Thursday, February 14, 2008

Obama vs Hillary

I have a pet peeve to share with you. I was taught a long time ago that to be respectful to someone you use their last name and their title when you address them.

Mr. Smith
Dr. Davis
Mrs. Jones
Miss Tate
Ms. Marple

You get the picture. In my generation, for example, one would never call a friend's parent by their first name. It simply wasn't done.

Kids could call kids by their first names. Adults could call kids by their first name. Kids were not supposed to call adults by their first names. It was not considered to be respectful.

There is something interesting happening in the democratic presidential race. Have you noticed? People often talk about the race between Obama and Hillary. Why is that? I think it is significant. I have even caught myself doing it. The stunner for me last night was to hear a young, female, African American reporter on CNN speak about "Hillary" and "Obama."

Sexism is so ingrained in our society, at very subtle levels, that it is easy to miss. I'm not saying people are doing this intentionally with Senator Clinton's name. It is simply 'comfortable' and 'normal' to refer to women by their first names, when men are referred to by their last names.

I've had a debate with a few people about which of the democratic candidates would be most viciously attacked by the opposition in the general election. I personally believe that both racism and sexism are deeply imbedded in our society. I do, however, believe that sexism is easier to conceal. It is just so normal to most of us and even those affected by it can't often spot it in action.

The Clinton campaign is even trying to use this phenomenon. I saw a campaign sign today that said, "Hillary for President." Now in all fairness, I'm not sure if this is directly from her campaign, or some local part of her team. It is either part of the same undercurrent of ingrained informality when it comes to women, or it might be intentional. If it's intentional, the theory might be that there is only one Hillary and no one would be confused. Maybe there is a belief that it makes her more personable (to combat many people's discomfort with a strong, aggressive woman being out in public.) Whatever it is, I don't like it. You certainly wouldn't have seen "John for President" (for either Edwards or McCain) signs. You might see a "Barack for President" but you know, I haven't seen a campaign sign like that.

It is interesting to me that we all seem comfortable calling Senator Clinton "Hillary" in conversation, but I've never heard anyone talk about "Barack" in casual conversation. So the argument that the uniqueness of the name is what causes "Hillary" to be acceptable washes out as well. There aren't any other Baracks in the race either.

Some might try to justify the Hillary issue by saying that referring to her as "Clinton" might cause confusion with her husband, Bill, who previously served as president. Using that logic, we wouldn't have used "Bush" to refer to our current president during his campaigns, because of the possible confusion with his father, who had also served as president. That dog don't hunt.

It might be an interesting exercise to watch your language around this question. Are you referring to Senator Clinton as "Hillary" or as "Clinton." Observe to see if you are consistent or not. Do you always refer to her the same way? Do you use both? Let it be a little experiment. A couple of people I've brought this up with have been a little surprised that they were consistently using her first name. It just seemed normal to them. As I said, I have caught myself doing it as well.

I'm just asking you to ponder this question and maybe raise your awareness about it. Not only in this particular situation, but in others also. It may seem like a small thing, but small things add up to be big things. This is a relatively simple undertaking we can all participate in to raise our awareness about an 'invisible' issue... and potentially change the world!

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