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Monday, March 31, 2008

A letter to young feminists
Posted by Jill | 6:30 AM
Gentlewomen:

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.

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20 Comments:
Blogger zuzu said...
Where did you get the idea that I was holding up/rallying behind Clinton as some kind of feminist icon?

I don't give a fuck who you vote for; I just don't want an atmosphere in which misogyny is dismissed or rationalized because it's used against Clinton. Or Ann Coulter, for that matter.

Also, PS: I'm not a "young feminist," really, at this point.

What you said, Jill. I'll link to your post in a little bit.

Anonymous PhysioProf said...
Jill, while there may be those who are painting Clinton in the way that you decry, having read zuzu's post on the topic, I really think you've got it wrong to in any way consider her as representative of that attitude. My reading of her post is that she explicitly disavowed what you accuse her of.

Blogger Jayhawk said...
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.

You had me all the way, Jill, I was with you 100%, but you lost me with that. I respect and you and your opinion, until you disrespect me. I am not an idiot.

I will not vote for someone whom I do not want as the leader of my country. Period. I will not vote for McCain and I will not vote for Clinton.

To stand in a voting booth and state that I want Hillary Clinton to be the leader of the free world is something that I simply will not do, and that does not make me an idiot.

Anonymous ta hussain ta said...
Jayhawk, it makes you a McCain supporter by default. You can argue otherwise, but you'll have to argue over the sound of bombs falling over Teheran.

Anonymous "Fair and Balanced" Dave said...
Whether it's a Hillary nutcracker, or sex club devote and Eliot Spitzer ratter Roger Simon 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.

For the sake of both my sanity and my digestive system, I don't read spend much time reading right-wing blogs but I have not heard of any backlash against Simon for the odious acronym of his 527. On the contrary, I'm sure the T-shirts were big sellers at CPAC and College Republican meetings.

By way of comparison, can you imagine the uproar if some wingnut formed a group with a name such as Citizens Opposing Obama's Nomination (or some equally noxious acronym)?

Only a fool or a conservative (or am I being redundant?) would say that both racism and sexism are not still problems in the US today. It is socially unacceptable to use "the 'N' word" or other racial epithets. However, as has been pointed out on any number of blogs (it's an on-going subject her, Shakesville, Pandagon, Feministing, etc.), people throw around derogatory sexist and misogynistic terms when discussing Hillary without fear of reprisal.

I'm sure there are people who are supporting Hillary primarily because she is a woman just as there are people who are supporting Obama primarily because he's African-American. I have no idea how many of each candidate's supporters is supporting him/her for these reasons.

For the record, I'm a white male. I was a John Edwards supporters and my support for Edwards had nothing to do with either his race or gender. I supported Edwards because of his positions on issues that are the most important to me.

Anonymous ta hussain ta said...
To clarify: I'm not saying anyone should vote for a particular Democrat, but if you don't vote for a Democrat, you might as well be voting for 100 years of war stewarded by a president who can't tell the difference between warring Middle East factions and doesn't care, either. We already have that.

These are your options: vote for the eventual Democratic candidate or abet the further destruction of your country. There is no other option, no matter what you say.

Make peace with it. This is our current reality. I hate it, too, but life is too damn short to wish we'd been dealt a different hand when there's still money on the table.

Blogger Batocchio said...
I don't these concerns are mutually exclusive. The main point of Zuzu's post that I read is that misogyny should be challenged because it's bad for women (and society) in general. Also, that Clinton should be challenged on substance. I agree with both points. Furthermore, as both of you seem to agree, challenging the sexist attacks on Clinton and voting for her hardly need to go together. For just one example, Chris Matthews attacking Hillary Clinton over stupid crap isn't sufficient reason for me to vote for Clinton on its own, but Chris Matthews is an example of a continuing problem (he trashed Gore baselessly, often attacks Dems with Right-wing framing, and is just an ignoramus and a social dinosaur). He needs to be challenged, preferably canned, and America would be better for it.

PBS' Now had an interesting segment earlier this month where an older, feminist woman and her daughter discussed their candidate choices. The mother felt betrayed that her daughter was for Obama when a woman was in the race. I imagine the mother felt Clinton was the better candidate as well, but the reasons she gave in the interview for supporting Clinton were basically gender solidarity. Meanwhile, her daughter, like many of her generation, felt a woman would be president some day soon, and didn't feel obligated to vote for Hillary Clinton when she thought the other candidate was better. I have at least one friend who found herself in a similar dynamic. Other bloggers have covered all the second and third wave feminism divides and debates pretty extensively, not that it's the only dynamic at work.

There are two key points for me. One, the MSM is extremely shallow, especially when it comes to presidential races. They always try to play kingmaker, and their judgment is unfailingly awful. They picked Bush not once, but twice. Whenever the MSM is shallow, regardless of their target, they should be challenged, because making the media be more substantive is a good long-term political strategy, good for the country, and really pretty vital. Two, racism and sexism are important issues that require dedicated advocacy, but they can sometimes mask larger issues of class and power. This relates to the first point. The core issue in both cases is fairness. The individual power dynamics may shift from time to time, with this person or group getting the shaft one day (or for decades, or centuries), but a fair and accurate public discourse and a meritocratic society are certainly goals every liberal can pursue.

Blogger Jayhawk said...
ta hussain ta, it isn't a case of me "supporting McCain by default," it's a case of a system so badly broken that it places the voter in a "lose/lose" position. Perhaps the more badly the system fails the sooner the people will rise up and take their government back from the moneyed elite that have usurped it. In the meanwhile, me "going along" and participating in the broken system is not going to fix it.

The founders pledged "their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor" to give that vote to me and to me alone, not to the Democratic Party.

Blogger Mauigirl said...
I'll have to go read zuzu's post but in the meantime I just want to say thank you for posting this as it will help me explain to friends why I am not supporting Hillary. A friend whose opinion I respect said we should vote for Hillary because it is the "one chance" we'll have to get a woman president in our lifetimes. Well, to be honest, I don't really care, because the way she operates isn't really like a woman. I always felt that one reason a woman would be better is because they would try to see both sides of things and build consensus rather than animosity. She shows none of these supposedly "feminine" traits. Obama does. So I'm voting for him because of the positive attributes of his way of doing things. Whether he is a man or a woman is not the issue for me.

Your points just add to my reasons!

Blogger Bob said...
I have to stand with Jayhawk in that it's a fundamental responsibility of a citizen to vote, to exercise that right. Whether or not it's a voter's responsibility to take the broadest view of the possible consequences of that single vote is certainly something one could argue. & an argument could be made that both Clinton & McCain enforce the coup d'tat of 2000. Not saying it's my position, but I understand it.

Anonymous "Fair and Balanced" Dave said...
mauigirl

A friend whose opinion I respect said we should vote for Hillary because it is the "one chance" we'll have to get a woman president in our lifetimes.

Your friend should get out more. There are a lot of incredibly bright, politically active young women out there. For example, I'm very impressed with Darcy Burner who I think has the potential and leadership skills to become a major force in the Democratic party (and possibly a Presidential contender in a few years).

Hillary isn't the "one chance", she's just the first of what I think will be many women who are strong viable contenders for the Presidency.

Blogger Myrtle June said...
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.


Much of Hillary's support comes in this indirect way. Zuzu specifically states she is not shillin' for hill..... but it is exactly the way many blog are indirectly supporting her.

Hillary understands this and uses ploys to garner defender votes. It is exactly as you say, Jill, not an empowered position, but one of weakness. Identity politics is a Clinton campaign mainstay. She has based her life on what she "should" do and identity politics demands everyone do what they "should" do. She hasn't the first clue who she is, only who she "should" be.

I'm voting for Obama regardless of who "wins" the nomination. In November I will vote for Obama because either Hillary or mccain will bring us more of the same... yes, even in the judiciary. I will never vote for a republican no matter which letter they have after their name.

Hillary's snitfittery about gender is not helping a damn thing in the daily lives of women. And it won't.

Blogger Jayhawk said...
I'm voting for Obama regardless of who "wins" the nomination.

You are an empowered voter, myrtle june. I cannot tell you what a lift your statement gave me. I wish all voters had that kind of understanding of the responsibility of the franchise. You have my respect and admiration.

Wow. I have no idea how many posts I've drafted and discarded trying to say without being snarky what this post says so well.

By all rights I should be a Clinton supporter. I'm an older (age 62), white, female. I read the Feminine Mystique in 1964 and my aunt took me to hear Freidan speak. In 1967 I was a member of a weekly "book and discussion" breakfast that became an early NOW chapter. I think my feminist creds will stand up to scrutiny, and I fervently hope to see a woman president in my lifetime.

But not this woman.

My reasons are a combination of what Jill said and what Mauigirl said:
"I always felt that one reason a woman would be better is because they would try to see both sides of things and build consensus rather than animosity. She shows none of these supposedly "feminine" traits. Obama does."

Overriding both of these is my great disappoint in the wasted opportunity for progressive change that was the Clinton administration.

It's ironic. I always say that given the choice of a President who is evil or a President who is incompetent, I would choose evil. Yet ultimately for me it's not about parsing abilities and experience. It comes down to character and integrity. Maybe I'll have another go at that post after all.

Blogger Jesse Wendel said...
Myrtle June -

If Clinton wins the nomination and we end up with another "Florida" or "Ohio" situation again, and you are a resident in that state... and you won't know till after, that's the problem ...my three daughters of child-baring age and my son of child-making age, are going to come looking for you.

You think there is no difference between McCain and Clinton?

Clearly, you've never tried to keep someone alive after a failed do-it-at-home abortion by a teenage. Yes, they literally DO stick hangers up their vagina through their cervix into their uterus and shove it around, puncturing everything they can find.

Then they start bleeding. Then they bleed some more. Then they bleed some more, Myrtle June.

Eventually, someone panics and calls 911. When I get there, a teenage girl is lying there, and it doesn't look anything like the movies. Sometimes its a slow bleed. Sometimes it smells because of the infection. Those you can tell two rooms away and you know, even if she lives, she's going to lose her uterus and ovaries. But probably she's going to die from the overwhelming sepsis so the impending hysterectomy on a fourteen year-old doesn't matter much.

I have witnessed these.

This isn't Grey's Anatomy.

These are the Justices a President John McCain will appoint to the Supreme Court of the United States where they will promptly overturn Roe v. Wade. And these are the Justices a President Hillary Clinton would never appoint to the Supreme Court of the United States.

You are spreading a right-wing frame, Myrtle, no different than in 2000 when the far-right was in bed with Ralph Nader in Florida and said, "There's no different between a vote for candidate Al Gore and a vote for candidate George Bush."

Was there a difference?

Vote for McCain, you're sentencing this country to suicide. There is an enormous difference, and you are smart enough to know better.

Anonymous ta hussain ta said...
it isn't a case of me "supporting McCain by default," it's a case of a system so badly broken that it places the voter in a "lose/lose" position. Perhaps the more badly the system fails the sooner the people will rise up and take their government back...

So you're saying you can't have what you want so a whole shitload of people are going to have to die for your "principles"? That's Bush's mantra, and it exposes a deeply immature psyche. You're having a tantrum, jayhawk, pure and simple.

You are an empowered voter, myrtle june. I cannot tell you what a lift your statement gave me. I wish all voters had that kind of understanding of the responsibility of the franchise. You have my respect and admiration.

And there it is, the reason women vote against their interests: so some white guy pats her on the head and says, "Good girl."

There's nothing at stake for you, jayhawk. Your beautiful mind will go on being untroubled and women will die, our military will be destroyed and bombs will fall. But your conscience will be clear?

Really?

Anonymous Dave Johnson said...
"I will not vote for someone whom I do not want as the leader of my country. Period. I will not vote for McCain and I will not vote for Clinton."

I have to pipe in here. We went through this with Nader, and now because of thinking like that there are a million Iraqis dead, the economy is a shambles, and think about the people in that stadium after Katrina.

SHAME ON YOU!

My first blog post was "Ralph Nader is a scab." He broke the coalition that was fighting the moneyed interests, and look what happened to us and the world.

There are people not as fortunate as you to whom it MATTERS whether a Republican is in office. You can squabble about perfection, but to working people and people in other parts of the world it MATTERS.

Blogger Mom4BeterAmerica said...
The premise that the opposition to Hillary is about men's fear of castration is a very distorted understanding of feminism. Feminism is a movement that calls for the equality between the sexes. In patriarchal cultures, like ours, women buy into patriarchy too, i.e., that men are more valuable than women. Hillary has infuriated men and women by tapping the unconscious fear of a woman not knowing her place, i.e., challenging the patriarchal notion that men are more valuable than women. Your arguments against Hillary's ascendency to the presidency come from your very narrow -- and popular -- understanding of feminism. As a "maternal" feminist (married and with 2 children) who shares work responsibilities with her husband and is thankful for her minority co-workers and all she learns about the human condition from them -- I reject your patronizing stance toward me as a feminist who supports Hillary Clinton for president.

Blogger Adamgv said...
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