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Friday, February 5, 2016

Sexism, Alive and Well in 2016 Presidential Campaign

As a Woman, a Feminist, a Mother to a daughter, and as a Girl Scout Leader, I have dreamed about electing our Country's first female President of the United States. Breaking the glass ceiling, in the most powerful way.  That is my hopeful, utopian side.  As a scholar of Communication Studies and gender, however, the other hat that I wear, is more of a skeptic. The rhetoric and media coverage of Hillary’s speaking style, post Thursday’s prime-time Democratic Debate, came as no surprise.  Sexist attitudes and perceptions, regarding men and women’s speaking styles, are supported by an abundance of scholarly research.

While men in the political arena who raise their voices are often reported as more presidential, competent and viewed as leaders, women, on the contrary, are depicted as irrational, angry, and emotional.  But one doesn’t need to enact a literature review in academia to find evidence as to how prevalent a role sexist attitudes play in this presidential election.

Sexism, attached to Hillary, is not a new phenomenon.  One needs only to recall the dominant tropes that were attached to her speeches in the last Presidential election cycle:  “shrill” and “nagging” were a few of the best mainstream zingers.  At let’s not forget the oldie but goodie of how her menstrual cycle would inevitably affect her Presidential decision-making ability.  Another salient example is the media’s treatment of Hillary’s use of pathos, versus President Barak Obama’s.  When Hillary cried during her last Presidential run, she was perceived as weak and vulnerable.  Conversely, when President Obama cried during his gun control speech, he was lauded as “empathetic” and a “true family man,” able to place himself square in the hearts and minds of the families affected by gun violence.

Fast-forward to 2016.  What has changed?  We can start off with Trump’s comment about Hillary’s bathroom break:  “I know where she went—it’s disgusting, I don't want to talk about it . . . no, it’s too disgusting. Don’t say it, it’s disgusting.”  This comment functions to reduce Hillary to her feminine body parts—overt shaming of the female body.  This comment was fresh of the heels of Trump’s statement that Hillary got “schlonged” by Barak Obama, in 2008.  Hillary’s vagina is, again, centered and sexualized—and, in this reference, perhaps even violated (not to mention the problematics of equating Obama with an implied hyper-sexualized Black male phallus). 

These vile and crass referents from Trump tend to be, by the media and the public, easily dismissed.  It is Trump, c’mon!  What do you expect?  But what happens when we examine the media’s treatment of Hillary’s rhetoric absent from him and a particular candidate.  Let’s examine the sexism inherent within her rhetoric proper—as a candidate.  Her speaking style.

After Thursday night’s debate, the media’s sexist treatment of Hillary’s rhetoric is unable to ignore.  Journalist Bob Woodward argued that Hillary is having difficulty competing with Bernie because she “shouts too much.”  MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” segment read like a Saturday Night Live parody of women in politics.  If only.  The commentators described Hillary’s communication style as “unnatural,” in approach, “screaming” in tone, and “feisty” in pathos.  Woodward continued, “She could make a case for herself if she would just kind of lower the temperature and . . . get off this screaming stuff.”  According to the New York Times, Clinton appeared “tense and even angry at times,” while Bernie Sanders “largely kept his cool.  The Times described Clinton’s rhetoric as “vitriol[ic].” 

Message received loud and clear:  In other words, Hillary, follow your marching orders.  Do not speak up or act out.  Act lady-like, be deferential, embrace non-assertiveness and be amenable to your candidate’s positions.  In other words, don’t act like a Presidential candidate.  Imagine if this rhetoric that continues to be attached to Hillary was directed at Bernie, Trump or Cruz?  The louder that Trump gets, “[yelling] I will build a great wall!” his polls see a boost.  Or Ted Cruz, during his Iowa Victory Speech:  “Our rights come from our creator!” these words lauded by his base as reflective of a true conservative.  What about Bernie Sanders?  Rather than being depicted as irrational or incompetent every time he raises his voice, instead, he is the loving Grandfather figure who speaks through “tough love.  Let’s not even discuss Chris Cristie’s speaking tenor, that one is too obvious.

Regardless of what you think of Hillary’s voting record, regardless of what you think about her take on the issues, it is undeniable that in this election, as in 2008, public perceptions of her political persona will undeniably be tainted by the media’s role in the perpetuation of double standards and blatant sexism.  This fact should matter to all voters.  

Nina M. Lozano-Reich, Ph.D. is a former Carnegie Fellow and an Associate Professor in the Communication Studies Department, at Loyola Marymount University.  Dr. Reich teaches classes in rhetoric and social movements.  She has published numerous book chapters and journal articles regarding politics and social change.  Her lasts book project focuses on the rhetoric surrounding the femicides in Juarez, Mexico.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Bernie: Rhetoric Vs. Reality

Bernie:  Rhetoric Vs. Reality

What do the Zapatistas and Bernie Sanders have in common?  Hint:  not a Revolution.  To untangle this, let us back up a bit.  Let me rely on my extensive academic and first-hand knowledge of the United States and Mexico’s relationship to political social change, in order to delve deeper into the “Feel the Bern” phenomenon. You’ve heard of the Zapatistas, haven’t you?  They are the peoples who sparked an anti-establishment political revolution against the Mexican Govt., free trade, big banks, and NAFTA.  Starting to sound familiar? 

The day following the Iowa caucuses, a CNN headline read, “Bernie Sanders’ Improbable Revolution.”  Common Dreams wrote, “Astounding the World in Iowa, Sanders’ Revolution Marches on.”  South Carolina Now’s headline stated, “For Sanders, Iowa is Chance to Turn Revolution into Reality.”  Is Bernie Sanders sparking a political revolution, as the dominant media suggests?  Is the American public witnessing a rejection of the establishment, as Bernie argues?  Sanders calls for a rejection of Wall St., he rejected NAFTA, and calls for an end to corrupt corporate effects of globalization.  Sanders’ rhetoric is not unlike the rhetoric of the Zapatistas, an indigenous group on the other side of the NAFTA border, which also called for an anti-establishment political revolution.  Of concern, is that the mainstream media, and the public, has not challenged Sanders’ use of his persuasive tropes of “anti-establishment” and “revolution.”  If we vote for Sanders, will this, in fact, be America’s future?  Real people are affected by the policies that Sanders claims he will revolt against.  Claims to ameliorate the material realities of exploitation and poverty, through revolution, should not be accepted without critical scrutiny. 

On January 01, 1994, the day of the signing of NAFTA, which Sanders also voted against, the Zapatistas presented themselves to the world.  The Zapatistas were, and continue today, to represent the embodiment of an anti-establishment, political revolution—the same categories, which Sanders’ invokes, in his campaign rhetoric.  In Chiapas, Mexico, they trained in secret, for years, prior to the signage of NAFTA; they saw the writing of the wall.  Today, forty-one years later, this revolutionary, anti-establishment, anti-globalization, anti-neoliberal economic movement has resulted in six autonomous “caracoles,” (independent land sites), wherein the indigenous peoples are a fully functioning autonomous “Gobierno bueno” (good government) body, which practices direct democracy. “Caracoles,” in Spanish, means snails.  Because revolution is slow, like a snail.

Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric calls for voters to spark a revolution.  He claims to be a candidate who is anti-establishment:  “We need a political revolution of millions of people in this country who are prepared to stand up and say, 'enough is enough' ... I want to help lead that effort,” and “With your support and the support of millions of people throughout this country, we begin a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally.”  Sanders’ discourse effectively taps into the public consciousness pertaining to the Occupy movement, which attacked Wall Street and the one percent.  He wants to be a leader for the people.  The forgotten.  The shrinking middle-class.  The rhetoric is, indeed, persuasive.  But is it revolutionary?

Sanders’ rhetoric is persuasive, as the aforementioned Sanders’ headlines are a reflection of Bernie’s utilization of two dominant ideographs—one-word political slogans, imbued with ideology, deployed again and again, within his political rhetoric:  “anti-establishment” and “revolution.” Sanders’ use of these tropes has been effective.  For example, Sanders has raised roughly thirty-three million dollars within the last three months of 2015, with the average donation equaling $27.13. Sanders, a one-time long shot, just pulled out Iowa with a virtual tie, winning twenty-one delegates against Hillary’s twenty-two.

In January of 2006, as an analogue, the Zapatistas embarked on, in response to the Mexican Presidential election,  “La Otra Compaña” (the Other Campaign).  The campaign operated outside of the two primary political parties—the PAN and the PRI.  The campaign was an attempt to unify the people of Mexico, along with pre-existing groups of resistance, to continue to struggle against the establishment.  It was a call for the rejection of the two-party system, a rejection of corporate interests and corrupt politicians.  Subcomondante Marcos, the spokesperson for the Zapatistas, functioned as anti-establishment, when he stated:  the goal of the campaign is not to speak or run for office, but to listen to the simple and humble people who struggle.”  In not running Marcos for office, the Zapatistas remained inherently anti-establishment.  Their rhetoric, which existed outside of the mainstream political system, enabled movements of resistance against neo-liberal capitalist forces to grow—forging strong alliances with other activists groups to form strong hegemonic blocks against the Mexican Government.

Is Sanders anti-establishment? Unlike Subcomondante Marcos, not running for office as a PRI or PAN candidate, Sanders sits squarely as a part of the mainstream United States political process.  Sanders, a current Senator of Virginia, is a life-long politician, concurrently eschewing the role of an independent, in order to embrace and center himself as part of the mainstream Democratic party.  While the Zapatistas called for the masses to reject voting, and create a revolutionary alternative, Sanders wants your vote.  He wants you to continue to participate within the established political system.  In other words, the status quo.

When analyzing Sanders’ rhetoric, in conjunction with the mainstream media’s usage of his campaign as “a political revolution,” one must look at the systemic elements at play.  A political revolution—both rhetorically and materially, involves the overthrow or rejection of a system or government, most often by force, and replacing that system with a new system.  Sanders is not calling for a rejection of the current system.  He wants to be a part of it. If he were to be elected President, Congress is still there.  Thus, his “revolution” would need to garner enough Democratic seats to overrule a Republican filibuster, or the masses would have to exert so much pressure, from the ground, that the house and senate would be persuaded to capitulate on issues such as a single-payer healthcare system, taxes, free tuition, single-payer healthcare, etc. Given the ideology of the Republics and the far right, this does not equate to a mass shift in consciousness, which would be a necessary prerequisite to any revolution.

Forty-one years later, in 2016, the Zapatistas now have indigenous and autonomous control over land and resources—land free from maquiladoras (sweat shops), slave labor, GMOs, corporate land take-overs, corrupt politicians, bankers and multi-national corporations.  Instead, their revolution has produced thriving communities with their own schools, healthcare clinics, thriving crops, indigenous language preservation and even an academic and trade focused University—all free.  Run by the people, for the people. 

Whist reflecting on the Zapatistas revolution, in April of 2015, the Zapatistas clarified the distinction, in a world-wide communiqué, between revolutionary change and voting in mainstream elections:  “Because it’s the same thing among all those who want a political position, regardless of whether they dress up red, or sometimes in blue, or sometimes they put on a new color.  And then they say they are the people and that therefore, the people have to support them.  But they aren’t of the people.  They’re the same bad governments who one day are local representatives, and the next are union leaders, then they are party functionaries . . . bouncing from one position to another, and also from one color to another.” 

To be clear, I am not equating Bernie with the Zapatistas, that would, indeed, be apples and oranges—a fallacy of equivalence.  But that is precisely the point.  There are, indeed, revolution economic justice movements happening on the ground, around the world. We are not witnessing a political ant-establishment revolution, with Sanders’ campaign, as the mainstream media describes.  When the dominant media articulates Sanders’ campaign as a revolutionary, it de-centers actual revolutionary work stemming, from grassroots groups, operating outside of the mainstream political parties, nation-wide, in numerous communities from the ground up.

Yes, Sanders has raised a lot of money.  Yes, Sanders’ rhetoric is persuasive. Yes, people are “feeling the Bern.”  But they are feeling the “burn” of a traditional established politician, operating within a mainstream political system, with all of the mainstream political constraints for change—not a “burn” of a radical political revolution, which inherently changes the system.   NAFTA will still exist.  Wall St. will still exist.  The Republican House will still exist.  Revolutions transform, they rupture, re-work and replace governmental systems.  Political revolutions do not stem from $27.13 donations to a mainstream political party candidate.  To witness true revolution, you’d have to visit the Zapatista snails in Chiapas.


Nina M. Lozano-Reich, Ph.D. is a former Carnegie Fellow and an Associate Professor in the Communication Studies Department, at Loyola Marymount University.  Dr. Reich teaches classes in rhetoric and social movements.  She has published numerous book chapters and journal articles regarding politics and social change.  Her lasts book project focuses on the rhetoric surrounding the femicides in Juarez, Mexico.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"Don't Retreat . . . RELOAD: Why Rhetoric Matters"

During the January 8th live press conference, regarding the assassination attempt of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, of Puma County stated, “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous . . . and unfortunately, I think Arizona has become . . . the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry. There’s reason to believe that this individual might have a mental issue, and I think that people who are unbalanced might be especially susceptible to vitriol.” The sheriff’s words opened a space for questioning the relationship between dominant political rhetoric and the violence that ensued. Of particular scrutiny is the now infamous tweet of former Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin: “Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: ‘Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!’ Pls see my Facebook page [sic].” There was no question as to where and to whom Palin wanted her followers to “RELOAD”; Palin’s Facebook page depicts the image of crosshairs, associated with gun sights, over her targets. Congresswoman Gifford expressed concern over this image and Palin’s rhetoric to MSNBC in 2010: “For example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action.”

Congresswoman Gifford was correct: rhetoric has consequences; rhetoric creates a reality. Media pundits on the right have come out in droves to critique the left’s blaming of Sarah Palin for the assassination attempt. A thematic content analysis, however, of recent blogs from the left demonstrates that bloggers and analysts make it very clear that they do not, in fact, blame Sarah Palin for the shooting, nor do I. Current debates, however, from the left and the right, in which the foci are motive and blame, miss the point that Sheriff Dupnik was making: Palin’s tweet and Facebook page crosshair image are only two speech utterances within a larger body of incendiary dominant political media rhetoric of the right; this body of rhetoric functions as the backdrop of Jared Lee Loughner’s alleged assassination attempt of the Congresswoman, the tragic killing of six individuals, and the wounding of eighteen others. In other words, at any historical moment, one cannot separate violent acts from its current rhetorical cultural context and climate; rhetoric and acts do not operate in isolation from one another. As such, it is critical to examine Palin’s and other dominant symbolic political media rhetoric of the right in relation to this material act.

One need not look far to find a body of evidence and other incendiary rhetorical examples to support Sheriff Dupnik’s analysis: take Sharron Angle’s quote which referenced “domestic enemies,” or Rick Barber’s ad that stated, “Gather your armies.” How about Tea Party rhetoric that continually reminds its members that they are fighting against “socialism” and “tyranny” and asks Americans to “take our Country back by any means necessary?” Tune in to Glen Beck on any given evening and one is exposed to comments such as: “There is a coup going on; there is a stealing of America.” After financial reform took place, Beck stated to his viewership, “Your republic is over.” Rush Limbaugh screamed, “Our country is being overthrown from within” (see Eric Boehlert,, 2010).

When audience members are exposed to this incendiary rhetoric, on an ongoing basis, this rhetoric creates a powerful reality. Consequently, are we surprised that violent political rhetoric is on the rise? Are we surprised that individuals are coming armed to town hall meetings? Are we surprised that there are ongoing death threats against public servants? And are we surprised by the alleged actions of Jared Lee Loughner? Rhetoric has consequences. As cultural analogues, just as rhetoric that articulates undocumented individuals as vermin, or cockroaches, functions to dehumanize and hence easily justify and excuse hate crimes, and just as rhetoric and images that articulate women as objects, there for the taking, creates a culture where date rape is a common occurrence, to think that the language we use in the political arena, intentional or otherwise, does not influence behavior, would too be naïve. Language creates a reality; it affects the way we see the world. The messages that we are exposed to, on a daily basis, affect individuals’ ideology and behavior. What reality the political sphere and its members will create, post this tragedy, remains to be seen.

Dr. Nina M. Lozano-Reich is an Associate Professor of Rhetoric, in the Communication Studies Department, at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"The Real Housewives of Orange County" meets the Real Femicides of Women in Juarez, Mexico

Recently, Vicente Fox, former President of Mexico, was the object of protests at UC Irivine. Fox was to give a University talk to students on democracy. Protests functioned to challenge the identity of Fox as a champion of democracy, and instead, call attention to his "record of repression and violence against activists and human rights abuses documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch" (Subveristy Blog, KUCI). As "The OC" is known for South Coast Plaza and The Real Housewives of Orange County, when one hears about protests taking place in Irvine, CA, one should take notice.

I know Vicente Fox's rhetoric and actions (or more accurately, lack of action) intimately. My research and activism regarding the femicides in Mexico over the past seven years includes: six delegations to Juarez/Chihuahua, meeting with the mothers of the murdered and disappeared, reviewing seven years of governmental discourse and lack of action, taking students on alternative breaks to Juarez, a politcal poster project, organizing protests and community forums, and conducting interviews with the mothers and agents of non-profits on the ground. As a scholar of social movements, more specifically, my research focuses on the rhetoric of Mexican Government officials, and the material conditions surrounding gendered violence and the femicides in Juarez and Chihuahua Mexico respectively.

Vicente Fox is no champion or exemplar of human rights or democracy. Period. Like the protests at UCI, at the recent undergraduate LMU commencement ceremony, numerous professors wore and held up pink crosses during Fox's speech in order to raise awareness about the femicides in Juarez and Chihuahua Mexico, and as a form of protest against Vicente Fox's human rights abuses and culpability with the femicides (e.g., stating there is no femicide, pulling violence prevention and awareness funding, blaming the victims and calling them prostitutes, scapegoating and harassing human rights agitators and jailing social justice actors, and spending government money on soccer fields and lavender candles to stop femicides from occuring--yes, this is a fact. Fox was greeted with chants of "Justicia" [justice] and "Ni Una Mas" [not one more murder/femicide] from protesters.

Skeptics may dismiss Fox as an individual who no longer has any power as an "Ex-Pres". Those who might be inclined to ascribe to this line of thought would be remiss in taking advantage of the rhetorical opportunity that Fox's media tour affords to protesters looking for ripe rhetorical spaces to draw attention to the femicides in Mexico, and to hold the state accountable for the State sponsored femicides. As Calderon continues Fox's policies regarding the violence in Juarez (lack of investigations, corruption, no safety for female maquila [factory] workers, etc.), it is imperative that human rights actors continue to capitalize on these rhetorical opportunities in order to shed light upon the injustices in Juarez, while simultaneously exerting pressure upon both Mexican and United States governmental officials for justicia.

One thing is certain: as 2009 has seen more femicides than any other year since the femicides began in Juarez, we can take a lead from the Irvinites and focus less on material aspects of The Real Housewives of Orange County and more on the Real conditions of women throughout the world. Indeed, the one act of the visible wearing of the pink crosses during commencement for the audience and media not only created a concsiousness-raising buzz throughout the campus with hundreds of guests (everyone asking what the crosses meant), but also to a much wider public via the Internet podcast (discussion threads). Visibility politics, while not the ultimate tactic for change, is always a necessary first step. To get involved, visit:

Dr. Nina M. Lozano-Reich
June 8th, 2009