Tuesday, September 30, 2008

as far as national conversations go, this one is a bust

What gets me is that a woman, a mother, and a politician can run for president, on her own merits, garner over seventeen million votes*, come close to earning the nomination of her party, all the while withstanding naturalized sexism and repeated barbs about her appearance, attire, and physical attributes, and only now are we having a "national conversation" about motherhood, sexism, feminism, and politics.

How insulting.
How shallow.

What gets me is that a party which, in recent memory, has done little or nothing to promote or support the cause of women's rights or cast light on women's issues in a meaningful manner, and that historically spent much time vilifying that very same woman, mother, and politician, is now crying "sexism" and acting like champions for the cause of the True American Woman.

How tactless.
How dishonest.

What gets me is that they are getting away with it.

Feminism is not the idea that any woman will do, and feminism is not about a free pass for individuals based on gender**. Feminism is a thoughtful and critical philosophy stating that women are entitled to the same rights and considerations that men receive. Feminism respects women’s choices, but feminism demands that there actually be choices. A feminist will stand up for a woman who has been the object of discrimination, harassment, or violence because of her gender, but it does not mean that women are not to be criticized.

Oh, and feminism does not mean that conservative women are not to be be criticized.

Just as Barack Obama being a black man is not to be considered in a reasoned discussion regarding race in America, Hillary Clinton being a white woman was not to be considered in a reasoned discussion of gender in America. To do so would be "playing the race card" in Senator Obama's case and "whining" in Senator Clinton's case.

Why, then, is Governor Palin not whining when the McCain campaign and its myriad of female spokespeople cry "sexism?" Why is it different now, now that it's not about Hillary Clinton? Why has the clearly political choice of a token woman prompted this "national conversation?"

The right wants it both ways: criticizing Governor Palin is "sexist," criticizing Senator Clinton was "playing hardball." Being a liberal, working mother will bring about the downfall of moral America; being a conservative, working mother is a strong choice. The GOP wants Governor Palin's family off the table, while they trot them out at every opportunity. They tout "family values" including abstinence*** and then praise their candidate for being brave when her family contradicts those values. What if the tables were turned? The right bashes Michelle Obama for being too smart and calls her a "baby mama," so what if Senator Obama's daughters were older, and one of them turned up as an unwed pregnant teen? Imagine that "national conversation." Think the right would not use race and gender as two cards in their game?

Governor Palin is neither a feminist nor a champion for women's rights. Governor Palin is a female politician of the kind that men can handle: she's a guy's gal. She has not earned a position on the national political stage, she was given one because of her gender (and religion), and she would not have been given that place were it not for Hillary Clinton and her high profile and vote-getting campaign for president.

Their praise of Governor Palin is implicit criticism of Senator Clinton. They are still talking about clothes and make up. How is this progress? To them, Senator Clinton was not a true woman, and this becomes clear if you think about the long thread of Hillary Hatred coming from the right. It's truly bizarre at the same time that it is stunningly boring. Conservatives disliking a strong, powerful woman? How fresh! How new and engaging! How not sexist!

The sexism here is that the media and the right were allowed to batter Hillary Clinton remorselesly then turn around and choose an unqualified woman for their second spot. The sexism is that the right thinks that almost any woman will do. The sexism is that many women are falling for it, and many men are feeling self-important for supporting *gasp* a woman in the vice presidential spot. The sexism is that Walter Mondale chose a woman in that same spot in 1984, but Governor Palin is being hailed for breaking the glass ceiling.

Whoever heard of anything being broken by something so passive and flacid? It's like taking a Q-Tip to a mirror and expecting to make a scratch. The Old Boy's Club in the GOP opened the window, pulled her into their smoky back room, and closed it right back up. Nothing breaking there.

Choosing Govenor Palin was cynical and sexist, and it's an insult to the women's movement. The whole conversation is sexist, with the underlying theme that Governor Palin is the anti-Hillary. Even though both women are working mothers who are attractive and wear lipstick, the right wants their women to reflect the proper ideal of feminity, which apparently must include subservience on the one hand and ruthless narcisism on the other. This conversation is setting the women's movement back because, once again, it seems that it is being defined by "traditionalists" and, heaven forbid I use the term, the patriarchy. It is being defined by men who have had little experience with women's issues and the women who love them.

The difference between a pit bull and a hockey mom is that pitbulls are routinely destroyed in animal shelters because they are pitbulls, and hockey moms are a breed the establishment can handle.

And what gets me is that America is falling for it.

*It was difficult for me to quickly find an accurate number. Any search I put in with the term "Hillary Clinton" came up with a lot of right-wing criticism, including Rush Limbaugh. See? The right loves women, simply adores them. Look how much they talk about Senator Clinton!

**The term "gender" is used here in a strictly biological sense. Modern feminism includes many critical discussions of gender as a social construct, and modern feminism must also address trans-gender issues.

***Abstinence as a family value is, of course, ridiculous.

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