Still a man's world

Monday, January 07, 2008

Terrance and I - like many Americans (I hope!) had a heated discussion regarding the primary elections.

As we have both lived in New Hampshire for several election cycles, we are intimately familiar with the primary process. We have gone to private house meetings for chats with candidates. We have attended rallies and speeches. We giggle to see people we know extremely well show up on CNN for sound bites about the New Hampshire primary.

I am registered as a Democrat. Terrance? One of those New Hampshire "Independents" that you hear so much about. Truth is, I don't think he could register as a socialist so he chose the next best thing.

While I have been a life long, faithful Democrat, that doesn't mean I always support the presumptive nominee. I voted for Howard Dean in the last primary - and Bill Bradley before that. Neither got the party nomination, but I voted my conscious.

We are both excited to watch this primary. Regardless of whether you support one candidate or another, it seems for the first time in a long time that we have got several well qualified people from which to choose. Bill Richardson? Love him. Kucinich? Really love him. Barack? Like him well enough, and Hillary.

Hillary is where Terrance and I had the bulk of our discussion.

Terrance wondered if the "likeability" factor that has been discussed so frequently is truly a factor, or if this is simply a veiled way of saying something else. Of course, we both worry that white American won't bring themselves to truly vote for a black man...and if they do, they will feel that it wipes the slate of long standing racial inequities clean. As in "Hey, look - I voted for a black guy - See! No racism here!"

The thing that we diverged on was the expectation of women. I contend that Hillary is being held to a vastly different standard because she is a woman. I contend that I understand her tenuous position because I have walked that path, albeit in a less high profile way.

Woman, you see, should both be warm and nurturing - and a hard decision maker.
Women should be friendly, but not too friendly.
Women should be smart - but not intimidatingly smart.
Women should be ambitious - but not so much as a man.
Women should be mothers - but they shouldn't be missing work for reasons around their kids.

My husband looked at me and said "Really? You really think so?"

Good Lord. Has he lived with me at all for the past 17 years? Has he not seen me struggle with the opposing roles that I try to play to the extreme cost of my inner self?

And the answer? Of course he has. He has seen it all. The difference is the lens that he brings to thinking about the issue. He objectifies some of my experiences as a result of my "personality" or "competence". Which, perhaps in some way, they may be related - but not entirely.

There is a much deeper issue. One that the new feminists need to find a way to talk about more completely, with the nuance of life experiences. In one of my last classes of 80 students, only two stood up when asked who identified themselves as a feminist. Two young women at university!

Hillary has the qualifications to be president. She has the experience. She has the intelligence and the energy.

But she won't be president. Americans are more comfortable talking about how NOT racist they are rather than dually address the issue of the unfair double standard to which most professional women are held. Amazingly, they are more comfortable grabbing the third rail of racism than to have a true discussion about the role and value of women in American society.

Barack Obama may be black, but he's still a man.

13 Baleful Regards:

Anonymous said...

You are so right. Today's Yahoo headline was something like "Hilary Tearfully Vows to Continue the Fight in New Hampshire." First of all, no other candidates are referred to by their first name (which, granted, may have something to do with distinguishing her from her husband), but really? Tearfully? Of course they'll dully note that she forms tears, like a weak woman.

As I heard a feminist scholar state in a Jim Lehrer interview, there are multiples of negative words for a woman's strong personality and voice (shrill, bitchy, catty, shrieking, etc.), while all the negatively connotated words for a brash, forceful male are complimentary. All of them.

The best society has come up with to compliment successful women is this: independent. Gee thanks.


Mitzi Green said...

unfortunately, you're right. i said more or less the same thing to my husband recently--"sammy davis jr. (black and jewish but male) would be elected to office before any woman in this country."

Anonymous said...

Seriously I'm appalled that the sex/race thing is that big of a deal. I don't give a rats ass about the package our next leader comes in, I want a good leader. I'm unhappy with all of our choices at the moment. ERG!

Jaelithe said...

When I was in high school and college, and my female friends used to tell me they weren't feminists, I would say, "Do you ever plan to vote? Would you prefer the right to divorce a husband who abused you or cheated on you? Do you like the idea of being able to own property in your own name? Do you think that you should be paid just as much as a man for doing the same work, with the same level of experience and education?"

When they inevitably answered "Yes," to every single one of these questions, I would say, "Well then, you are a feminist, whether you like it or not."

I think I won some converts with that speech. I really do.

As far as Hillary goes, I agree with you entirely that she is being unfairly treated by the media, and by many ordinary members of the public. I also would LOVE to vote for a woman president.

However, I can't bring myself to support her. I am angry with her for never seriously admitting she made a mistake in voting for the Iraq war. I am frustrated by her apparent current attitude that the best way to bring about progressive change for the country is to chip away slowly at the establishment using establishment methods (an attitude, which, sadly and ironically, I believe she has arrived at largely because she was so consistently, unfairly roadblocked in her earnest efforts early on in her career by people who mocked and demeaned her because she was an assertive woman).

And I'm tired of political dynasties.

This is why I personally prefer both Obama and Edwards to Hillary. But it's hard for me to turn away from her, because I do understand what she has been through. I wish that instead of one woman candidate, there were three or five woman candidates to choose from.

Anonymous said...

I believe you're correct on this one, Dawn. Many will jump on the Obama band-wagon to "prove" they are not racist. While my husband is a bit different than most, he refuses to vote Obama. The reason, not because he's black, that has NOTHING to do with it, it's his sur name sounding too much like Osama. Plus, he thinks Hilary would do a good job. I think she'd do a good job too, but I'm still up in the air.

Jaelithe said...

Okay, Edwards is off my list now because of what he said today about Clinton's "tearful episode" (as the media portrayed it. He said:

"I think what we need in a commander-in-chief is strength and resolve, and presidential campaigns are tough business, but being president of the United States is also tough business."

Sweet merciful heavens. I hope John Edwards's wife smacked him. I really do. And it looks like the women of New Hampshire agree with me, because they voted for HRC in droves today and Edwards has slipped behind.

Lisa said...

Wow. To be a fly on the wall at your house. Sounds like a facinating discussion!

Bobita said...

Yep. I agree 100%.

I am also 100% sad and disappointed that only 2 women stood up in your class. Damn.

Anonymous said...

As a NH voter, I can't tell you all how glad I am that the primary is OVER! I can answer my phones again, and it won't take a u-haul to empty my mailbox.
That being said - I voted for Edwards. I would dearly love to see Hillary elected president. I fear that she is a polarizing character and will create gridlock because of all the priviledged white men in DC who will stop at nothing to thwart her - as they did her husband.
I voted for Edwards because he was the only one who from the beginning talked about the social justice issues that are No. 1 in my list of issues. Frankly, I think that the outcome in Iraq is going to be pretty much the same regardless of which Democrat wins the office. So that issue really stopped being a touchstone for me.

Today on the radio a woman told the story of her college aged daughter saying that she didn't want to be called a feminist. The mother's response: how ungrateful.

I love that! It is ungrateful. It is also more evidence of the conservative right's strangle hold on the rhetoric. They have made words like feminist and liberal seem distasteful. Personally, I am happy to be called both!!

Anonymous said...

I'm black. I'm a woman. I'm a democrat and I'm a feminist. And I support Obama, not Clinton. And it's not because I'm sexist and I can't stand to see a strong assertive woman in charge. It's not becasuse I'm out to prove to myself and the world how un-racist I am. It's because I like Obama's policies and positions better than Clinton's. I'm just tired of all this white feminism (did you see Gloria Steinem's NYTimes OpEd?) bull crap about how Clinton's strugles are all about sexism and Obama's successes are all about male privledge. So if Clinton wins, it will be because of her merit. But if she loses, it will be because of her gender? Does Obama get the same win/lose pass based on his race? Or does that not count in this contest, because sexism now trumps racism in the "who has it harder" competetion?

I'm not trying to be obnoxious or argumentitive here...I'm just trying to explain how I feel when I hear this kind of argument. It just comes off as a very "white woman" kind of perspective.

Dawn said...

I don't find your comment obnoxious or argumentative. Furthermore, I agree that it is a white woman perspective - which is (sadly) what feminist theory has tended to espouse.

I think what I was trying to think about was some of the things being used specifically against Clinton Because of her gender.

Heck, even Obama has had some of the "You aren't black enough to represent me" rhetoric from the black community - including a friend of ours who worked with him in Chicago and didn't feel he did enough to help the black community.

As a white woman, I am aware of my position of some power within the institutional racism and sexism that is politics. The "soccer mom" vote is not talking about my sister in laws in Detroit - they are talking white middle class white women.

Furthermore, I DO worry that white America would use an Obama candidacy to hide the discussions we have failed to have about race in the United States. I fear that a wave of "see how colorblind we are" would sweep the true discussion we SHOULD be having under the rug. 240 years of institutional racism washed away!

Obama has his own obstacles and challenges - there can be no doubt. Honestly, I would fear for his life as President. Powerful Black men who aren't entertainers have a hell of a time staying alive in America.

Finally, racism doesn't trump sexism - or vice versa. Both are forms of an institutional, systematic oppression which keeps One class of people (white men) in charge of a majority of the resources. We need to find a way to talk about both (all) without it being a "who has had it harder" discussion. In fact, I am of the opinion that the issue of these "Ism's" can not be solved individually.

White people MUST understand the issue of white privilege in our society and the consequences of this inaction. Men MUST understand the issue of male/female power dynamics and how it influences the workplace and policies. No one can escape this discussion.

Maybe I said this better in the next post?

Anonymous said...

Hey Dawn. It’s me from 4:10 PM again. Thanks for thinking about what I said and for responding. I really appreciate that. Now that I have a little distance (yesterday I read your post like 5 minutes after I read the Steinem article and I was already feeling kind of pissed off and mouthy), I think that what I should have said was, I don't disagree with your basic argument about Clinton and sexism and the crazy double standards that professional women are held to. I'm with you on that 100%. All the hub-bub about her "crying" makes me want to hurl. What I had a problem with was the way you compared Clinton's gender-based struggles with Obama's race-based ones. Because I think those kinds of comparisons are unnecessary, unhelpful and divisive. The line about how "Barack Obama may be black, but he's still a man," really set me off.

Upon reflection, I can see that you weren't really trying to compare institutional injustices. As I re-read, it looks like you were taking about America's comparative willingness to examine our racism and sexism. Which I think is an interesting question to look at. And a productive one.

Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I want to apologize for being a bit snarky yesterday. I was already on edge when I read your post, and a lot of the attitude you got was really was in response to the Steinem article, (where she basically said that if it weren't for his male privilege, Obama wouldn't even be a consideration in this campaign, but then said NOTHING about the ways in which Clinton's white privilege has benefited her). But I shouldn't have taken that out on you.

Daisy said...

I struggle with this, too. One campaign issue that really bothers the feminist in me: why does Clinton get called by her first name and all the men by their last? Don't tell me it's because of her husband; Bill's not on the ballot this time.

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