While I am truly thrilled about Obama becoming our next President, there is so much that needs to be done for women to get where we need to be to truly be seen as equals in society. Below is an article by Gloria Steinem written in January that speaks for what has been in my heart, and why this election, while good for America, has still left a hole in my heart. Tonight I had to do everything in my power to bite my lip when I heard two 18 year olds talk about how they didn’t vote for her because “nobody likes her” and they truly did not believe her being a woman affected the outcome. Hell, even I knew that while I voted for her, even if she beat Obama, her gender in 2008 was more risky than the color of Barack’s skin. Unlike the struggle by people of color (including those who are biracial, such as Barack Obama), there is a saddening lack of solidarity between women, half the world’s population, which I believe is our Achilles.
Michelle Obama is being called the “next Jackie O” when she has stated that her role model is actually Hillary Clinton. Amen for Michelle. I am sick and tired of women being compared to Jackie O because of “grace” and “style” – who the fuck cares what she is wearing? Top story on Yahoo.com as I write this is titled “Dissecting Michelle Obama’s dress”. Michelle is a woman of CHARACTER, and that’s why she should be applauded, not because she wears cute dresses. Hillary Clinton grew up in an era where to be respected as a professional, she was told she had to act like a man. Yet when she reached a position of power, she pays the price every single day, and yet way too many women have applauded Sarah Palin, who was actually humiliated by being chosen by John McCain for her advertising value, not for her strength as a Republican political figure who could strengthen his nomination and serve as a strong VP. Gloria Steinem was cut off on Oprah today but she did make an important point – hopefully Ms. Palin will recognize how she was used and do some real soul-searching so she can evolve and be a stronger contributor to society, not just as a female but as a human being, and not be content to be a symbol of all that is wrong about so many’s views towards women. (Another great article by Gloria Steinem, this time on Sarah Palin, also speaks volumes for me: http://www.truthout.org/article/palin-wrong-woman-wrong-message). Why there is such a competitive, rather than supportive, sensation between so many women is what we need to fight. Why “feminist” is seen as a negative thing and not owned by all women, by all people, is something we need to fix. Now.
I fell in love with Obama and Biden when I heard them talk about the women in their lives. For the first time, I saw two men who really get it about women. It is a rare thing, and is what brings tears to my eyes, because of my own experiences and those around me. Madeleine Albright once said, “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women.” While we don’t have to love every woman we know, a common sense of empathy and support for women to understand who they are, understand their power, and draw from their strength from each other and the lessons they’ve learned, rather than the pervasiveness of society and what our families have often passed down to us. Or perhaps it’s best just phrased by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler – “she may be a bitch, but so are we, and we bitches get things done!”. Hell yeah!
PS – before you read the article…the picture here is of my Great Grandma, Anna Susan Pick.
Women Are Never Front-Runners
By GLORIA STEINEM
Published: January 8, 2008
THE woman in question became a lawyer after some years as a community organizer, married a corporate lawyer and is the mother of two little girls, ages 9 and 6. Herself the daughter of a white American mother and a black African father — in this race-conscious country, she is considered black — she served as a state legislator for eight years, and became an inspirational voice for national unity.
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Be honest: Do you think this is the biography of someone who could be elected to the United States Senate? After less than one term there, do you believe she could be a viable candidate to head the most powerful nation on earth?
If you answered no to either question, you’re not alone. Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House. This country is way down the list of countries electing women and, according to one study, it polarizes gender roles more than the average democracy.
That’s why the Iowa primary was following our historical pattern of making change. Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter).
If the lawyer described above had been just as charismatic but named, say, Achola Obama instead of Barack Obama, her goose would have been cooked long ago. Indeed, neither she nor Hillary Clinton could have used Mr. Obama’s public style — or Bill Clinton’s either — without being considered too emotional by Washington pundits.
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.
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.
I’m supporting Senator Clinton because like Senator Obama she has community organizing experience, but she also has more years in the Senate, an unprecedented eight years of on-the-job training in the White House, no masculinity to prove, the potential to tap a huge reservoir of this country’s talent by her example, and now even the courage to break the no-tears rule. I’m not opposing Mr. Obama; if he’s the nominee, I’ll volunteer. Indeed, if you look at votes during their two-year overlap in the Senate, they were the same more than 90 percent of the time. Besides, to clean up the mess left by President Bush, we may need two terms of President Clinton and two of President Obama.
But what worries me is that he is seen as unifying by his race while she is seen as divisive by her sex.
What worries me is that she is accused of “playing the gender card” when citing the old boys’ club, while he is seen as unifying by citing civil rights confrontations.
What worries me is that male Iowa voters were seen as gender-free when supporting their own, while female voters were seen as biased if they did and disloyal if they didn’t. What worries me is that reporters ignore Mr. Obama’s dependence on the old — for instance, the frequent campaign comparisons to John F. Kennedy — while not challenging the slander that her progressive policies are part of the Washington status quo.
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.
This country can no longer afford to choose our leaders from a talent pool limited by sex, race, money, powerful fathers and paper degrees. It’s time to take equal pride in breaking all the barriers. We have to be able to say: “I’m supporting her because she’ll be a great president and because she’s a woman.”
Gloria Steinem is a co-founder of the Women’s Media Center.