The media dubbed 2008 the year of the woman because of Hillary Clinton’s and Sarah Palin’s historic runs for political office, but it really was the year millions of ordinary women from both parties were “rudely awakened” from their political complacency and found their voice.
The backlash we received in response showed us the ugly underbelly of politics and our society at large in a way only some of us could suspect, but never fully imagine in the enlightened age of the twenty-first century. And, in many ways, we are just now getting over the shocking depth and breath of that ugliness.
So here we are four years later with a new presidential election swinging into full gear and it is just now dawning on the powers that be that not only will women be the deciders, but women are still angry over what happened in 2008. Why? Because it was never addressed, never acknowledged and absolutely none of the behaviors have stopped.
But 2012 will be a vastly different election. Women know the game now and we are nothing, if not fast learners. And, thanks to author Anita Finlay, who lifts the rug off all the dirt thrown against women during our last presidential election and puts names to the dirt throwers in DIRTY WORDS ON CLEAN SKIN: Sexism and Sabotage, A Hillary Supporter’s Rude Awakening, we now have a written history with which to beat back the naysayers.
I first read the opening chapters of DIRTY WORDS ON CLEAN SKIN back in 2010. The author, Ms. Finlay had sent out book proposals and sample chapters and was getting feedback from agents requesting various substantial changes. Out of frustration, Anita sought perspective from a few of her fellow journeywomen during the 2008 election, of which I was one.
My reaction was immediate and fierce. “You have got to publish this book!” But the publishing gods were frowning.
There were agents who questioned Anita’s credibility and salability as an author of a political book. As if it was somehow radical for an “average” American — a woman no less — who was not a politician or political operator, analyst, journalist or talking head to write and have opinions about politics.
Apparently, being an activist who was on the ground and in the trenches writing, calling and interacting with other “average” Americans during a historic election wasn’t enough credentials for her to have a point of view worth sharing. Never mind that our government and, therefore, our politics are supposed to reflect the will “of, by and for” the people!
Then there were agents who wanted her to limit DIRTY WORDS ON CLEAN SKIN to a catalogue of documented facts and quotes about the 2008 election. As if any, and particularly this, historic election was about mere facts. DIRTY WORDS ON CLEAN SKIN is packed with research much of which Anita had written about or was aware of as the election happened, but facts are nothing without context.
The significance of the 2008 election wasn’t just that Hillary was the first women from a major party to run for the presidency in the US or that Sarah Palin was the first woman Vice-Presidential nominee for the Republican party. Or even that both Hillary and Sarah lost. It was how deeply vicious, visceral and widespread the sexism was and the willingness of others — including women, political party operatives, and a vast swath of the media — to not only accept this behavior but to unabashedly participate in it under the banner of “politics is a contact sport” while still others politely looked way.
Sure physical violence and coercion is no longer acceptable and will give you jail time. But verbal and visual violence and its underlying coercion has become a cheap and easy substitute in the digital age. And it came from every possible corner in 2008.
For Ms. Finlay, and many women I know, the 2008 presidential election wasn’t just political, it was deeply personal! The attacks were personal, the wounds were personal. And none of what we experienced was without the filter of our own personal history as women. So it makes perfect sense that Ms. Finlay would and should tell about a historic election within the context of how she experienced it. How those jarring “awakening” moments of sexism, sabotage and the underlying threat of violence during Hillary Clinton’s presidential primary campaign and Sarah Palin’s Vice-Presidential campaign echoed those jarring formative moments of sexism, sabotage, and violence that she saw during her childhood.
I have now read DIRTY WORDS ON CLEAN SKIN several times and each time am profoundly thankful that Ms. Finlay wrote this book — her journey is inspiring, her history deeply moving, her voice empowering and her research a must read for those who knew and seek confirmation, for those who suspected and want to learn, and for those who slept and need a wake up call.
It’s time to set the record straight on what happened in 2008 and have an honest conversation on what sexism costs our nation. Reading DIRTY WORDS ON CLEAN SKIN is a good place to start.