I was reading zuzu's excellent post
today on why sexist framing of Hillary Clinton matters, and decided to write a post I've been wanting to put together for a long time. Doing it on a morning when I have to go to work is probably not the greatest idea, but when the time is right, it's right.
Like you, I'm appalled at the virulent misogyny that's been directed at Hillary Clinton not just during her presidential campaign, but for the last sixteen years. For whatever reason, Hillary has been the focal point of male fear and loathing throughout the country. Whether it's a Hillary nutcracker, or sex club devote and Eliot Spitzer ratter Roger Stone forming an anti-Hillary group the initials of which are C.U.N.T., it's clear that the castration fears of American men are almost entirely focused on this one woman. It seems odd that this should be so.
This is a woman who could have achieved a political career herself, but put her ambitions on the back burner in favor of her husband's. She seems to know perfectly well who she's married to and what he does, and I think she decided long ago that what's good in their connection compensates for her husband's mammoth character flaws. I never quite understood what the foofarah about the "two-for-one" notion was; after all, presidents have unelected cabinet members working with them all the time. Had she not been married to Bill Clinton, but become a successful attorney in her own right and married someone else, there's no reason to think she couldn't have become a United States Senator anyway. That her husband was president helped give her name recognition, but she won her office by winning over many of the upstate counties whose denizens hated her most. So despite the attempts to reduce Hillary to a know-nothing who's trying to ride her husband's coattails to the presidency, I think that sells her short. She's smart, she's capable, and she's eminently qualified for the presidency.
That said, I think you are making a mistake by rallying behind Hillary as some kind of feminist icon, and I think you're making a bigger one by using the politics of victimology to do so.
I realize that this post is going to get me blacklisted from the feminist blogosphere in perpetuity. I realize that this post is going to put an end to the links and other assistance some of you have given this blog, but before it does, I want to thank those of you who have helped me along by blogrolling and linking. And I also want to say that while we may disagree on this particular question, and in many cases we are of different generations, there is much we have in common. I would like to think that what what we have in common is more important than our differences of opinion on Hillary Clinton or even our generational difference, but I realize that may not be so.
As I've posted before, a few weeks ago a woman called in to Randi Rhodes and stated that because blacks were given the right to vote before women, it meant that women were more marginalized and therefore "we" deserve one of "ours" in the White House more than "they" deserve one of "theirs." This argument is ridiculous on the face of it for anyone who has even had the rudimentary history study they do in American high schools and remembers learning about Jim Crow laws and poll taxes. For that matter, it's ridiculous for anyone who remembers Florida in 2000. No white woman was ever pulled over for driving while being a white female. No white woman has died in a fusillade of police bullets because the cops automatically assume that a white woman has a gun and is by definition an imminent threat. Half of all white women are not high school dropouts. Half of all white women are not jobless against their will.
We accomplish nothing by trying to assign relative degrees of victimization and make this election a question of who's been more oppressed. This kind of "Who's suffered more" thinking is what created the schism between African-Americans and American Jews, who at one time worked side-by-side in the civil rights movement and now automatically assume that the other group is attempting to hoard all the suffering marbles for itself. I'm seeing women do this now about the Hillary Clinton candidacy, and all this is going to accomplish is giving us President John McCain and another four years of neocon lunacy.
I am a 52-year-old woman. I am supposed to be Hillary Clinton's base. I'm supposed to be one of those people who's going to emulate Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles
and vote for McCain if she isn't the nominee. And I'm supporting Barack Obama. Does this make me a traitor to my sex? I don't think so, and here's why.
From the very beginning, feminist theory was created by comfortable, middle-class white women. I remember the mothers of friends going to consciousness-raising groups. One of these mothers was divorced and had a generous alimony check coming in. Another was a psychologist who, along with her husband, had a very nice income. It was all about what female executives get paid and about sexism in the language and things that really don't matter one whit to the waitress at the diner who left her abusive husband, cleans house during the day and waits tables at night to support her kids, and lives in fear every day that he's going to come in and kill her right when she's pouring the coffee.
I would point out to you, zuzu, that the examples you provide in your post are similarly about the concerns of middle-class white women: The female president of a package manufacturer talking about how male executives view Hillary. The low percentage of women with full partnerships in law firms. A Ph.D. who can't find a full-time job at a local college. It isn't that these concerns aren't important, but they are a symptom of a kind of myopia that has been an integral part of feminism since the very beginning. It isn't just about climbing the corporate ladder, and it isn't just about abortion rights. But you'd never know that if you look at the history of feminism.
I remember the women that Betty Friedan wrote about. I remember the women who stayed home and drank because they were smart and creative but in the late 1950's and early 1960's to buck expectations and take a job were out of the question unless you truly didn't care what the neighbors thought. What grieves me about young feminists is that you have grown up in a world that isn't anywhere near that limited, but I often see in you a sense of victimization that is completely at odds with any notion of female empowerment. Yes, zuzu is absolutely correct that the language that people, mostly men, often use when talking about Hillary is an indicator of how they feel about women in general. Yes, sexism is pervasive in our society, and as the available pie gets smaller, it's going to become more so -- and that is the main reason why the biggest mistake of early feminism was in painting men as the enemy, instead of as fellow victims in a corrupt system.
But you can't have it both ways with Hillary, and you can't have it both ways with yourselves. Hillary cannot want to be seen as a strong, capable female leader and then cry that she's a victim of sexism by the media -- even though her treatment by people like Chris Matthews has been appalling. But when she and her husband frame every criticism of her as "bullying the woman", they make her weaker, not stronger.
When Branch Rickey brought Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers, he told Robinson that he wanted a player who had the guts not to fight back. It isn't that he wanted Robinson to be a victim of what he knew were the inevitable racial taunts, but he wanted a black player strong enough to not let the taunts get to him, but to answer his critics on the field -- which is exactly what Robinson did. Most of us can't even imagine what it was like to be Jackie Robinson that year, when he not only took abuse from opposing teams and the fans, but even some of his own teammates. But Jackie Robinson didn't go before the press and cry that people were picking on him, he just went out there and hit .297, led the National League in stolen bases and won the first-ever Rookie of the Year Award.
Sexism IS ingrained in our society. But we have been talking about sexism in the language for thirty years, and there are still women making beds in nursing homes for twelve hours a day and then going home and sending their kids to McDonalds for a Dollar Menu meal because it's a six-mile walk to a grocery store. And there are women who used to work on assembly lines whose jobs no longer exist. And there are women trapped in terrible marriages because they have no skills. And there are women in the military being raped by their commanding officers. And frankly, they have been largely ignored by feminists who for thirty years have been parsing language and talking about professorships and law partnerships and the number of female CEOs.
Hillary Clinton is a woman who has been treated appallingly by the press, and by many of the citizens of the country she hopes to lead. But she is also a corporatist; a woman who refuses to acknowledge the huge role being played by the for-profit insurance industry in rising medical costs and is willing to garnish the paychecks of low-wage Americans to continue to pour money into this corrupt system. She is a woman who has had cozy relationships with outsourcing companies that send high-paying American jobs to India where lower-paid employees, some of them women, are already showing the stress illnesses of Americans. She is a woman who for reasons I simply cannot fathom, inflated a photo-op visit to a war zone into something approaching combat, when she should have known full well that someone was going to find the video. And then she sends her husband out there to do her dirty work for her.
Hillary Clinton may be the first viable woman candidate for president, but she is no feminist icon. And to dump all of feminism's credibility into this particular vessel is a huge mistake over the long term.
I think about another woman who went into politics with less fanfare but who represent female empowerment far more than Hillary Clinton does: Carolyn McCarthy
, whose husband was killed and son injured on a Long Island Railroad commuter train and is in her 11th year in Congress as a leading gun control advocate. McCarthy has never once painted herself as a victim, and has held onto a Congressional seat that opponents once ridiculed as a sympathy seat. You want a political female icon? You could do worse than Carolyn McCarthy.
There is nothing that any generation hates more than the previous generation saying, "You kids don't appreciate what we dod for you, blah blah blah." My father-in-law fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and this was a frequent litany. We of course hated it. But I am saying to you young feminists right now: Don't make the same mistakes that the early feminists did. Don't focus on minutiae to the exclusion of the big picture. Right now there are issues that affect all of us -- male and female, rich and poor. It's not about gender this year, it's about our place in the world and about economics -- economics that victimize poor, working-class and middle-class men and women alike. You do us no favors by making this election about how Hillary is being treated and about language. Resist the temptation to succumb to victimhood-by-grievance. If you believe that Hillary Clinton is the better candidate, than of course you should support her. But recognize that if she is to be a viable candidate in November, she cannot use the politics of victimhood to advance herself as a strong candidate. Because strong leadership does not say "Oh, poor me."
The last thing the Democratic Party needed this year was a watershed election pitting a black man and a white woman against each other. This is why I said earlier to vote for the southern white guy. The grievance battles in this campaign have obscured the more important need to kick the Republicans out of Dodge at least long enough to fix the huge mess they've made of everything. But frankly, I'm not seeing Obama's supporters crying racism the way I'm seeing Hillary Clinton's supporters crying about the mean bullying men picking on their girl.
Polls say that over a quarter of Hillary Clinton's supporters and one in ten Barack Obama supporters will not vote for the other candidate and may in fact vote for John McCain. These people are idiots. If you think for one minute that John McCain is going to advance any kind of feminist agenda, you'd better sit down, have a cup of tea, and think again. Because if you think the media are being mean to all women by being mean to Hillary Clinton, wait till you see what two more Supreme Court justices like Samuel Alito are going to do to you.
Labels: feminism, Hillary Clinton