Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Do I Dare To Eat A Peach II?

The reason for the titles of this post and the one below is that the particular line echoed in my head when I read the responses by Amanda at Pandagon and Ann at to Robin Morgan's "Goodbye To All That (#2)." Both Ann and Amanda reacted strongly to this statement in Morgan's piece:

Goodbye to a misrepresented generational divide . . .

Goodbye to the so-called spontaneous "Obama Girl" flaunting her bikini-clad ass online—then confessing Oh yeah it wasn't her idea after all, some guys got her to do it and dictated the clothes, which she said "made me feel like a dork."
Goodbye to some young women eager to win male approval by showing they're not feminists (at least not the kind who actually threaten the status quo), who can't identify with a woman candidate because she is unafraid of eeueweeeu yucky power, who fear their boyfriends might look at them funny if they say something good about her. Goodbye to women of any age again feeling unworthy, sulking "what if she's not electable?" or "maybe it's post-feminism and whoooosh we're already free." Let a statement by the magnificent Harriet Tubman stand as reply. When asked how she managed to save hundreds of enslaved African Americans via the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, she replied bitterly, "I could have saved thousands—if only I'd been able to convince them they were slaves."

Ann's response:

This is all incredibly offensive to me -- not because of who I support in the presidential primary, but because of who I am. A younger woman. A younger feminist woman.

The above section of Morgan's essay is incredibly condescending. It completely fails to recognize that there are a variety of valid reasons younger women might decide to support Obama. Not because they think the "Obama Girl" video is empowering. (Uh, to the contrary.) Not because their boyfriends told them it wasn't cool to vote for Hillary. Not because they're "post-feminist." Not because they are in denial about the existence of sexism. Because they've taken a look at his position on the issues and decided that he would make the best president.

And Amanda's:

Usually when I'm being accused of being some tee-heeing bimbo who is only playing at politics, it's usually by some conservative white dude who can't think his way out of a paper bag, but feels entitled to believe his every thought is gold served up with caviar. Hearing it from a fellow feminist, someone I recall was a brilliant radical feminist when she was my age, is shocking. I know Morgan probably doesn't know me from Eve, and thus I shouldn't take it personally. But it still hurts tremendously. I'm not shaking in fear of my boyfriend finding out that I'm a feminist (I think he knows), nor am I afraid to talk up Clinton's strong points to men. I do it all the time, and haven't gotten any funny looks, even though I'm prone to phrasing things in provocative ways. (Favorite talking point: "She'd probably be a better President than her husband.")

These are strongly worded reactions to a strongly worded paragraph (though I don't think that Morgan was addressing young feminist women in that paragraph). My initial idea was to write one of those soothing can't-we-all-get-along post on the topic, the type that I'm so good at writing and being ignored for. But after an hour or so I realized that I couldn't write that post without coming across schoolmarmish. I also realized, to my great astonishment, that although I think I get the points of both Robin and of Ann and Amanda I can't really cook them together into some nice feminist pie. What is, is.

But what I can do, perhaps, is to point out a reason for the anger of many older feminists when they discuss feminist support for Barack Obama.

It has to do with the one obvious success story of the second wave of feminism: that of getting the doors opened for women who wanted to participate in the upper eschelons of our society. Granted, those doors were mostly only opened for white upper-class women, but opened they were. Or at least left ajar.

One important strategy in that battle was to push "first women", women who were going to hold some job never previously held by women. Remember that thirty years ago most medical school or law school classes had very few women and that both the boardrooms of corporations and the U.S. Congress were pretty much stuffed with penises (peni?). Each new "first woman" gave cause of celebration, because her existence was a sign of changing times and because having women in powerful roles worked to diminish the stereotypes of women as weak and over-emotional and only suitable for being helpmates. In that sense the "first women" helped to diminish the general level of sexism in the society. At least they offered ammunition to those women who wanted to argue back to the misogynist comments about women's feather-brainedness.

That the success of opening up the public sphere of women was only partial goes without saying. But that it was a success is why the younger women today can take a medical school class that is fifty percent female as just a statistical number, with no special significance.

Now move fast forward to the present time, one where a woman is running for the Democratic nomination in the presidential race, a woman whose record on policies concerning women is quite good. How would a feminist not voting for her look like from the place where the second wave strategy of pushing "first women" resides? Note that I'm not arguing that this particular strategy is necessarily the correct one today or that it even necessarily was the best possible one forty years ago, only that I can understand why ignoring its successes (whether permanent or not remains to be seen) could be very painful for those who worked for them.