I will venture a guess that, contrary to what many believe, Hillary Clinton’s biological status as a woman was as much an asset as a liability in the Democratic primaries. One can only speculate, but there was an understandable and fervent belief on the part of many highly mobilized (white) women voters that her achievement would be theirs. This is the contradiction of phenotype authenticity in an age where some women and some people of color can be the exception to the still standing hierarchies of social power that affect most women and most people of color.
What defeated Clinton, aside from Obama’s brilliant “ground game” (as the pundits call it) of registering and turning out new voters and his superlative internet fundraising strategy, were two things: war and race.
Hillary Clinton’s shameless warmongering during the runup to the Iraq occupation led a small but significant sector of voters to declare early and often that she would never, ever receive their votes for anything (I am included in that number).
During the South Carolina primary campaign, then, Clinton made her first major gaff in suggesting that Lyndon Johnson was more pivotal in ending Jim Crow than the Black masses who had for years participated in the struggle against American Apartheid. That was the point at which Black voters, heretofore split between Clinton and Obama, walked away from her in disgust. This shift caused the Clinton campaign to recalculate its strategic emphasis away from African America, which they had just lost, to mobilizing white, working-class America’s stubborn negrophobia.
The irony is that now, with two men running against one another for the presidency, we will see the real gender war played out.
Phenotype authenticity (wherein a woman is automatically seen as representative of women, or an African American is automatically seen as representative of African America) is a superficial and tangential cultural reflex. It is not, however, insignificant. Too many Black parents believe that Obama’s presidency will give a sense of renewed confidence to their children. This is superficial; it is tangential; and it is important. The same could have been said about girls had Clinton secured the nomination.
But now that two men are running, we will see the essence of gender as a thoroughgoing system of male dominance — and masculinity constructed as conquest, as McCain forces Obama to demonstrate his membership in the death cult called masculinity. Already pundits are saying that what Obama needs on his ticket is more “testosterone” (I shit you not, that was said on television). What that means is the willingness to inflict and accept the deaths of human beings as proof of a “protective” manhood. We call it militarism, because the fact that it is more deeply about gender is too sensitive a topic.
The challenge must be met in order to win, just as Obama had to throw his former pastor under the bus in order to win. Clinton knew he would have to; and McCain knows that Obama will have to step up and demonstrate his “manhood” when the gauntlet is thrown.
This norm begins with gender policing at home and in the schoolyard, where the “sissies” are weeded out for abuse. It is imbricated with what Carole Pateman called the “sexual contract,” a deeply-rooted cultural notion that women have to exchange obedience to one man for protection from all other men. It is mythologized in our social imaginary as the line policed by men with guns (now with a few token women) that separates the Dark World of taint, horror, and chaos from the Safe World of our outlandishly over-built environment, our phony smiles, our incessant image-management, our terror of falling behind, and our inalienable right and duty to buy shit.
Masculinity is a death cult. It is proven by the willingness to accept, condone, and ultimately inflict death; and it is demonstrated in our affectations of disregard for our own deaths.
Watch this campaign from here out; and we will see McCain lose I believe, but in the process he will force Obama to present his masculine bona fides in an orgy of ritual, and superficially coded, gender-baiting. It will go unnoticed for what it is, because the power of gender as a social hierarchy is still so ubiquitous that we ignore it like the air.
This is gender in a far deeper cycle of social reality than phenotype authenticity.