Thursday, January 10, 2008

Political Venting

One of the things I've liked about the democratic campaigns this year is a slight increase in the candidate's general abillity to focus on the issues, rather than stereotypes. Despite the press' repeatedly stating the obvious - Hillary Clinton is female, Barak Obama is black - the candidates themselves are usually able to focus on the issues. I think this is resonating with democratic voters, which is precisely why those two are the front-runners for their party. The voters I've spoken with bear this out. They generally seem to be saying that while it would be a very cool thing to have the first (insert pertinent adjective) President, they are primarily concerned with electing the best person to do the job, and the rest is a bonus.

So I was rather annoyed by this article in the New York Times by Gloria Steinem, basically arguing that women should all vote for Hillary because women are more disadvantaged than African-Americans:
"So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects “only” the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more “masculine” for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren’t too many of them); and because there is still no “right” way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what."
Of course, she then qualifies her argument:
"I’m not advocating a competition for who has it toughest. The caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together. That’s why Senators Clinton and Obama have to be careful not to let a healthy debate turn into the kind of hostility that the news media love. Both will need a coalition of outsiders to win a general election. The abolition and suffrage movements progressed when united and were damaged by division; we should remember that."
Is it just me, or does this sound like the old line, "I'm not prejudiced, but (insert prejudiced statement here)?" The entire article makes the point that Hillary should be supported simply because she's female, and indeed implies that young female democratic voters only supported Obama over Clinton because they just don't get it:
"What worries me is that some women, perhaps especially younger ones, hope to deny or escape the sexual caste system; thus Iowa women over 50 and 60, who disproportionately supported Senator Clinton, proved once again that women are the one group that grows more radical with age."
Reaction in the feminist blogosphere has been swift to condemn Steinem:

Alas, a Blog posted a cartoon basically summing up Steinem's article in two panels, saying: "I'm not advocating a competition on who has it toughest, blacks or women . . . but let's not forget how much harder sexism is on Clinton than racism is on Obama."

Angry Black Bitch has some great quotes:
"What country does Gloria live in where race barriers are taken seriously? I’d love to know…shit, maybe I’ll move there. . . . [T]his article is soaked in the fluid of competition. It reeks of frustration that I fear is born from a place of entitlement even though it is dressed in the language of the oppressed."

I also love her conclusion:

I agree with Ms. Steinem that we have to be able to say that we are supporting her, a woman candidate, 'because she would be a great president and because she is a woman.'

But we also have to be able to say I’m not supporting her because I’ve evaluated her and examined her resume without being labeled a victim or self hating or not radical enough or not feminist enough or easily dazzled by great oratory skills or more black than woman or just too darn stupid to do what Ms. Steinem thinks we should do.

But my favorite has got to be the response on Tiny Cat Pants entitled "Gloria Steinem, With All Due Respect, Kiss My Butt." Excerpts:
I, as a voter, will be voting for the politician I think best able to be president. That might be Clinton; it might not be. . . . You see, just because someone has a vagina, it doesn’t make them good people. . . .

Did it not once cross your mind the deaths of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner happened in 1964–over four decades after we–you and me, white women–got the right to vote?

Did it never occur to you that black women didn’t, by and large, enjoy the same right to vote our foremothers did? And that you, by framing it as some kind of competition for who has it the worst–black men or “women”–basically just said to every black woman in America, “My experience as a woman is the experience of women in America, not yours.”

I mean, it’s gross that you would, after saying out of your own mouth, that you’re not advocating a competition for who has it the toughest, turn right around and use your column to advocate a competition for who has it the toughest, with Hillary Clinton as the winner, but to just basically erase a whole swatch of history you lived through in order to do it?

Shame on you.

My take: there are some voters who will align themselves with a candidate simply because they share a common characteristic. This impulse is particularly strong when that characteristic can be seen as a stigma. There are myriad reasons for this: the commonality of mutual experience, a feeling of shared values, and a perception that the candidate will 'stand up for their own' all play a significant role. So I don't think we'll ever completely extinguish that impulse. That said, I'd love to see prejudice itself eradicated. It would be wonderful to have an election in which there is no question as to whether a well-qualified candidate is "electable" simply because of their race, gender, or religion.

That's why, regardless of politics, it is nice to see that the candidates themselves are focusing more on the issues, and - at least in comparison with past elections - downplaying the (insert minority status) card. It's nice to see the voters talking more about the candidate's positions than their physical appearance. And although it was more than a little insulting to Iowans (including me) that the nation was totally astonished our democratic voters would in fact place Obama first and Hillary second when there was a fairly viable white male available in Edwards, I really enjoyed that we disproved their bigoted assumptions we're all corn-fed, backwater, redneck white hicks who wouldn't know an issue if it bit us in the ass.

As for this election: Steinem thinks that by voting for anyone else, I'm obviously denying my own gender, hoping to be exempted from sexism because I'm simply too naive to recognize the pervasiveness of male privilege? That in order to be a "real woman" I must vote for Clinton simply because she possesses a vagina? And that if I, or the rest of the "younger" women, don't agree with her on this (or indeed on any substantive issue) it's because we're just not smart enough to get the facts through our pretty little heads? Now that's some prejudice.


I definitely spoke too soon.

No matter what the election, it seems sooner or later every candidate is bound to really annoy me on every level. PS to black Iowans: apparently you don't exist.


Okay, that's a theme: stop the "silliness".


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