Friday, January 11, 2008

Feminism vs. Individualism

First, let me make this abundantly clear: I am, in all likelihood, voting for Barack Obama in the primary. I've hinted at it before, and I've said it, quite plainly, on Twitter.

My mom, my Nana, and my aunt are all ardent Hillary Clinton supporters, as are some of my friends -- who assume that I'm one too. And they all seem to express surprise, shock, and/or disappointment when I let them know otherwise.*

Recently, I twittered that "On some innate level, I feel guilty for not supporting a female candidate." Justin gave me some grief over this sentiment, and I explained, "I feel like it's a tiny betrayal of my gender, the whole sisterhood thing. It's not going to make me change my mind, though," and that "I would like to one day see a woman president."

It's hard to work through this cognitive dissonance, but in reading an article in the Post, I think I'm starting to figure it out.

Do you vote for a woman to shatter the glass ceiling and further the cause? Or do you make an empowered, individual decision that is not confined by gender?


"It's like I'm ruining this great opportunity for women by not voting for her, but honestly I'm not too worried about that," Keller said. "I don't think gender is a good enough reason on its own to vote for or against anybody. I'm sure there are going to be other women in my generation, soon, who are able to run for president. This isn't like our only chance."

Her stance is what some professors on campus refer to as an "inevitability attitude," and they say it marks a generational divide. Women who experienced Wellesley in the 1950s and '60s, such as Clinton, enrolled at a time when some Ivy League schools still refused to admit women. They believed, intrinsically, that they would have to scrap and claw for every opportunity in an unfair world. Wellesley functioned as their cocoon, a place for camaraderie and support before they were sent off as graduates to break barriers and challenge stereotypes. As feminists, they were linked by a cause.

The women of that generation now vote resoundingly for Clinton, poll numbers show, as if still bound by the urgency instilled 40 years ago. It's an urgency that their daughters, products of a less-sexist time, sometimes lack.

So, I'm not the only one who is torn. But having company doesn't make it any easier.

*Don't get me wrong: If Hillary wins the nomination, I will undoubtedly vote for her in the general election. There is no Republican running that would make me change my mind, and, after the 2000 election, I came to realize that voting for a third-party candidate is essentially a waste.


Paige Jennifer said...

Like you, I stripped it down - no black no white, no he no she. And all I see is green. Not money but experience. I think there are some great things to come from Obama but leaping to the presidency feels like he missed a few steps in the training process. Perhaps that's exactly why people are drawn to him? He hasn't yet been molded into a typical politico?

d said...

I've been reading a lot about this, from Steinem's piece to the other Post piece, and I have to say that as a woman, I never considered Hillary as my nominee. It's not because she's a woman, it's because she's a Clinton, and it would me 4-8 more years of partisan screeching, marital drama, and two families running this country since I was 9. Obama has a lot of Clinton advisers on his staff. He votes in ways similar to her 90 percent of the time. But he seems capable of listening to people who don't agree with him, and encouraging those people to work with him. And that, more than anything, is what America has been missing these past seven years. I don't think Hillary has that.

Justin S. said...

Experience isn't necessarily a major factor in voting for me. Hillary has been a Senator for four years longer than Obama, so it's not like she's all that amazing on that front anyway.

My vote for Obama comes down to 3 factors... 1) like you D, I want to put an end to the Clinton-Bush era, 2) I really do think Obama is more "electable." And no, it's not about gender, it's about charisma. 3) And this is the most important... Hillary (and Edwards) voted to authorize the war in 2002 while Obama was in Illinois screaming out against the war. What good is experience if you don't use it to make good decisions?

Obviously, as a man, I can't understand what it's like for women to vote against the first viable woman candidate, but I really do think women have advanced further if we DON'T consider gender when voting rather than voting for someone specifically because of gender. Same goes for Obama and race.

dara said...

PJ: I think you're right -- the fact that Obama is a little green makes him seem atypical, as if Washington hasn't yet rendered him a cynic or an operative.

d: I have nothing against the Clintons: I'd vote for Bill again if he was running. But yeah, a little fresh blood isn't a bad thing.

Justin: Ultimately, it does come down to that. As a woman, I am less empowered if I feel that I need to vote for a woman and not the candidate that I feel is most representative of my positions. Obama didn't vote for the war, he is more positive in his outlook -- and he seems capable of building coalitions. And yeah, he is more charismatic and is not part of a political dynasty.

anne said...

I tend to agree with you strongly but don't have the associated guilt. I am not sure where you are registered to vote at this point - but the Fla primary is in 2 weeks and I will not be voting for her either.

I found Steiman's commentary interesting because I disagree with her position - yet her final sentence involving voting for the candidate was exactly what my feelings are. I am not going to vote for her simply because she is female - I am going to vote for the candidate I like.

dara said...

Anne: Ultimately, I think my difficulty is that the elder-stateswomen of my family are disappointed in my choice, and some have expressed their disappointment.

And i'm registered in Virginia. I haven't voted in Florida since 2000. And then, I was one of the infamous Broward County absentee ballots.

All: The oft-referenced Gloria Steinem NYT op-ed can be found here.