironic, given Barack's own snotty comments about Hillary's years in that position, which was part of the misogynistic puts downs and trivializations of his opponent. But Michelle herself is going through a very public "taming of the shrew" process to tone down her sex appeal, limit her statements (whether you agree with her or not, it's better to have outspoken women than the alternative), play up her helpmeet status and generally craft a very pure maternal image. The crafting ends up being a criticism of Hillary, a capitulation to Republican standards of public wives, and a loss of an opportunity to change the rulesl for how to cover political spouses. I keep thinking of the petty sniping at Dr. Dean, the missus, who simply went on with her medical practice rather than be arm candy for Dr. Dean, the blowhard.
Palin is simply getting shit on as a trashy woman who is indulging herself and needs to get home and feed the kids. Unlike Hillary, whose sexuality is regarded as perverse/non-existant, or Michelle, who is presented as properly domesticated, controlled and presentable, the narrative about Sarah is a slut out of control. Too fecund, too careless, too sexually available. The beauty queen who won't stop breeding. This is used to question her maternal qualifications, from whether she has too many kids , to whether all the kids are hers to whether she is properly caring for her children. The juxtapostion of (pre-fall) Edwards and Obama with their young children as above paternal reproach throws a spotlight on the double-standard applied to Palin and other female politicians. The claim that her politics legitimize questioning her on these grounds doesn't pass the sniff test. The anti-McCain elements in the Republican Party were also willing to advance these arguments, but have fallen conspicuoulsy silent in the face of Palin's convention success.
In all of these cases, what we see is direct and crude deployment of standard misogynistic tropes that women have battled whenever they enter the public sphere as actors in their own right rather than accountrements to male actors. What is happening on the Right with respect to Barack Obama is also misogynistic, but at one remove. Obama is being portrayed as feminine, effete rather than effeminate, but still occupying a degraded and unmanly position. The celebrity he enjoys, according to Republican ads, is not that of George Clooney and Brad Pitt, but of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. He is purposefully compared to Palin as much to say "You're not even as tough/strong/capable as a girl!" as any other reason. The comparisons to Hillary coming from the Right give them a two-fer - focus on the mannish Hillary and the feminized Obama. Michelle as Lady Macbeth is not just imagery to degrade her but also to signal his impotence in the face of a tough female.
This is more of the same of what has been thrown at Democratic candidates for the last two presidential cycles. It does not just augment the usual tropes of weakness; it exposes the foundations of that attack which is misogyny itelf. To quote Machiavelli:
For my part I consider that it is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her; and it is seen that she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly. She is, therefore, always, woman-like, a lover of young men, because they are less cautious, more violent, and with more audacity command her.
In the Republican mind, the candidate is a male hero striving to shape feminine Fortune to his will, and those who will not do ths are females to be likewise dominated, the "girly-men" Ah-nold sneered at in 2004. Thus, the female "blonde bimbo" celebrity imagery is of a piece with the attacks on Gore, a man who was "practically lactating". These are no longer opponents to contest with; they are feminine objects to be kept under, beaten and ill-used.
This is an argument of the Right, of conservatives and of fundamentalists, that to be female is to be of a lesser class of humanity than males. From this basic proposition, the rest follows. There is room in the world view for an exceptional woman, just as there is room for the exceptional Jew or the exceptional Black, but the socio-economic location of this class of beings is below, subservient and docile.
The "progressive" blogosphere has exposed its own fundamentalist tendencies this electoral cycle, wielding misogyny like a sledge hammer to achieve its political goals. To try to claim innocence on this count is insulting to the readers' intelligence. The Blogger Boyz (and the women frantically trying to prove they are really just Girlz so they can stay in the club) have damaged the campaigns of every female Democratic candidate, legitimizing use of misogynist tropes. The reproductive history of our women candidates is now fair game. In performing this violence against female candidates and public figures, they have validated its continued use by the Right and have cast into doubt their progressive claims. (And here's a clue: The answer to Palin is not that she is a hypocrite but that the Democratic approach allows her family the freedom to make exactly the choices they did, while allowing others to decide differently. Treat her particular choice as one of many valid choices.)
It is one reason why I reject the lable "progressive" for myself and state clearly what I am - a liberal. I do this in the same way and for the same reason that I say I am a feminist.
My fortune is as a woman.