Thursday, September 18, 2008

"I Just Wanted to Vote for a Woman"

I'm starting to think that if John McCain had picked a female VP candidate who was slightly less wingnutty, he'd have picked up a slew of disenchanted Democratic women.

While making my volunteer phone calls for the Obama campaign today, I spoke with a woman who firmly said yes, she was supporting Obama in the general election, and yes, she'd definitely vote. When I followed up by asking if she might be interested in volunteering with the campaign, she just as firmly said, "Definitely not! I was a Hillary supporter and it just about broke my heart. I've been waiting to vote for a woman my whole life."

I made a few sympathetic noises about feeling the same way since sixth grade and appreciating Clinton's candidacy. (I left out the fact that in sixth grade, *I* wanted to be that woman running for the presidency. My, how things change.)

This unleashed a torrent of words that came so fast I may be misquoting, but the gist was: "Oh, when Sarah Palin was announced, I thought YES! I wanted to vote for her so bad. I just wanted to vote for a woman." But then she looked into Palin's positions and couldn't quite stomach them, being a good Democrat and feminist.

Two things I took away from this: One, while we might wish Obama were still running against John McCain, de facto he's running against Palin. She's getting roughly three times as many Google hits as McCain. At McCain rallies this week in Cedar Rapids and Youngstown, audience members began streaming out during McCain's speech; Palin had already spoken and they'd gotten what they came for.

Even the candidate herself may have started to believe she's heading the ticket, if this clip is any indication (via the HuffPost):

The second thing I learned from my short chat with one of Hillary's mourners is that there really are two basically different conceptions of feminism afoot in this land, and this is what the McCain campaign failed to exploit.

I think many self-identified feminists still see working for women's advancement as the purpose of feminism. That's obviously very central to it, but to my mind that can't be the whole story. I like bell hooks' definition of feminism as a struggle against sexism. If you take that as your standard, it's immediately evident that women can uphold sexism, too, and you don't have any obligation to support them. It's equally clear that men can be excellent allies. And it's glaringly obvious that no feminist should support a wingnut, no matter how many X chromosomes said wingnut might carry.


Marie Starr said...

Absolutely! Just because a woman is a woman, doesn't mean she will do more to benefit women than a man would. If we make that assumption, we are the ones being sexist. And if we subscribe to bell hook's definition of feminism as fighting sexism, which I do, it goes against the very core of the beliefs we are fighting for.

If we are demanding equality, are demanding that we be seen and judged and rewarded based on our individual skills, talents, and actions rather than our gender, then we must also be committed to see, judge and reward others based on their skills, talents, and actions rather than their gender.

Of course I want to see a woman in the White House. I also want to see someone who is not White in the White House. Both are long overdue. But, in the end, we cannot vote based on race or gender without following the same ratoinale of those who would not vote for someone based on their race or gender. We must vote for the candidate we feel has the skills, the talents, the ability to lead our country in the direction we believe we should go in. We must do that by looking at many things: their character, their words, their actions, their focus, their history. We must not do that by voting for, or against, them because of their race or gender. This is the double-edged sword it is so easy to be cut by.

It is my hope that we will all go to the polls voting for the individual we believe is best suited to the role, regardless of their race or gender and that we will continue to work toward a society in which, someday, neither of these classifications will play a part in deciding whether someone is the right person for the job.

Sungold said...

Hi Marie,

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I have not kept very good track of my blog - or anything else - lately. Otherwise I would've responded much sooner.

I'm just old enough to have memories of the very end of the 1960s, and maybe that contributes to the satisfaction I feel at seeing a half-black, half-white man on his way (I hope!) to the White House. My commitment to feminism also encompasses racial equality, and so I can feel just as much joy at Obama's nomination as I would at a woman's nomination.

I don't quite agree with your statement about not basing our vote on race or gender. I do think it's an appropriate tiebreaker: If I saw two candidates whom I believed were roughly equally qualified, I'd be more apt to cast my vote for someone from a historically disadvantaged group. We're still not inhabitants of a nonsexist, colorblind society, as you note, and so I'd have some preference for candidates who break that mold. But I sure wouldn't let gender and race trump everything else that matters to me.