Many Americans, and especially the press and media, fear, talk about, and impugn strong confident women who enter the generally hardball realm (or kick-boxing ring) of political power. While we are all free to talk in any way we wish to, expressing ourselves in either healthy or unhealthy ways, the media and the press have a greater impact on government then the rest of us when they pronounce or broadcast prejudicial speech, sly winking innuendo and personal neurosis in place of balanced measured opinion and factual journalism.
The media therefore have an obligation to us all to hold their opinion and journalism to the highest possible standards. They cannot behave like a snickering high-school locker-room gang if they are to maintain credibility as the Fourth Estate. Some members of the press and media (and ourselves) would benefit us all if they had their heads examined.
I am not attempting to present a psychobiography of either Democratic candidate but instead to inspire all of us, especially individuals in the media, to examine and outgrow a few of our attitudes, fears and prejudices. Each of us manifests our own personal psychodynamics, and those effect how we might correctly judge or misjudge the characters of the candidates. In the interests of writing accurate reportage or making sound decisions each person in the media and press should strive to identify and separate our neurotic reactions, resentments and old childhood fears, particularly regarding powerful women, from the real issues of candidacy and presidential office.
As a lifelong Democrat and a retired psychotherapist I watch and listen to the debates between two fine Democratic candidates for nomination to the presidency with the fabled psychotherapist’s ‘third ear’.
My ‘third’ ear hears a great deal of intolerable, underhanded anti-female rhetoric, particularly from within the media. I also hear that both candidates are locked into a sorry three-way zero-sum battle with the press and with each other while the rest of us watch or cheer the fight. I hope that we can learn what our unconscious positions are, become more aware of them, question them, and that all might benefit from some self-searching for the benefit of the democratic and Democratic Party process.
From one corner of this triangular boxing-ring the press shouts it’s opinions while we, the audience and in some sense the referees shout for blood or a knockout punch. The press in all forms has been describing not the reality of the candidates and their positions, but the writer’s own personal, and often very neurotically personal context of views and fears about each of these unusual, intelligent and talented public servants.
Our candidates ought to try not to bond with the press or to passively condone press attacks against their opponent (Am I naïve?). Ganging up with the press can and always will backfire against the most favored son or daughter because the contemporary press has no long-term loyalty. The media requires an enemy, preferably a falling hero or heroine, or salacious scandal to fuel ratings and sales. When a suitable Icarus (who with sufficient heat from the press might be caused to fall) cannot be found, the press will create one, even by employing innuendo, defamatory language or lies.
I hear the press make the assumption that because Senator Barack Obama is partly black, of mixed parentage, he is a natural underdog and must be protected from the strong and assertive debating style of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. He is not weak and helpless, on the contrary he has achieved an admirable record for any person whether male, female, white or black. Incidentally, his parentage is a mix of a black African father and a white American mother. I don’t care a bit about skin color, except to say that in his mixture each of us may find a bit of ourselves, and that is a fine thing. Notice that Senator Barack Obama does make frequent reference to skin color or ‘race’, making it into an aspect of the race to the White House.
Perhaps a healthier truth might be that everyone is at least unconsciously aware of ‘race’. The notion of race is a traditional notion, not a scientific one. That it is a pseudo-biological myth as has recently been demonstrated by the work of geneticist Dr Spencer Wells of The Genographic Project. The idea of race is entirely a cultural construct and has no scientific basis. It is a term used universally to draw power distinctions among people and groups in order to elevate the social condition of one and to stigmatize and reduce or harm the condition of others. The idea of race is a fabrication that has historically been the enabler of enslavement and of war, whether of women and girls, or of men and whole conquered populations.
Does it make sense to bring up the old arguments about race during political discourse in The United States of 2008? It does, for these old saws cut our country up in ways that have not yet fully healed. We are all unconsciously scarred by this three-hundred eighty-nine year-old national problem.
For the most part, Americans would like to achieve a color-blind society. That might be possible if we were in fact color-blind. We are not, no matter if one is white or black or tan. All of us do hold traditional fragments of malignant learned prejudicial beliefs in our unconscious despite our conscious efforts. Even the candidates themselves must hold these kinds of confused and harmful distinctions in their own unconscious history.
The social impact of these unconscious notions, even if examined, are several. Senator Barack Obama must deal with his feelings about his own dark-skinned father’s abandonment of both himself and his nurturing white mother just as he would with a mother or father of any color. Boys and men contest with both their mother and father for attention, love, and control over their own lives. Mothers and fathers contend with their own children over the same issues.
Senator Barack Obama may still be contending with his feelings and his fears and anxieties about his own complex family of origin including his mother who, in the early part of his campaign he rarely mentioned or described, while he did mention his black African father who abandoned him. Most children (and adults) who have lived through the loss of an abandoning parent blame their loss upon themselves and throughout their lives attempt to gain the attention, if not the love, or perhaps revenge upon the parent who left them. Most men and boys actively attempt to distance themselves from their mothers without realizing it. Does Senator Obama still hold some self-defining distance from her and from women in general, as do most men and boys? In psychodynamic slang we sometimes refer to this fearfulness as gynophobia*. He may, and most of the rest of us guys do also. The male press seems unable to keep their own personal issues in the background.
Most men and women hold some degree of gynophobia. The danger is that the press and the candidates and ourselves may develop negative transference (originating within these childhood reactions to all strong mothers or to people with different skin-color), ganging-up against women candidates, a process that is an actively clear and present danger. In consequence of these beliefs any one of us may reject a candidate for the wrong immature reason.
Some men (and some women) reveal truly fearsome gynophobic reactions, and I believe that this describes quite a number of television commentators, interviewers and pundits. It also seems to be underlie the writings of print journalists who do not appear to understand how much of their own personal lives are revealed to the rest of us by their prejudicial attacks against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (remember comments about measuring the White House for drapery? Alleged Lesbianism?) and by neglecting the subject of Senator Barack Obama’s female mother.
Women and American blacks experience disproportionate amounts of prejudice and abuse as a function of population numbers. Certainly, blacks of both genders in America have a long history of abusive treatment by whites and also by African blacks who sold whole African villages into slavery to Europeans and Americans. Both white and black females have a long history of abusive treatment by males of all ‘races’.
For the purposes of this discussion let us assume that roughly half of black Americans are female and black, and that half of the white population is female. This means that in the domains of abusive experiences black females get double trouble from everyone, and that white females don’t have an easy time of it. Neither is a recipe for a happy life with access to power and voice equal to that of men of any color. Historically, as in the present, women have had a bad deal.
This preponderance of long-suffering women of all colors may ultimately define the reservoir of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s strongest cheerleaders and may have been the source of the most votes for her campaign. I hope that the gynophobic fears of men of all colors do not overrule the strength of women who can identify their common aspirations in this brilliant female executive. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton may also have benefited from the male voting constituency who are healthy enough to recognize ability where they find it (and who presumably may have more comfortable opinions about women in general based upon their experiences with their own mothers, specifically).
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s strengths are not Senator Barack Obama’s weaknesses. When she stateed that she could perform well in office she should not have contended that Senator Barack Obama was not. She benefited most when she made statements about herself, not about him. Of course the same applies to Senator Barack Obama, and to any candidate. The option to ‘go negative’ is always tempting in our press-driven public-opinion climate, but it often turns out to be untrue and nearly always impugns those who employ or disseminate it as a tactic.
It now seems obvious, in the hindsight of recent events at the Democratic Convention, that both Democratic candidates are the hope of us all (and the rest of the world) and their combined force is a gift. When one of them, Senator Obama achieves office, even by the wonderful fact of their historicaly unlikely candidacies, he will have begun to overcome ancient worldwide divisions, fears, and hatreds. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, by her candidacy has ‘raised-up’ the minds and aspirations of well over half of our American population and brought a truly great difference to governing.
Females have less testosterone than males, and it is time for the world to get off it’s testosterone habit and try some gentleness. (If you the reader fail to see any gentleness along with the strengths and advantages of both in Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s well known life-history, then perhaps your own gynophobia has blinded you to who she is.)
Senator Barack Obama is male and his testosterone levels may be presumed normal and are his own business. Whatever they may be, his mild and level comportment suggest that he to may be able to bring about a world that has greater trust and compassion than the overly testy president who now drives so much misery around the world. Senator Barack Obama is a moving visionary leader with a wise, respectful and gentle touch.
Nobody is ready to be president that has not already served a first term. It is an outrageously demanding job for which there is no training. Now Senator Obama must quickly learn how to fill both roles in this non-parliamentary government and society. One hopes that he learns rapidly how to express not only what is most in his comfort zone but also to become the kind of leader he may be less comfortable showing in public life. We will need both functions when he becomes our new president.
The whole world will need this from our president, for as we have learned to our discontent and peril, the President of The United States Of America can be either a balm to other nations or a terrible feared menace.
Both Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton owe this combination of strengths to the world precisely because they aspire to a level of responsibility that extends around the globe.
The press is another matter. The members of the press do not seem to be in any hurry to learn how to express themselves with the even-handed distinction we expect and should demand of journalists, but instead appear to relish the destructive power they can wield to damage political figures, especially if they are women. Many members of the press still act as if they were paid, partisan campaign members whose special purpose is to dishonor the candidate they or their news organization does not favor or endorse.
I have become convinced that Senator Obama is going to become a great president.
It is a sad truth that prejudice against women and people of color is still widespread. In combination those prejudices are dangerous to us all. To the extent that these prejudices are actively expressed (if subtly) in the media, and that they fall most heavily against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, the press should hold itself accountable for clear hostility to women first, and particularly to strong smart women, (Oh, mom, can’t I stay out just a little while longer tonight?). The press is also frequently hostile to and fearful of strong black men. But the greatest prejudice and most difficult prejudice for most of us to detect is the deep well of hostility, originating from within the dynamics of the family of origin that remains demeaning to women and especially to black women (who must occupy the most undesirable position in the ranking of abuses). This hostility is hard to ‘see’ or admit to oneself, because doing so requires admitting to one’s own residual anger against one’s own mother. If anyone should be tempted to label me or this essay as feminist (now an epithet among the ignoratti) then I argue that I am a humanist who refuses to hold prejudice against women because I might still harbor an unconscious grudge against my mom. I am certainly not ‘racist’, and yes, I am proud to be a feminist (and a man) and a humanist and civil-rights advocate.
Prejudice against women is wrong and strong, just plain cussedly wrong-headed and ignorant. It is the most egregious error to engage in verbal battle against half of humanity. That is a battle that makes men into less than we can be (no proud army, this), because in that inner conflict we fail to recognize that our strengths and our own survival was or still is interdependent with, and learned from, our own strong mothers, grandmothers, aunts, girl-friends, wives and daughters. Someone in that list must have done great things for any man who feels strong, for otherwise he would feel and be as weak as a kitten. Honor that woman and her gender—and all women.
But feeling sorry for oneself or for a candidate is no reason for choosing a person for high office over one for whom one feels less of the ultimately infantilizing feelings of pity or sympathy. Our leaders should be chosen because they can envision and will lead the nation to excel and develop, and not because we need a weaker person to lead us (do we men still need to cuss out mom behind her back to build-up our own self esteem?).
We need strength and wisdom from a human who just may also be female or black or of mixed complexions, and we need this leader to provide steel in the backbone when things get really tough, as they always do. We need it now-—and that’s why we need to elect t Senator Barack Obama to become our next president.
*Gynophobia is a term coined in the work and psychotherapeutic teachings of Dr. Peter Gill. Defined, it means fear of intimacy, and particularly fear of MOTHER.