Feminism, women, and the vote


AlterNet posted a series of interesting and intelligent perspectives on feminism, women, and the vote yesterday -- and I'm not saying that just because I wrote one of the pieces. (For the record, the original headline I submitted was "Trust Women?: What If We Elect the First Woman President of the United States, and She Sucks?) What's enlightening about the articles -- which include commentaries from Laura Flanders of The Nation and Kimberle Williams Crenshaw with Eve Ensler, plus an excellent overview of the points of conflict by Jill Filipovic -- is that each writer questions the feminist "mandate" to vote for Hillary from a different angle, but all call for a more nuanced understanding of feminist values and goals.

Flanders offers a particularly unsparing account of Clinton's actual record on promoting the welfare of women and families, criticizing the candidate's support for trade policies which encourage "a global sweatshop economy that has all but eradicated the right to unionize in most of the world," and her endorsement of the 1996 Personal Responsibility Act (aka "Welfare-to-Work"). "Clinton writes in her autobiography 'Living History' that she would have opposed her husband over welfare reform if she thought it would hurt young children," Flanders writes. "One wonders what she thinks happens to kids in poor working and over-working families." Flanders adds that welfare reform -- and Hillary's failure to push back on legislation opposed by child welfare advocates -- was more about assuring Bill Clinton's re-election than meeting the needs of the poor, leading to her most damning observation:

And that's the saddening, shaming part of Clinton's record -- and the part that reminds me just how often white middle class women have advanced our own fortunes at the expense of other women.

Crenshaw and Ensler go after the camp they describe as "either/or" feminists:

In seeking to corral wayward souls into the Hillary Clinton camp, the new players of this troubling game are no longer the hawkish Republicans but 'either/or' feminists determined to see to it that a woman occupies the Oval Office. Drawing their feminist boundaries in the sand, they interrogate, chastise, second-guess and even denounce those who escape their encampment and find themselves on Obama terrain. In their hands feminism, like patriotism, is the all-encompassing prism that eliminates discussion, doubt and difference about whom to vote for and why. Armed with indignant exasperation, this 'either/or' camp converts the undeniable misogyny of the media into an imperative to vote for Clinton. The balanced reflections and gentle warnings that were voiced months ago have been jettisoned for a one-sided brief about why voting for Clinton is the only sensible thing for women to do.

"For us, the choice at hand is actually quite simple," Crenshaw and Ensler conclude. "It is not about the woman candidate vs. the Black male candidate. It is about the candidate who works to dismantle the bomb, rather than drop it; the candidate who works to abolish the old paradigm of power, rather than covet and rise to its highest point; the candidate who seeks solutions and dialogue rather than retaliation and punishment."

Also concurrent on the AlterNet site is Robin Morgan's nearly incomprehensible, stream of consciousness diatribe echoing Gloria Steinem's sentiment that sexism matters more than racism in the oppression of people -- at least if they happen to be presidential material -- because the media and public consistently overlook bald-faced sexism but overt racism evokes moral outrage. In her opening paragraphs, Morgan implies that JFK was directly responsible for Marilyn Monroe's suicide (so Ted Kennedy's endorsement of Obama doesn't really count, but Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's endorsement of Clinton is evidence of better judgment) and extrapolates that tasteless humor at Clinton's expense (she cites "If only Hillary had married OJ instead" t-shirts and an episode of the perennially sophomoric "Southpark" in which Clinton's vagina had a leading role) is not merely "Hillary-Hating," but "sociopathic woman-hating." In this, Morgan seems to forget that unlike Hillary Clinton, most women are not public figures who have attracted an equal share of sycophantic supporters and vicious detractors. I submit that those who live to revile Hillary do so mostly because of who she is and her position in the political limelight, not mainly because of her sex; if Clinton had the kind of anonymous life that most American wives and mothers lead, it's doubtful she would be a target for anything more offensive than the low-grade misogyny that most women experience every day. And I'm not proposing that any level of misogyny or violence against women is acceptable -- it's not. But most women will go through life without attracting the kind of high-intensity negative scrutiny that Clinton has.

Morgan further decries a political climate in which the candidates have to "pass as white" (Obama) or "pass as male" (Clinton) because "both men and women demanded it of her." We did? Well, OKā€¦but, WTF? And let me say that I've had it with the lame suggestion that women who support Obama aren't voting for Hillary because they don't find her "likeable" -- although it's entirely possible that some women won't vote Hillary because they don't like her, in the same way that some women don't like George W. Bush (and perhaps for some of the same reasons).

But the thing that really has me steamed about Morgan's essay was her mindless dismissal of younger women's values and politics, and the suggestion that women's progress has stalled because younger women are fearful of claiming their own power. Excuse me, but if Morgan's intention is to enumerate negative stereotypes about gender and power, let's start by addressing the sick fiction that Generation Y is overpopulated with "young women eager to win male approval by showing they're not feminists (at least not the kind who actually threaten the status quo), who can't identify with a woman candidate because she actually is unafraid of eeueweeeu yucky power, who fear their boyfriends might look at them funny if they say something good about her." (If that's what rooting for the "sisterhood" looks like, count me out.)

Here's another possibility: perhaps young women are hesitant to self-identify as feminists because they don't relate to the unintelligible dogma churned out by folks like Morgan. Indeed, Morgan seems to be feeling the fading power of the narrow-band ideology that galvanized her own generation of feminists four decades ago ("How dare anyone claim to unify while dividing, or think that to rouse U.S. youth from torpor it's useful to triage the single largest demographic in this country's history: the boomer generation -- the majority of which is female?"). In taking a defensive position, she resorts to the same kind of reflexive posturing and bullying tone undermined the women's unity and activism during the Second Wave.

I tend to believe that all this is good for the women's movement (such as it is). At the very least, this contentious debate is likely to draw out some new leaders who fall on the side of what Ellen Bravo defines as "social justice feminism."

<mmo home>

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This page contains a single entry by jstadtman published on February 6, 2008 12:16 PM.

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