published Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Sexist joke has local Democrats steaming


by Chris Carroll
Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Paul Smith speaks during an August news conference.
Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Paul Smith speaks during an August news conference.
Photo by Patrick Smith.

THE JOKE

Follow for a happy life:

1) It's important to have a woman who helps at home, cooks from time to time, cleans up, and has a job.

2) It's important to have a woman who can make you laugh.

3) It's important to have a woman who you can trust, and doesn't lie to you.

4) It's important to have a woman who is good in bed, and likes to be with you.

5) It's very, very important that these four women do not know each other or you could end up dead like me.

Poll
Was Paul Smith's joke about women out of line?

Female and male leaders in the Hamilton County Democratic Party are criticizing their chairman, Paul Smith, for including an off-color joke about women on an official business document.

Smith printed the joke, described as a guide to "happy life," on an otherwise run-of-the-mill agenda for the party's Aug. 23 board meeting. The joke recommends finding a woman who, among other things, "cooks from time to time," cleans up, has a job and "is good in bed."

"It's very, very important that these four women do not know each other," the punchline reads, "or you could end up dead like me."

The joke appeared four days after Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., declared that women's bodies can block unwanted pregnancies in cases of what he called "legitimate rape." Akin later apologized for his remarks.

Party board member and Greater Chattanooga Democratic Women's Club President Rita Fehring, former county party chairwoman, said Smith was "a moron" for printing the joke.

"He claimed that he was trying to make light of the Akin matter," she said. "You know, there's nothing light about rape. Misogyny's not really funny when you're a woman."

Smith, a longtime local Democratic insider, refused to apologize last week, claiming he was misunderstood. He said the women he offended within the party were "troublemakers" who should have discussed their concerns with him instead of going to the media.

"It was not meant in any way to be a smear," he said in an interview. "I think my intent there was strictly to point out that the guy who made the statements over there [Akin] is a political Neanderthal and politically 'dead,' and if somebody doesn't understand that, they have a lack of depth of understanding."

Smith, 75, insisted he's for women's rights -- at one point saying, "we ought to honor women, we ought to give them the right to run for office" -- but several people were baffled by his explanation and refusal to apologize. They said his joke conflicted with national Democratic efforts to appeal to women at the same time as Republicans struggled with Akin's televised comments.

"We were extra sensitive about it anyway," said county party secretary Brenda Nunn. "Somebody looks at that agenda, they're going to think we're insensitive to women's rights. And that's not the case at all."

Some local Democrats gave Smith the benefit of the doubt, but they still questioned his judgment.

"Regardless of the timing of Akin or anything else," former board member and state House candidate Sandy Smith said, "why would anybody even put that on an agenda?"

State Senate candidate and Chattanooga City Councilman AndraƩ McGary attended the meeting and picked up an agenda. He said the "unprofessional" joke made the meeting uncomfortable, but he doesn't consider Smith to be sexist.

"I don't think the joke is anything Paul believes," he said. "I hate to say it this way, but it was kind of like the high-school clown who everyone expects to say something off-color. He says it, and it's kind of like you put up with it."

Party Vice Chairman Rodney Strong, second-in-command to Smith, stopped short of calling for him to apologize -- unlike Fehring, Nunn and others -- but said he understands their concerns.

"At the time of the meeting, the remarks in question didn't strike me one way or another," he said. "But on reflection, I certainly understand how some could be offended by the attempt at humor."

Nunn, the highest-ranking female board officer, said party bylaws don't offer any avenue for disciplinary action. She said she hopes Smith understands why she and others are offended.

Fehring agreed.

"It's awfully hard to get a resignation," she said.

Smith's two-year term expires next year.

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