Obama/Clinton: The Feminist Debate
This is discussion in which I did not participate directly but one that I think is very important. As a woman living with HIV, I am affected by US global policies on HIV, I feel uncomfortable each time I land in Miami airport. This is why I took the time to read this debate. I hope you enjoy as much as I did.
It's a really interesting issue... particularly since I'm sitting here in the middle of it all, in north California, trying to understand what's going on. I have never been an advocate for just any kind of woman, as opposed to someone who will promote a feminist perspective (god, we have enough of that in India, as DTIs 2003 would remember from my Sushma Advani impersonation!!), but the misogyny in the press and general public in the US is frightening.
People are much less vocal - in fact, almost invisible - about their race preferences (though of course, that doesn't mean there isn't racism, far from it), but the kind of sexism inherent in both the reporting and the way people receive it is astounding. Someone asks McCain (the Republican candidate), 'how are we going to beat that bitch' and he responds with a smirk and vigorous acceptance. Chelsea Clinton talks to delegates to garner support and it's called 'pimping' on prime time radio. Both Hillary Clinton herself and Michelle Obama (Barack's very smart wife) are described first in terms of the clothes they're wearing, rather than what they're saying. People say 'Hillary' and 'Obama', not 'Clinton' and 'Barack'... all telling, not surprising, but disturbing.
Years ago, we had a conversation amongst friends in India that the US would be more ready to have a black man as Prez than a woman. My sense is, that may well be true.
Some of the trouble is that there is absolutely no understanding of intersectionality and multiple identities. No attempt to problematise this binary of race and gender, for instance. Interestingly, the Green Party here might be putting up Cynthia McKinney, who happens to female and black. I'm looking forward to the Presidential debates then!!
And me, if I could vote in the US, I would vote for Shirley Chisolm: black, female and principled. Pity she ran in 1974.
*The Feminist Debate on Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama
While the media portrays the selection of a Democratic Party
Presidential candidate as pitting women against men, over 100 feminists—including Katha Pollitt of The Nation, Kate Michelman chair for 20 years of NARAL Choice for Women, and Ellen Bravo, former director of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women?have endorsed Senator Barack Obama.
We thought you ought to hear some of this discussion. So, below we present a view from one of the women who endorsed Obama, feminist anthropologist Nancy Fraser, and a statement by Robin Morgan on why she supports Hillary Clinton, and then the news release we read about the 100 feminists who issued their statement on Feb. 1st.
*Hillary or Barack?
Two Views of Feminism by Nancy Fraser*
I was distressed to read that the President of NY State N.O.W.
Excoriated Ted Kennedy for "betraying women" by endorsing Barack Obama instead of Hillary Clinton (NYT, 2/1/08). But I was not entirely surprised. That view reflects what has by now become the mainstream self-understanding of American feminism as a political interest group. To the extent that feminists understand themselves in this way, as defending women's policy interests within the existing framework of politics-as-usual, they have found an excellent standard-bearer in Hillary Clinton. But that is not the only way to understand feminism. Not so long ago, many of us saw ourselves as participants in a transformative social movement, which aspired to remake the political landscape. Intent more on changing the rules of the game than on playing it as it lays, we mobilized energies from below to stretch the bounds of what was politically thinkable. Expanding public space and invigorating public debate, our movement projected, not a laundry list of demands, but the inspiriting vision of a non-hierarchical society that nurtured both human connections and individual freedom. Some feminists continue to cleave to that self-understanding. For us, Barack Obama represents a better vehicle for feminist aspirations than Hillary Clinton. The democratizing energies now converging on him promise to create the terrain on which our sort of feminism can once again flourish. Drawing its momentum from activist forces, and inspiring the latter in turn, the Obama compaign offers feminists, and other progressive forces, that rarest of political opportunities: the chance to help build and shape a major realignment of American politics. That is a prospect worthy of the best and the highest in American feminism.
Henry A. and Louise Loeb Professor of Philosophy and Politics
New School for Social Research
P.S. from Nancy Fraser: I wrote the above before reading Robin Morgan's intervention.
Rhetorically powerful, her essay contains much that I agree with: that the election of a woman president would be a historic milestone in the struggle against sexism; that media coverage of Hillary¹s campaign has been rife with misogyny; that if elected, Hillary would make a very good President; and that if nominated, she deserves my full support. But none of this convinces me that feminists should prefer her to Barack Obama. On the contrary, it is my conviction that feminist struggles are best waged on the sort of political terrain that his campaign is beginning to foster. It is only in the context of a broad, diverse array of energized movements for social justice that feminism acquires its full depth as a comprehensive and transformative challenge to the status quo. In the past, Robin Morgan has herself exemplified such radical energies. I hope that she, and other feminists, will embrace the opportunity to extend them that the Obama campaign is offering us now.
*GOODBYE TO ALL THAT (#2)
by Robin Morgan*
"Goodbye To All That" was my (in)famous 1970 essay breaking free from a politics of accommodation especially affecting women."
"During my decades in civil-rights, anti-war, and contemporary women's movements, I've avoided writing another specific "Goodbye . . .". But not since the suffrage struggle have two communities--the joint conscience-keepers of this country--been so set in competition, as the contest between Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) and Barack Obama (BO)unfurls. So. Goodbye to the double standard . . .
--Hillary is too ballsy but too womanly, a Snow Maiden who's emotional, and so much a politician as to be unfit for politics.
--She's "ambitious" but he shows "fire in the belly." (Ever had labor
pains? )--When a sexist idiot screamed "Iron my shirt!" at HRC, it was considered amusing; if a racist idiot shouted "Shine my shoes!" at BO, it would've inspired hours of airtime and pages of newsprint analyzing our national dishonor.
--Young political Kennedys--Kathleen, Kerry, and Bobby Jr.--all endorsed Hillary. Sen. Ted, age 76, endorsed Obama. If the situation were reversed, pundits would snort "See? Ted and establishment types back her,but the forward-looking generation backs him." (Personally, I'm unimpressed with Caroline's longing for the Return of the Fathers. Unlike the rest of the world, Americans have short memories. Me, I still recall Marilyn Monroe's suicide, and a dead girl named Mary Jo Kopechne in Chappaquiddick.)
Goodbye to the toxic viciousness . . .Carl Bernstein's disgust at Hillary's "thick ankles." Nixon-trickster Roger Stone's new Hillary-hating 527 group, "Citizens United Not Timid" (check the capital letters). John McCain answering "How do we beat the bitch?" with "Excellent question!" Would he have dared reply similarly to "How do we beat the black bastard?" For shame. Goodbye to the HRC nutcracker with metal spikes between splayed thighs. If it was a tap-dancing blackface doll, we would be righteously outraged-and they would not be selling it in airports. Shame. Goodbye to the most intimately violent T-shirts in election history,
including one with the murderous slogan "If Only Hillary had married O.J.Instead!" Shame.
Goodbye to Comedy Central's "Southpark" featuring a storyline in whichterrorists secrete a bomb in HRC's vagina. I refuse to wrench my brain down into the gutter far enough to find a race-based comparison. For shame.
Goodbye to the sick, malicious idea that this is funny. This is not "Clinton hating," not "Hillary hating." This is sociopathic woman-hating. If it were about Jews, we would recognize it instantly as anti-Semitic propaganda; if about race, as KKK poison. Hell, PETA would go ballistic if such vomitous spew were directed at animals. Where is our sense of outrage-as citizens, voters, Americans? Goodbye to the news-coverage target-practice . . .The women's movement and Media Matters wrung an apology from MSNBC's
Chris Matthews for relentless misogynistic comments
But what about NBC's Tim Russert's continual sexist asides and his
all-white-male panels pontificating on race and gender? Or CNN's Tony Harris chuckling at "the chromosome thing" while interviewing a woman from The White House Project? And that's not even mentioning Fox News.
Goodbye to pretending the black community is entirely male and all women are white . . .
Surprise! Women exist in all opinions, pigmentations, ethnicities, abilities, sexual preferences, and ages--not only African American and European American but Latina and Native American, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, Arab American and-hey, every group, because a group wouldn't be alive if we hadn't given birth to it. A few non-racist countries may exist--but sexism is everywhere. No matter how many ways a woman breaks free from other oppressions, she remains a female human being in a world still so patriarchal that it's the "norm."
So why should all women not be as justly proud of our womanhood and the centuries, even millennia, of struggle that got us this far, as black Americans, women and men, are justly proud of their struggles?
Goodbye to a campaign where he has to pass as white (which whites-especially wealthy ones--adore), while she has to pass as male (which both men and women demanded of her, and then found unforgivable).
If she were black or he were female we wouldn't be having such problems, and I for one would be in heaven. But at present such a candidate wouldn't stand a chance-even if she shared Condi Rice's Bush-defending politics.
I was celebrating the pivotal power at last focused on African American women deciding on which of two candidates to bestow their vote--until a number of Hillary-supporting black feminists told me they're being called "race traitors."
So goodbye to conversations about this nation's deepest scar-slavery-which fail to acknowledge that labor- and sexual-slavery exist today in the US and elsewhere on this planet, and the majority of those enslaved are women.
Women have endured sex/race/ethnic/religious hatred, rape and battery, invasion of spirit and flesh, forced pregnancy; being the majority of the poor, the illiterate, the disabled, of refugees, caregivers, the HIV/AIDS afflicted, the powerless. We have survived invisibility, ridicule, religious fundamentalisms, polygamy, teargas, forced feedings, jails, asylums, sati, purdah, female genital mutilation, witch burnings, stoning, and attempted genocides. We have tried reason, persuasion, reassurances, and being extra-qualified, only to learn it never was about qualifications after all. We know that at this historical moment women experience the world differently from men--though not all the same as one another--and can govern differently, from Elizabeth Tudor to Michele Bachelet and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. We remember when Shirley Chisholm and Patricia Schroeder ran for this High office and barely got past the gate-they showed too much passion, raised too little cash, were joke fodder. Goodbye to all that. (And goodbye to some feminists so famished for a female president they were even willing to abandon women's rights in backing Elizabeth Dole.)
Goodbye, goodbye to . . .
--blaming anything Bill Clinton does on Hillary (even including his
womanizing like the Kennedy guys--though unlike them, he got reported
on). Let's get real. If he hadn't campaigned strongly for her everyone would cluck over what that meant. Enough of Bill and Teddy Kennedy locking their alpha male horns while Hillary pays for it.
--an era when parts of the populace feel so disaffected by politics
that a comparative lack of knowledge, experience, and skill is actually seen as attractive, when celebrity-culture mania now infects our elections so that it's "cooler" to glow with marquee charisma than to understand the vast global complexities of power on a nuclear, wounded planet.
--the notion that it's fun to elect a handsome, cocky president who
feels he can learn on the job, goodbye to George W. Bush and the destruction brought by his inexperience, ignorance, and arrogance.
Goodbye to the accusation that HRC acts "entitled" when she's worked intensely at everything she's done-including being a nose-to-the-grindstone, first-rate senator from my state.
Goodbye to her being exploited as a Rorschach test by women who reduce her to a blank screen on which they project their own fears, failures, fantasies.
Goodbye to the phrase "polarizing figure" to describe someone who embodies the transitions women have made in the last century and are poised to make in this one. It was the women's movement that quipped, "We are becoming the men we wanted to marry." She heard us, and she has.
Goodbye to some women letting history pass by while wringing their hands, because Hillary isn't as "likeable" as they've been warned they must be, or because she didn't leave him, couldn't "control" him, kept her family together and raised a smart, sane daughter. (Think of the blame if Chelsea had ever acted in the alcoholic, neurotic manner of the Bush twins!) Goodbye to some women pouting because she didn't bake cookies or she did, sniping because she learned the rules and then bent or broke them. Grow the hell up. She is not running for Ms.-perfect-pure-queen-icon of the feminist movement. She is running to be President of the United States.
Goodbye to the shocking American ignorance of our own and other countries' history. Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir rose through party ranks and war, positioning themselves as proto-male leaders. Almost all other female heads of government so far have been related to men of power-granddaughters, daughters, sisters, wives, widows: Gandhi, Bandaranike, Bhutto, Aquino, Chamorro, Wazed, Macapagal-Arroyo, Johnson Sirleaf, Bachelet, Kirchner, and more. Even in our "land of opportunity," it's mostly the first pathway "in" permitted to women: Reps. Doris Matsui and Mary Bono and Sala Burton; Sen. Jean Carnahan . . . far too many to list here.
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."
I'd rather say a joyful Hello to all the glorious young women who do identify with Hillary, and all the brave, smart men-of all ethnicities and any age--who get that it's in their self-interest, too. She's better qualified. (D'uh.) She's a high-profile candidate with an enormous grasp of foreign- and domestic-policy nuance, dedication to detail, ability to absorb staggering insult and personal pain while retaining dignity, resolve, even humor, and keep on keeping on. (Also, yes, dammit, let's hear it for her connections and funding and party-building background, too. Obama was awfully glad about those when she raised dough and campaigned for him to get to the Senate in the first place.) I'd rather look forward to what a good president he might make in eight years, when his vision and spirit are seasoned by practical know-how—and he'll be all of 54. Meanwhile, goodbye to turning him into a shining knight when actually he's an astute, smooth pol with speechwriters who've worked with the Kennedys' own speechwriter-courtier Ted Sorenson. If it's only about ringing rhetoric, let speechwriters run. But isn't it about getting the policies we want enacted?
And goodbye to the ageism . . .
How dare anyone unilaterally decide when to turn the page on history, papering over real inequities and suffering constituencies in the promise of a feel-good campaign? How dare anyone claim to unify while dividing, or think that to rouse US youth from torpor it's useful to triage the single largest demographic in this country's history: the boomer generation—the majority of which is female?
Older woman are the one group that doesn't grow more conservative with age-and we are the generation of radicals who said "Well-behaved women seldom make history." Goodbye to going gently into any goodnight any man prescribes for us. We are the women who changed the reality of the United States. And though we never went away, brace yourselves: we're back!
We are the women who brought this country equal credit, better pay, affirmative action, the concept of a family-focused workplace; the women who established rape-crisis centers and battery shelters, marital-rape and date-rape laws; the women who defended lesbian custody rights, who fought for prison reform, founded the peace and environmental movements; who insisted that medical research include female anatomy, who inspired men to become more nurturing parents, who created women's studies and Title IX so we all could cheer the WNBA stars and Mia Hamm. We are the women who reclaimed sexuality from violent pornography, who put child care on the national agenda, who transformed demographics, artistic expression, language itself. We are the women who forged a worldwide movement. We are the proud successors of women who, though it took more than 50 years, won us the vote.
We are the women who now comprise the majority of US voters. Hillary said she found her own voice in New Hampshire. There's not a Woman alive who, if she's honest, doesn't recognize what she means. Then HRC got drowned out by campaign experts, Bill, and media's obsession with All Things Bill. So listen to her voice:
"For too long, the history of women has been a history of silence. Even today, there are those who are trying to silence our words.
"It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls. It is a violation of human rights when woman and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution. It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small. It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war. It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide along women ages 14 to 44 is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes. It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will. "Women's rights are human rights. Among those rights are the right to speak freely--and the right to be heard."
That was Hillary Rodham Clinton defying the US State Department and the Chinese Government at the 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing (the full, stunning speech:
And this voice, age 22, in "Commencement Remarks of Hillary D. Rodham, President of Wellesley College Government Association, Class of 1969"(full speech:
"We are, all of us, exploring a world none of us understands. . . .searching for a more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating mode of living... . . [for the] integrity, the courage to be whole, living in relation to one another in the full poetry of existence. The struggle for an integrated life existing in an atmosphere of communal trust and respect is one with desperately important political and social consequences. . .
.. Fear is always with us, but we just don't have time for it."
She ended with the commitment "to practice, with all the skill of our being: the art of making possible." And for decades, she's been learning how.
So goodbye to Hillary's second-guessing herself. The real question is deeper than her re-finding her voice. Can we women find ours? Can we do this for ourselves? "Our President, Ourselves!"
Time is short and the contest tightening. We need to rise in furious energy--as we did when courageous Anita Hill was so vilely treated in the US Senate, as we did when desperate Rosie Jiminez was butchered by an illegal abortion, as we did and do for women globally who are condemned for trying to break through. We need to win, this time. Goodbye to supporting HRC tepidly, with ambivalent caveats and apologetic smiles.
Time to volunteer, make phone calls, send emails, donate money, argue, rally, march, shout, vote. Me? I support Hillary Rodham because she's the best qualified of all candidates running in both parties. I support her because her progressive politics are as strong as her proven ability to withstand what will be a massive right-wing assault in the general election. I support her because she's refreshingly thoughtful, and I'm bloodied from eight years of a jolly "uniter" with ejaculatory politics. I needn't agree with her on every point. I agree with the 97 percent of her positions that are identical with Obama's-and the few where hers are both more practical and to the left of his (like health care). I support her because she's already smashed the first-lady stereotype and made history as a fine senator, and because I believe she will continue to make history not only as the first US woman president, but as a great US president. As for the "woman thing"? Me, I'm voting for Hillary not because she's a woman--but because I am.
February 2, 2008
New York City
NEWS REPORT: 100 Feminists endorse Obama
from The Nation
More than 100 New York feminist leaders released a joint statement Sunday afternoon criticizing Hillary Clinton and supporting Obama for president - evidence that Clinton's support among women activists has declined significantly in the days before the super-Tuesday primary.
Clinton's support for the war in Iraq was the leading reason she lost The support of the group, which calls itself "New York Feminists for Peace and Barack Obama!" "We urgently need a presidential candidate whose first priority is to address domestic needs," the group added.
Those endorsing Obama include longtime peace activist Cora Weiss; Katha Pollitt, columnist for The Nation; Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times writer Margo Jefferson; award-winning women's rights historians Alice Kessler Harris and Linda Gordon; Barbara Weinstein, president of the American Historical Association, and Ellen P. Chapnick, Dean for Social Justice Initiatives at Columbia Law School.
"Choosing to support Senator Obama was not an easy decision for us," the group stated, "because electing a woman president would be a cause for celebration in itself." They "deplored" the "sexist attacks against Senator Clinton that have circulated in the media." But, they stated, they nevertheless supported Obama because his election "would be another historic achievement" and because "his support for gender equality has been unwavering."
The group based their opposition to Clinton on "her seven-year record as senator." Despite her recent pledges to remove troops from Iraq, the group stated, Clinton's "record of embracing military solutions and the foreign policy advisers she has selected make us doubt that she will end this calamitous war."
The group supported Obama not only for his positions on the war and Gender equality, but also because of "the dramatic engagement of young people" with his campaign.
This group joins other prominent feminist leaders who have turned Against Hillary and endorsed Obama, including Kate Michelman, president for 20 years of NARAL Pro-Choice America, the country's leading reproductive rights group, and Ellen Bravo, former director of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women.
Tikkun Magaziine and the NSP is not allowed to endorse political
candidates or parties. But we can highlight issues of importance to us.