Rambling Thoughts on Feminism and Politics

Not to make this a “pile on Hillary” kind of weekend, but a quote I saw a week or so ago has been nagging at me.

To feminist writer Linda Hirshman, Clinton’s likely defeat signals a harsh reality that future female candidates will need to consider.

“It shows how fragile the loyalty and commitment of women to a female candidate is. That’s a pretty scary thing,” says Hirshman. “She can count on the female electorate to divide badly and not be reliable.”

That’s a definition of feminism that I don’t understand. In act, it sounds a lot more like essentialism. As a woman who has spent a good portion of her life making her way in male-dominated fields – and as a Jew, to boot – I have an extreme distaste for any ideology that assumes that group characteristics are identical and unalterable.

And yet …. it would make me happy to see a woman elected President, I can’t lie. It would also make me happy to see a Jewish President, although frankly I think that’s even less likely to happen in my lifetime. Still, that doesn’t mean I’m going to put gender or religious characteristics ahead of everything else on the table. Especially when it comes to something as important as a Presidential election.

I’m one of the first generation of American women to be born and raised in a world where women actually had the option to escape the constraints they’d previously been limited to. Is that why I do not feel the pull of identity politics? I consider myself a feminist. Does being a “good” feminist mean that I must vote for a woman candidate solely because of her gender? I don’t think so, but clearly some other women do.

How did things get to this place? And more important, can we fix it?

8 thoughts on “Rambling Thoughts on Feminism and Politics”

  1. Interesting post, Rachel. I agree with you. I am ecstatic that a black man and a woman are the candidates for my party. Hirshman’s observation is simplistic and flawed and could be shot down with a little high school logical analysis. That Hillary got so far, and that she tanked so colossally, has very little to do with her gender. And she did a great job for a long time in the face of deep rooted gender stereotypes that pervade this country.

    Joe Lieberman was almost presidential material, but with his brand of family values Judaism, and, well, his politics, I wouldn’t want him as president. I will be deeply saddened though if another clueless, old, white conservative takes the White House.

  2. Isn’t politics supposed to be about policies, not personalities? Not that there has been much truth to that for a long time, thanks to the press. All those personal attacks between candidates seem to be expected by many…

    Through all of this campaign, Obama seems to have maintained his dignity, while Clinton has tried every trick in the book (remember the pictures ‘leaked’ showing Obama in traditional Arab garb?) to grind the shine off of Obama. Seems to me that often all she’s actually managed to do is add more depth to his patina.

    The smart voter votes on policies and attitudes. The less considering voter votes because of religion, colour, gender and, of course, party lines. Seems to me Hirshman needs to stop treating her gender as a single group that is incapable of making informed decisions.

  3. Saw this article and thought of your post:

    “At the dawn of the Democratic primary race between Barack and Hillary, news anchors like ABC’s Diane Sawyer were caught up in the question: Is America more poisoned by racism or sexism? If, like ABC, you think the country is still dragging its knuckles in the primordial slime, then the expected primary victory of Obama provides the answer: The country is more sexist.

    Hillary’s now playing this card, even including the national media as accomplices, as the rest of the poker palace is emptying out.”

    (from http://news.yahoo.com/s/uc/20080523/cm_uc_crbbox/op_236196;_ylt=AiCVH3bPjnCZa73tr1ur40v9wxIF)

    Playing gender or race cards seems very desperate to me.

  4. Linda Hirshman lives in another world, though… different generation, different situation, different perception of self… from the Wikipedia bio:

    “Linda Redlick Hirshman (born April 26, 1944 in Cleveland, Ohio) is a lawyer, feminist, and the author of The Woman’s Guide to Law School and Hard Bargains: The Politics of Sex. She is a retired Distinguished professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies at Brandeis University. She holds a law degree from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in philosophy. She has written for a variety of periodicals, including Glamour, Tikkun, Ms., the ABA Journal, and the Boston Globe.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_Hirshman

    Someone who has lived that type of life may well see people in terms of groups, not as individuals.

    By the way, here’s interesting data on heights of presidents and candidates:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_heights_of_United_States_presidential_candidates

  5. “Playing gender or race cards seems very desperate to me.”

    Guess no one has the nuts to tell her she’s just not good enough 😉

  6. Rachel, shut up and fall in line. As the only female presidential candidate in history, everything that happens to Sen. Clinton defines the present and future for women in America. And everything that happens to her is completely out of her control, because the system and culture are sexist and conspiring to keep her out of office.

    P.S.: Stop calling Sen. Clinton by her first name. She’s not a sex doll.

  7. @seamus – Bawahaha!

    I do think some of what’s been said about HRC is sexist, but that doesn’t make the rest of it invalid as well.

  8. @seamus – I think you’re being sarcastic, but in case you’re not… Hilary’s own campaign calls her by her first name. Go to her web site and it says “Hilary for America” where Obama’s says “Obama ’08”. If the Hilary campaign wants to bitch about that one they can start saying “Clinton for America” – thing is, there’s a reason why they’re not doing that (Bill), and “Senator Clinton for America” just doesn’t work for a presidential campaign.

    However, I do agree that when professional news writers have their anchors call Obama “Senator Obama” and Hilary “Mrs. Clinton” – there’s sexism at work. But saying she’s losing because she’s a woman is completely disingenuous – it assumes the two candidates are otherwise equal when they’re not.

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