published Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Sexist joke's backlash spreads beyond Chattanooga


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
Should Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith resign?

Democratic women across Tennessee are demanding an apology, and a longtime state representative wants a resignation, but Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith doubled down Monday, refusing to acknowledge the backlash to a sexist joke he distributed at a party board meeting.

"I don't want to say anything else about it," Smith, 75, said Monday. "I'm working for the November election. I just don't have a formal comment."

Others did. Outlets such as The Huffington Post and The Associated Press reported on the joke, giving local Democrats a blast of national publicity as criticism emerged from all corners of the state.

"Paul needs to be sensitive to this," said state party Vice Chairwoman Elisa Parker, Tennessee's highest-ranking female Democratic official. "You don't put a joke like that on an official document. ... If I were him, I'd apologize."

Tennessee's top Democratic Party official, Chairman Chip Forrester, called the joke "ill-timed and in poor taste" but declined further comment until he talks with "more leaders in Hamilton County."

Sunday's Chattanooga Times Free Press included a story about the five-part joke, described as a guide to a "happy life." Printed on the county party's Aug. 23 board meeting agenda, the joke recommends finding a woman who's domestic, funny, honest and "good in bed."

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

A former assistant junior high school principal in East Ridge, Smith last week described the women he offended as "troublemakers" who don't understand his sense of humor. U.S. Rep. Todd Akin's televised comments about "legitimate rape" had aired four days before, and Smith said he used the joke to illustrate how Akin is "a political Neanderthal and politically 'dead.'"

"I think everybody that was here that was reasonable understood what I was saying," he said last week.

The Akin connection didn't seem to resonate. On his blog, former Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Stuart James called for a boycott of the local party's upcoming annual fundraiser, and state Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, called the joke "awfully smutty and inappropriate."

"We don't need this childishness. Paul Smith needs to step down," she said. "I was offended by the fact that we had time for a joke of any kind. The issues are too critical, and the Democratic Party is going down the drain in the state of Tennessee."

Sylvia Woods, the Knoxville-based leader of the state party's committee on county party development, said local officials could issue a complaint at the state level, but it may not do any good.

"Doing a joke people don't like is not against the bylaws," she said. "If he apologizes, it at least closes the door on this issue. Whether he changes or not, that's a different story."

Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6610.

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