Monday, September 24, 2012

Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Illustrates the Democratic Party's Woman Problem

Posted By on Mon, Sep 24, 2012 at 5:00 AM

Let me just say, up front, that I think this joke is kind of funny:

Follow for a happy life:

1) It's important to have a woman who helps at home, cooks from time to time, cleans up, and has a job.

2) It's important to have a woman who can make you laugh.

3) It's important to have a woman who you can trust, and doesn't lie to you.

4) It's important to have a woman who is good in bed, and likes to be with you.

5) It's very, very important that these four women do not know each other or you could end up dead like me.

It's not perfectly funny because of the odd "or you could end up dead like me" phrase at the end, which just makes me have to think too much about the joke in order to enjoy it. Why is a dead guy giving out advice like this in the first place? But as far as bad jokes go, it's pretty good. I don't fault Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Paul Smith as a person for finding it funny.

I fault him as a Party leader for putting it in the Party agenda.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press has the story.

Smith, a longtime local Democratic insider, refused to apologize last week, claiming he was misunderstood. He said the women he offended within the party were "troublemakers" who should have discussed their concerns with him instead of going to the media.

"It was not meant in any way to be a smear," he said in an interview. "I think my intent there was strictly to point out that the guy who made the statements over there [Akin] is a political Neanderthal and politically 'dead,' and if somebody doesn't understand that, they have a lack of depth of understanding."

Smith, 75, insisted he's for women's rights — at one point saying, "we ought to honor women, we ought to give them the right to run for office" — but several people were baffled by his explanation and refusal to apologize. They said his joke conflicted with national Democratic efforts to appeal to women at the same time as Republicans struggled with Akin's televised comments.

Here's the thing. There are jokes that are appropriate to tell among friends that are simply not appropriate in professional settings. And when you are a party that has as big a problem with women as the Tennessee Democrats do, official jokes that start from the premise that the audience that counts is straight men only serve to reinforce the idea that a lot of us have that women aren't really welcome in the party. It's cool if we want to be support staff, the women's auxiliary, but we aren't exactly real Democrats, not the people the Party is really talking to.

And if we can't take a joke about how we don't really belong in the party, we're "troublemakers." But look at Smith's language (and remember, this is the chair of the Hamilton County Party here) "we ought to give them the right to run for office." What the fuck? Who's the "we" here? Men? Because, gentlemen, that ship has sailed. Women have the legal right to run for office and have had for as long as Smith has been alive.

What concerns me is that, with jokers like this calling the shots, Democratic women might have that right only in theory, not in practice. As long as we aren't just fellow Democrats in folks' minds but some troublemaking "them," it's going to be difficult for women to run for office as Democrats. People like Smith, who lead the Party, still view us as having to earn the right to run. And we can't earn that right if we don't tolerate being the butt of his jokes.

That, my friends, is no joking matter.

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