Friday, March 28, 2008

If Clinton gave a speech on gender (by Suzie)

     People have asked: What if Hillary Clinton gave a speech on gender? Some consider the answer laughable
      Slate suggests she can’t because she has been “on the wrong side of the gender wars.” To them, gender wars revolve around marital fidelity, and Clinton is a traitor for not supporting the women her husband screwed. (Here’s another version.)
      I've imagined an alternate universe in which Clinton does give a speech on gender, and I’ve based it on Barack Obama’s speech and situation. Here’s the alternate-universe news coverage:
      Pundits across America have hailed Sen. Hillary Clinton’s speech on gender, praising her bravery for bringing the subject into the open. Many have expressed hope that this speech will open a dialogue between men and women.
       Many male supporters hailed the candidacy of a woman they hope can transcend gender, uniting men and women. (Clinton has gotten almost all the female votes since her supporters accused her opponent of playing the gender card. Although her opponent praised former Rep. Martha Griffiths, he said it took LBJ to push through the Civil Rights Act. His spouse also called Clinton’s position on the war a fairytale. Many women consider these comments insensitive, at best.)  
       Clinton gave her speech in response to criticism of her longtime pastor, the Rev. Geraldine Wright, who recently retired from a megachurch that calls itself “gynocentric” and “unashamedly female.” Video clips show the pastor encouraging parishioners to condemn America for its mistreatment of women. In other sermons, Wright said patriarchy devised childbirth as a way to keep women home; America’s support of aggressive, male-dominated leaders contributed to 9/11; and Clinton’s opponent never had to worry about being called the C word.
        Some have accused Wright of spreading falsehoods and reverse sexism. But many women say men don’t understand their churches.
        In her speech, Clinton said our democracy was “stained by the original sin” of patriarchy. She noted that it took many years before men granted women the right to their own wages, let them make decisions about their own bodies, enter into contracts without the permission of a male relative, etc. Although the Declaration of Independence declared “all men were created equal,” the Constitution was later amended to specify men by gender. Men never went to war over women’s rights. Instead, women and men have waged what may be the largest and longest peaceful movement in history, even though women continue to face daily violence from men.
       From the beginning, her campaign has continued that struggle, Clinton said. She has had privileges but also seen much sexism. In the veins of her parents runs the blood of sexist men as well as women who endured sexism, and she knows her daughter will face sexism, too.
Although considered a woman, she said she could not deny that she inherited half her genes from her father.
       She said her campaign has built a powerful coalition of men and women who hunger for unity. Her campaign has never been about gender, but her opponent’s campaign has brought it up. She said some people who “harbor some deep-seated gender bias” have treated her campaign like “an exercise in affirmative action.”
        She blamed the media for seeking to polarize men and women, including women of different races. She criticized female commentators who have attacked her for acting too much like a woman or not enough like a woman.
        She strongly condemned Wright’s statements. But she noted her pastor had helped her become a Christian and done many good works. She said the church made her feel pride in being a woman and connected her to the many women in the Bible who suffered and did great deeds.
       She said she could not disown her pastor any more than she could disown all women, even though some are bitter and ignorant. Similarly, she said, she could not disown her grandfather, who once admitted that he didn’t always take women seriously and some times uttered gender stereotypes that made her cringe.
       Because of the controversy over her pastor, Clinton said, people must now face sexism, or else it will be impossible to fix problems in health care, education and employment. She talked about how women once were denied the same education, how they were barred from jobs in police and fire departments, how they were excluded from unions, and how they couldn’t own property or get loans. This helps explain why gender disparities still exist. Lack of opportunity for women has eroded the family, and welfare may have worsened this, she said. Lack of services in poor areas has created a cycle of poverty among some women.
        She said older women like her and her pastor grew up in a time of legal discrimination, and it’s a wonder that so many have done well. But there are many others who were beaten down by sexism and ended up on the streets or in prison. Gender and sexism continue to shape the worldview even of women who have succeeded. Older ones remember the humiliation and doubt and fear; their anger and bitterness remains. They express it when they’re together even though they may not say anything around men. Some politicians, who have nothing else to offer, exploit that to get elected. That anger is not always productive, but men need to understand its roots.
         Similarly, some men don’t feel privileged. When they hear a woman has gotten a good job, to make up for past discrimination, or when they’re told that they’re sexist for being uncomfortable around lots of women, they get resentful. Men may not express this resentment publicly, but politicians have built coalitions of resentful men. Conservative commentators and talk show hosts have built careers by exposing “political correctness” while ignoring the real harms of sexism.
        Women must continue to seek justice, while working to better themselves. Men must acknowledge sexism and understand that, by helping to change conditions for women, they will help themselves.
         Clinton closed with the example of a young supporter who had organized women to fight for their rights. He didn’t believe women were the cause of society’s problems; he believed everyone needed to work together. An elderly woman said that’s why she supported the Clinton campaign.