Monday, January 14, 2008

What is a black female to do? Doctrinairily, that is.

Over the weekend we were treated to barrage and counter-barrage on the subject of the Hillary Clinton campaign's flirtation with the race card. After her husband dismissed Barack Obama’s campaign as a “fairy tale,” Hillary seemed to imply that Lyndon Johnson’s contribution to civil rights progress was more important than Dr. Martin Luther King’s. (Never mind that it was Republicans in Congress who supplied the votes to override Dixiecrat filibusters.) She went on to say “When they say to themselves, OK, I have a choice between a truly inspirational speaker (Obama) who has not done the kind of spade work with the sort of experience that another candidate has…” Now, I don’t subscribe to the PC BS that would take offense to that; but as a liberal Democrat, and wife of the first black President, she should have known it would get some people upset.

This allowed the blogosphere to go nuts over a comment by NY State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo that wasn’t even directed at Obama.
It's not a TV-crazed race, you know, you can't just buy your way through that race ... It doesn't work that way, it's frankly a more demanding process. You have to get on a bus, you have to go into a diner, you have to shake hands, you have to sit down with 10 people in a living room.

You can't shuck and jive at a press conference, you can't just put off reporters, because you have real people looking at you saying answer the question, you know, and all those moves you can make with the press don't work when you're in someone's living room.

"And I think it's good for the candidates. I think it makes the candidates communicate in a way that works with real people because you know in a living room right away whether or not you're communicating. And I think the questions are good and I think the scrutiny is good ...
I’m having trouble being serious about this, but if it comes down to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton in one corner and Gloria Steinem and Kim Gandy in the other, I know where I’d place my bet.

All this is too bad, and I say that with less irony than you might think. Some will argue that having been the party of identity politics for decades the Dems deserve a nasty internal battle, but the showdown between the politics of sex and the politics of race only provides soapboxes for gender feminists and race baiters. If your impulse is to vote for someone based either on their genitalia or on their melanin content, it would be better if you just don’t bother.

But why bring sex into it, you might ask? Well, last week Gloria Steinem felt compelled to play the “gender card” on behalf of Hillary Clinton. Steinem thinks that's trump. She wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times titled Women Are Never Front-Runners.

Steinem went on to explain why Hillary's presidential “inevitability” was illusory. Predictably, Steinem identified the cause as men. Young women failed to vote reflexively for Hillary in Iowa because they had been intimidated. Apparently they didn’t get Gloria’s 1975 memo about The Patriarchy. These women had also not been paying sufficient attention to Della Sentilles’ assertions that feminism is only for white women of privilege.

Steinem didn’t stop with complaining about men, however, she had to discuss how unfair it was that Barack Obama hadn’t suffered from a racist backlash:

But what worries me is that he [Obama] is seen as unifying by his race while she [Clinton] is seen as divisive by her sex.
Now, I thought Obama's Iowa victory was proof of an ability to unify across the demographic continuum. I mean, if every black person in Iowa, but no others, had voted for him he could not have won. Some not-of-color people must have screwed up, or maybe it was a massive mulatto vote.

Steinem’s not finished, however:

What worries me is that she is accused of “playing the gender card” when citing the old boys’ club, while he is seen as unifying by citing civil rights confrontations. [An MLK reference preceding Hillary’s gaffe. Talking point?]

What worries me is that male Iowa voters were seen as gender-free when supporting their own, while female voters were seen as biased if they did and disloyal if they didn’t. [This is the females were intimidated bit. They don’t have the courage of their convictions.]
Seen by whom, Gloria? The vast right wing conspiracy of young females who could project their own hopes onto the blank liberal slate of Barack Obama more easily than they could onto a too well known politician of personal destruction? Did you ever consider that, in addition to having run a crappy campaign based on being the front runner, Hillary actually is divisive across all demographics because of her history, actions and beliefs?

That is, if Hillary is seen to be a congenital liar trying to trade on her spouse’s experience, maybe it’s because she's a congenital liar trying to trade on her spouse’s experience. We suspect this from observation, not misogyny. From a woman's perspective, one might think Hillary's acceptance of, and collusion in, her husband’s harassment of women is a negative. Not to mention his utter disrespect for her. In a world where we all understood common English words she’d be an embarrassment to feminists.

If the cause of women's disdain for Hillary is women’s fear of disapproval; then despite 35 years of Ms magazine and the ashes of thousands of brassieres, feminism has accomplished exactly nothing. Therein, I think, lies Steinem’s angst.

As noted, since Steinem’s article appeared in the NYT, we’ve seen several charges of racism thrown at the Clintons. With the race card now in play we may well look back at Steinem’s screed as the beginning of some pretty ugly sniping among the Democrats. Steinem anticipates this, even while making an argument that sex is more important, oppression-wise, than race:

Senators Clinton and Obama have to be careful not to let a healthy debate turn into the kind of hostility that the news media love.
Too late, Gloria. And, as I say, you may well have fired the first shot.

Ms Steinem closed her essay with an exhortation to vote for "the woman:"
We have to be able to say: “I’m supporting her because she’ll be a great president and because she’s a woman.”
In fact, we don’t have to be able to say that at all. The logic is all too obvious. Beyond that, since Ms Steinem provided no evidence as to her first assertion, and since only the second is demonstrably true, we are left with nothing but her unsubstantiated opinion that Hillary would be even as good as Barack as president.

Since policy differences between a Clinton and an Obama administration would be minimal, Hillary is left with only one message – she has “experience.” Since this experience is primarily that of being someone’s wife, it seems a strange argument for a feminist to swallow.

Nobody seriously believes Hillary’s experience as First Lady prepared her to be President. In fact, dwelling on this only reminds us of her time in the White House. Nothing good for her campaign can come of that.

So Steinem says, "Vote for the woman, not the black guy. She deserves it because she’s good enough."

To close, I’ll give you the view of two other observers whose credentials are as least as good as Ms Steinem’s on the matter. We have this from alpha-feminist and Al Gore sartorial consultant, Naomi Wolf:

Message, not gender, turns voters off Clinton

[Hillary’s presidential hopes] …could be fading if primary voters opt for the promise of hope and change projected by Obama over Clinton's experience and readiness to lead.

Those issues rather than gender will determine whether the U.S. senator from New York and wife of former President Bill Clinton stands or falls, according to Naomi Wolf, author of the 1991 bestseller "The Beauty Myth" and other books.

"None of the polling or the focus groups indicate that people are ... (snubbing) her because she is a woman but because of a deficit in how she is projecting leadership," Wolf said.

…Even if U.S. feminists can chew on many issues such as workplace constraints and lack of widely available cheap child care, few female voters view Clinton as a "standard bearer" for their cause because women span the spectrum of opinion and leaders already seek out their votes by responding to some of their concerns, Wolf said.
Finally, here’s Michael Barone, with the analysis Steinem should have considered.
Young Women, Feminism, and Hillary Clinton

Today's young women voters are different. They were not raised by mothers who told them they had a duty to stay home with their children. They were raised by mothers who told them they had all sorts of choices they could choose. …These young women don't react defensively to antichoice politicians and don't feel a need to be liberated from restraints that were never urged on them. In fact, it appears that the percentage of mothers of children under 5 not working outside the home has been on the increase for a decade or so. Politically, the idea of a first woman president does not transfix them-or at least not enough for them to prefer Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama. At least in the Iowa caucuses.
This would actually be counted as a success for feminism, if feminism were about what’s good for women instead of what Gloria Steinem sees as her legacy.


Anonymous said...

Gender refers to a part of speech. The word that denotes whether a person is male or female is "sex".

Hershblogger said...

True, and TOC observes that fact as noted above - "But why bring sex into it, you might ask?"

"Gender feminism" is a term of art distinguishing it from "equity feminism." The terms were coined by Christina Hoff Sommers in _Who Stole Feminism?_ (1992).