I can haz respect?

I can haz respect?

I can haz respect?

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Feb. 6 2008 1:44 PM

I can haz respect?

I'm going to do something I never do, and never expected to do: have a guest blogger here. Seriously. But you'll see why, in this case, I have allowed it. While the views of this guest blogger are not necessarily the same as mine, in this case they are. And they'd better be!


Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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The BA has graciously agreed to allow me to be a guest blogger. Since he's married to me, he pretty much had to agree, or face several weeks of the cold shoulder and no hot dinners, but I still want to thank him for his generosity. So without further ado…

Your guest blogger.

Has anyone else noticed that newscasters and commentators seem to feel it is perfectly appropriate to refer to Hillary Clinton as "Hillary" while referring to every other presidential candidate by their last name, or first and last name? This has been bugging me for a couple of weeks, but the clincher was last night. I was watching MSNBC's coverage of Super Tuesday and in the hour that I watched I heard Senator Clinton referred to as Hillary at least 30 times by a dozen different commentators ranging from conservative to liberal. Barack Obama was called "Barack" once and every other candidate was referred to by their last name or their full name. I find this troubling. Does anyone else see the problem here? To refer to a person by first name only strips away a layer of formality and respect. That's why school children aren't allowed to address (most) teachers by first name and (most) parents don't allow their children to address them by first name. Addressing or referring to someone formally indicates to the listener that this is a person in authority, deserving of respectful treatment. I wonder why it is that the talking heads on television and radio don't feel that Senator Clinton deserves the same level of respect that the other candidates do.

While pondering this mystery, I thought to myself "Why, they're doing it so people won’t confuse her with her husband, Bill Clinton." But I realized that doesn't work because all they need do to resolve the problem is add in her first name –- say it with me now, broadcasters –- "Hillary Clinton". When the current President Bush ran for office, there didn't seem to be a problem distinguishing him from his father, George Sr. He was sometimes called Dubya, but that was a nickname, not the same as calling him simply George Junior or George W. I did sometimes hear him referred to as George Bush, Jr. or George W. Bush, but they were using his entire name, which is OK -– that's still respectful.

The only reason I can come up with for the inappropriately familiar use of "Hillary" alone is that she's a woman. I don't want to think that's the cause, but I can't think of any other reason. Hillary Clinton is a woman with a real shot at being the Democratic candidate for President, and this is probably, at least subconsciously, disturbing to some people. Maybe it's because we've never had a female candidate get this far, so it is simply an unfamiliar, and therefore unsettling, situation. Maybe it started as a conscious attempt by some broadcasters to refer to her in a diminutive way, thus trivializing her role in the election. I don't know how it started and I'm not advocating a conspiracy –- the BA probably wouldn't post this if I did! I did a couple of Google searches and I couldn't find anyone else who's blogged or commented about this. I may be more sensitive to it because I'm a woman, but I'm betting I'm not the only person, man or woman, who's noticed it. This whole thing leads me to wonder: if Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is elected, will the talking heads refer to her as President Hillary?

Sincerely,

Mrs. BA