Brown used sexist slur against Whitman

by Staff

Artwork courtesy of Opinion Editor Tom Hammel

Tom Hammel, Opinion Editor & Patrick Walsh, Senior Staff Columnist


This term is repulsive. Many men have used it to degrade and dehumanize women for their own manipulative intentions. Today, “whore” serves the same fundamental purpose as “n-—.” The only difference is the target.

Last month, Jerry Brown, California’s leading Democratic candidate for governor, left his phone off the hook while having a conversation with a campaign associate. They had been discussing how a police pension issue had fallen to the benefit of Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman.

“Do we want to put an ad out? … I have been warned if I crack down on pensions … that they’ll go to Whitman … that’s where they’ll go because they know Whitman … will cut them a deal, but I won’t,” Brown said.

Then, an unidentified voice chimed in and asked Brown, “What about saying she’s a whore?”

He responded with, “Well, I’m going to use that.”

After this recording was leaked to the media several weeks ago, Brown took it with a grain of salt and responded, “The voices in the recording are inaudible.”

It took proof of the authenticity of the statements in the recording before Brown could offer a halfhearted apology to Whitman.  Pathetic.

Let’s go out on a limb here and assume that being called a “whore” would be offensive to any woman. Brown’s use of the term is especially devastating because he used it against a woman who is running for an elected political position against a man, a position which has been held by men almost exclusively in all cases for the entire duration of our nation’s history.

During a recent debate between the candidates, moderator Tom Brokaw brought this issue to the table and turned the microphone to Brown: “We’ve heard no outrage from you about the use of that kind of language, to which many women, is the same as calling an African-American the n-word. Have you been in charge of the investigation to find out who made that comment?”

Brown replied: “I don’t agree with that comparison, number one. Second, this is a five-week-old conversation picked up on a cell phone with a garbled transmission, very hard to detect who it is. This is not, well, I don’t want to get into the term and how it’s used, but I would say the campaign apologized promptly and I affirm that apology tonight.”

This response says more than the recording. Even after he was caught making this derogatory slur, he still tried to delegitimize and water down the situation. If he believed in the principles reflected in that response, he would have gone on. He would have understood that it was necessary to apologize to women everywhere.

If California isn’t already considered the popular media hegemon of the U.S., it’s certainly a contender. When a person of his stature makes a public decision, it means millions of people across state boundaries, national borders and oceans will be watching. So long as he continues to play a crucial role in Californian government, his values and actions must reflect those of his party and of Californian culture at large.

Maybe all of that would be possible if Brown truly grasped why this was an outrage to begin with. Being called a whore isn’t just as offensive as being called a n—? Well into the 20th century, men called women whores when they tried to vote. Years later, people of both genders called African-Americans n—s for the very same.

All we’ve seen from Brown is political damage control. Instead of making a firm declaration that he feels no woman should be referred to as a whore, even if it is an opponent, he came out with excuses.

Sadly for Whitman, this was not the hardest blow this comment dealt.

The National Organization for Women not only failed to denounce Brown’s use of the word “whore” to categorize a female candidate running for Governor, but California NOW President Parry Bellasalma said the description of Whitman is accurate.

This isn’t just ironic, it’s disgusting. Here is a group which is supposed to support the advancement of women and stand up for their rights, and it endorsed males calling women whores while they engage in the democratic process. NOW has made a formal apology, but the fact it even considered agreeing to that statement in the first place is disturbing.

What if, in 2008, an aid of John McCain said “Why don’t we just call Obama a n-—?” and then the nation agreed with the statement? Let’s take this hypothetical scenario a bit further. What if then the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People came out and supported the statement because they disagreed with President Barack Obama’s policies? There would be immediate, nationwide retribution.

Why? Because people have diligently fought against the use of that word for decades. African-Americans have refused to be called the word and people of all races in our nation have supported their cause. When someone makes a dehumanizing, ignorant statement about someone they disagree with, you don’t just stand by and listen to it. It takes billions of decisions to change what language and attitudes our culture will accept. It takes our candidates for governor one phone call to get ahold of the California media. A real apology would resonate with millions. Until Brown responds to pressure from below, we will all have just stood by.

—Tom Hammel and Patrick Walsh are political science seniors.

—The views of this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Aztec.