Racism and sexism are emotional issues. Everyone interprets them differently, even within the groups which are affected. I recall a time in one of my classes when, attempting to create a work about gender issues, I chose to use the song "My Humps" by Black Eyed Peas. Asked why I used "My Humps", I responded (rather off-handedly) because it seemed like the most anti-feminist song I could find. Of course, I'm sure that the young lady who sings that song does not agree, but I had assumed that she, like many young women, had been trained to give men what they want, to enable objectification.
My brief analysis (I didn't go very far into it because I'd hit a nerve with a number of women, and it's not my intention to do so) was debated for a long time by many of the women in the class (the men had the sense, overall, to keep their mouths shut). Half of the women in the class believed that the song was about female empowerment; a woman getting men to serve her, to attend to her needs (material and sexual) as she pleases, putting her in a position of power. The other half were of the opinion that the blatant objectification that the young woman subjects herself to denies her any sort of respect or equal standing with men; they may think she's special, but only as an object.
I agree with the the latter argument, because of Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs, (which I agree with), which would show that she's giving up self-actualization/esteem/love+belonging in the long run for physiological in the short run.
At any rate, what this discussion proved to me is that there is no one definition as to what is sexist and what isn't sexist, and that things that are seen as empowerment from one angle can actually be demeaning from another angle.
I discussed hard and soft racism in the last post, and you can basically substitute hard and soft sexism (or hard and soft homophobia) here. Hard sexism is an ideology that women are inferior; soft sexism is an attitude or action which demonstrates negative attitudes or associations with regard to women.
Since I covered this exhaustively in the last post, I'm just going to say something more briefly about hard/soft sexism: I believe Sarah Palin's nomination is soft sexism.
The reason is this: there are many, many qualified women in this country. Even among Republicans. Kate Fiorina, the CEO of HP. Condoleeza Rice (since apparently Bush's policy isn't discredited, as I had previously thought). Senator Olympia Snow. A controversial pick might be Democratic governor Cathleen Selebius, who I had considered a possible candidate for Obama's political ticket.
But even if Sarah Palin was the best woman that could have been chosen, she would have had to be vetted. The fact that McCain waltzed in, decided to pick a woman he'd spoken to once as his VP, and assumed that this would endear him to the women of the country is insulting. And that's what I mean by soft racism. I don't think McCain thinks women are inherently bad. But he clearly doesn't take them seriously enough.