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So, Senator John McCain’s campaign has accused Senator Barack Obama of sexism in relation to the latter’s use of the phrase, “if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.” That the mainstream press has spent so much time and energy on this non-issue, speaks volumes about the extent to which real examples of sexism and misogyny remain beyond their full interpretive grasp. 

As recently as a month ago, NBC commentator and former NFL player Tiki Barber referred to his on-air colleague Jenna Wolfe as a “full medal cunt,” during NBC’s Olympic broadcasts. The comment generated little, if any, press scrutiny. Now, the same press wants us to believe that Obama’s use of an odd colloquialism is somehow tantamount to issues like domestic violence, inequitable wages, the rape and murder of female military personnel by their male peers and the media’s own questionable coverage of Senator Hillary Clinton and Governor Sarah Palin.

Of course, that it was John McCain who felt compelled to raise the issue of sexism in the Obama campaign is absurd in and of itself. My guess is that Senator McCain has likely never heard of the Ms. Foundation or the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, let alone the hundreds of less prominent, though no less effective, organizations and activists that combat sexism, misogyny and violence against women and girls on-the-ground, everyday.

This is the same John McCain who uttered nary a mumbling word when a supporter rhetorically asked, in reference to Senator Hillary Clinton, “How do we beat the bitch”? Now we are to accept that issues of gender are high on his list of domestic concerns? In this particular instance, McCain is in company with many other men: he refuses to challenge other men on legitimate examples of sexism and misogyny.

In the process, he, like they, becomes complicit in the very sexism and misogyny that they claim to be concerned about.

The McCain campaign, here, smacks of the very cynicism that fueled the choice of Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. In the absence of sustained conversations about patriarchy and the legitimate limits placed of women in American society, any woman will do. The truth is, there are other women in the Republican Party—Senators Olympia Snowe and Elizabeth Dole for example—that were more qualified.

It is the same cynicism that has eroded the intent of affirmative action in this country—in the absence of real conversation about how to increase the pool of qualified candidates, any black person will do.

Granted, McCain’s sudden concern for gender issues is little more than campaign season politicking. His goal here is to divert attention from other pressing issues. Likewise, it’s convenient for mainstream media to call Senator Barack Obama a sexist, hoping to deflect their complicity in sexist coverage this campaign season.

For both, Obama makes an easy target. Black men have historically been held up as the default example for the most heinous examples of sexism, misogyny, and sexual violence in this country. The Scottsboro case, the circumstances surrounding Nushawn Williams or Don Imus’s defense of his on-air comments about the Rutgers Women’s basketball team are just a few examples of such thinking.

However effective politically McCain’s cynical turn, his sudden championing of women’s issues does real injustice, if not outright damage, to women. Their concerns deserve much more attention than campaign utterings that do nothing to improve conditions in the lives of actual women. And a pig is still a pig, whether it has on lipstick—or mud.

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