Ain't I a Woman?: The Political Economy of Sexism and Racism

It is that time again in the political cycle of America, where social justice is reinvented as the exclusive domain of one political party.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is promising to do for gender equality what President Barack Obama has done for race relations.  Both promise to complete the marriage between ideology and accusations of sexism or racism.

The "War on Women" opens another battlefront in 2016.  We now "know" from the reliable media that the Republican presidential candidate despises women and wants them to suffer.  In America's opposing political boxing corner are the rescuing heroes who love and care for women and do not want them to be groped or suffer the trauma of being put into "binders," as so dreadfully feared in 2012. 

Are the Democrats and their media allies opposed to sexism against women?  This is not clear.  Republicans should be looking to elect the first female president of the United States: Governor Sarah Palin.  Prior to being nominated by John McCain in late spring of 2008 as the vice presidential running mate, Palin was a rogue darling of Democrats and Republicans as governor of Alaska.  By October of 2008, a sexist onslaught denigrated her as ignorant, ill informed, and worthy of rape.  A female "feminist" comedian urged that black men rape her.  Letterman joked about sports figures raping her daughter.  Tina Fey eviscerated the positive feelings millions of conservative women felt about Palin by subjecting her to a barrage of ridicule and scolding contempt.

By December 2008, political activists felt comfortable going to her church in Wasilla, Alaska and setting a fire around its entire perimeter with women and children trapped inside.  First responders fought the blaze at 20 degrees below zero.  It was the perfect victory bonfire after Obama and Biden trounced her pathetic political female body.  Even Hillary Clinton blanched at the flagrant sexism shown toward Sarah Palin the same year she challenged then-senator Barack Obama in the race for the White House.  Perhaps that is why she censored her own recent ridicule of Palin in a 2016 media interview regarding a moose stew recipe.  That has not prevented media stars from again in 2016 invoking the blatantly racist slur that black men should rape Sarah Palin for refusing to go politically silent.

Alec Baldwin is currently skewering the latest Republican populist, to the delight of American elite.  He was not too troubled in call for Republicans to be brutally murdered:  In his own words:

[A]ll of us together would go down to Washington and we would stone Henry Hyde to death! We would stone him to death! [crowd cheers] Wait! Shut up! Shut up! No shut up! I'm not finished. We would stone Henry Hyde to death and we would go to their homes and we'd kill their wives and their children. We would kill their families.

Democratic Party outlets published magazine covers fantasizing about a Democrat donkey with the Hillary Clinton logo on its rear raping Donald Trump as he exclaims, "It's yuuuge!"  That is the political economy of violence and sexism that pervades our elite culture. 

In 2011, Herman Cain was given the sexism treatment as women poured out of the political woodwork to accuse him of harassment.  His populist folksy messages about taxes and self-empowerment among black men threatened the political economy of racism built by good black leaders like President Barack Obama.  Cain found himself in a long line of conservative black men who simply are not as good as their more liberal counterparts.

There is a political economy to racism – we cannot protect all black men against discrimination.  But we can protect the good ones.  Today we know next to nothing about the accusations made against Cain or the women who brought the charges, but the political purpose was served: he dropped out of the race.  When Barack Obama ran against Alan Keyes for the Senate in 2006, no one suggested that his white privilege allowed him to better defeat his black opponent.  No, charges of that kind are managed within a careful political economy of moral scarcity.  We cannot care for everyone.  Some will still suffer the sting of discrimination.

Anyone over 30 remembers how the nation had to move on from the multiple accusations of sexism brought against Bill Clinton from 1992 through 2000.  Media and journalists interviewed alleged rape victims like Juanita Broaddrick but refused to air the accusations.  Hillary Clinton helped silence those accusers.  Those women now attend presidential debates to make a point about our intellectual culture's political economy of sexism.  The message being sent by Republican and Democratic elite this election season is clear: make sure you support the correct candidate, or you may find yourself unable to fend off charges of racism or sexism. 

On May 29, 1851, in Akron, Ohio, a freed black woman shattered the rhetorical world of America by publicly asking, "Ain't I a woman?"  As a Methodist and a Republican, Sojurner Truth changed the world with her fearlessness.  Truth's question is as profound today as it was more than 150 years ago.  Who is a woman?  Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle, Michele Bachmann, Ann Coulter?  It rather depends on their politics, does it not?  Who is worthy of the respect that ought to come to every woman without political conditions?  But this election's results are too important, and people are too desperate for that general appeal.  Women want to be more than vehicles to a higher political power.

The painful reality for America is that racism and sexism are real injustices.  Making them into ideological referendums in our presidential elections does not mitigate their impact or reduce their incidence.  It both trivializes these harms and encourages them.  Ideologues who are part of the winning political team know they have earned for themselves an exemption on these harms.  This is the elitism that infuriates America.

Will the public be bullied again into believing that only one candidate truly opposes injustice and misogyny?  A short time will tell this American story again.  Our trustworthy allies in the media who gave 96% of their political contributions to one candidate will let us know the "facts" of this matter.

There should never be a political economy for racism and sexism, and we ought to all pray for its end, regardless of the outcome of this election.

Ben Voth is an associate professor of corporate communication and public affairs and director of debate at Southern Methodist University.

If you experience technical problems, please write to