Thursday, September 11, 2008

Some Straight Talk, My Friends

I borrowed that title from the Great Maverick, John McCain, the guy who is so extremely aware of women's issues that he ummed and ahhed through a video on health insurance not covering contraception because he quite clearly couldn't be bothered to have learned even one political soundbite on the issues. Or rather, he was put between the rock and the hard place by the questions because his wingnut puppet-masters don't like women to have any access to contraception but the mainstream voters think contraception is a good thing. What to say, my friends? Well, McCain said "errr" and rubbed his nose as you can see here:

That's not the straight talk bit, although McCain is not a feminist and never has been one. And neither is the Republican Party a party of women's rights. Goddess help me. Did I actually have to write that down? And is the sky now purple in this reality?

What got me going was this:

Quinn & Rose's Rose, whose co-host referred to NOW as the "National Organization for Whores," called Obama a "sexist pig"

Summary: On the Quinn & Rose radio show, co-host Rose Tennent claimed that Sen. Barack Obama's remark regarding Sen. John McCain's policies, "[Y]ou can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig," was directed at Gov. Sarah Palin. After saying she was "offended" and "appalled" by Obama's remark, Tennent stated, "You know what, you're a pig, you're a chauvinist pig is what you are, Barack." On previous shows, Tennent's co-host Jim Quinn introduced a segment about Sen. Hillary Clinton by playing the song "The Bitch Is Back" and referred to the National Organization for Women as the "National Organization for Whores."

Feminism is being used in this election campaign. It's a weapon, it's something to ridicule, it's a way of getting votes from both those who admire Osama bin Laden for his views on women and from disgruntled Hillary voters. Now you can become a feminist just by saying so or by calling someone a chauvinist pig (where did she find that expression? in some archeological dig?) You are a feminist now on just your say-so, even if behind you lies a career of bashing women and fighting against any rights for them. The Republican fundies are now feminists! Though just for the duration of this election campaign, that must be understood. Once the elections are over everything will return back to normality which means that the Republicans will hammer women who pop out of their allotted slots down with that large family-values hammer. And what will the Democrats do?

Here's the part where I go all straight talk. My view for a long time has been that choosing between the two parties on several grounds means choosing whether you want a terminal case of cancer (the Republicans) or a permanent case of mumps and measles (the Democrats). I choose the latter but I'm not necessarily happy with the choice and make it largely on the basis that real people will die and suffer because of that difference. Yes, the Democrats are better on the issues that I care about. No, the Democrats have no spines and far too often advertise themselves as the almost-Republicans. But other options don't truly exist in this two-party system. The Founding Guys made sure of that. They were astonishingly frightened of the power of the people, by the way.

So to me the Democratic Party is the better choice, because it might keep the world and this country going for a little longer. But I was not happy with what the Democratic primaries revealed to me about the sexism within that party. I was not happy to realize that I was suddenly (and unintentionally) making a mental list of people I knew on the net and in real life who suddenly came out as sexists with blood-dripping fangs. I was not happy to find some writers who had always come across feminist on that odd list in my head, and I was not happy to find so many women on that list. No. I wasn't happy. I felt like a mule had just kicked me in my guts and people told me not just to breathe but to smile and to support the party.

My first reaction to all this was enormous anger and bitterness. I had worked for these folks myself and now they ridiculed my cause and the group I belong to by birth. I chewed over that anger in private, because it didn't seem to me to be a suitable weapon for writing. It was personal anger, anger born out of my naivete and my unrealistic expectations, perhaps. Anger at how much more sexist this world was than I had hoped or thought.

It was also anger which set me apart from others in the feminist movement, from the way they saw the cause and the best means to forward the cause. Instead of writing about my anger I chose to try to understand those rifts, to write about the different ways we see the world and to try to sew together those rips in the fabric of the movement. Silly arrogant goddess that I am. It didn't work, of course, but it served to put my own anger into my tool kit as something that can be used for more fruitful writing. Like this piece.

The reason I wrote about my own anger is to explain that I understand the anger of those women who are disappointed in the Democratic Party and in the sexism that truly flowered like ragweed during the Democratic primaries. That anger is kept aflame by the continuing refusal of so many people to acknowledge the legitimacy of that anger, to acknowledge that people who feel like that are not just sore losers. Rather, to call women who have woken up to the sexism in their own party "sore losers" is just more of the same anger-causing belittlement.

Where I diverge from many with the same anger is in what to do about it. To vote for McCain/Palin would be a protest vote for someone who would have otherwise voted for a Democratic candidate, sure. But as Gloria Steinem said, it is also like deciding to amputate your legs because someone stole your shoes. Or like choosing cancer over mumps and measles. Or perhaps choosing things like that for other people. In any case, a protest vote of that kind will work only if many people do it and if it's clearly an organized movement with power behind it.

We don't have such an organized movement in large enough numbers right now, and if we had such a movement the Democratic party would listen to us more carefully and the open sexism of the primaries would not have happened in the same way. These are my reasons for thinking that the best response to the anger is to go back to the basics and to work more on feminism and the issues of sexism directly, and to go and work on the sexism among the progressives and liberals even more directly. But I'm not telling anyone else how to vote or how to act. I would if I could, of course, but I'm a goddess only on the net.
Make sure that you read Katha Pollitt's take on the Sarah Palin nomination and how it is playing out in the media conversations.