Saturday, January 12, 2008

Don't get sidetracked: Nominating and electing either Clinton or Obama will be a fundamental change

By Nancy Jane Moore

I'm angry about all the sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton. They illustrate all too well that women are still being judged by unreasonable standards in our society:
  • They must look like attractive young women in their 20s even if they're in their 60s -- and they'll still be mocked for spending too much time on their appearance.
  • They must be tough even though they're going to be called unfeminine if they're tough.
  • They must be feminine even though they're going to be derided as "too soft" for some jobs.
  • They must be smart, but they'll be called "scary" if they're too smart.
  • And they must put up with sexist jokes or people will say they have no sense of humor.

It's not fair and I'm sick of it. And I do think the biggest cure for this nonsense is greater participation by women in all aspects of society -- including political office and especially the presidency.

But after some reflection, I don't think Gloria Steinem is right when she says electing a woman president would be a more radical step for the US than electing a black man president.

I'll grant that it's no longer acceptable to make racist remarks and jokes, but while people may keep their racist comments to themselves or within a small circle of like-minded folks, that doesn't mean that racism itself is dead.

When Steinem points out that black men got the right to vote about 50 years before women of any race got the right -- and is correct that the men who passed those laws thought the idea of women voting was laughable -- she neglects one key part of our history: Most black men (and black women) couldn't freely exercise that right until the 1960s.

When Sen. Obama was born in 1961, there were still states in the US where his parents could have been arrested for interracial marriage. There were still segregated schools despite Brown v. Board of Education (I attended one). There were still lynchings that went unpunished. And there were a lot of places where black people were unable to vote.

Things have changed sharply in his lifetime, but it's going to take a lot more changes to lay those old issues to rest. Electing a black man president would certainly be a step in the right direction.

Now I'm not arguing that electing a woman president wouldn't be just as powerful a statement about the fundamental sexism in this society. I'm arguing that electing either Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama would cause a fundamental shift that this country needs.

We have two strong, smart candidates, one of whom happens to be a woman and the other of whom happens to be black. Up to now, we've never had either a woman or a black person who was anything other than a token presidential candidate. That's powerful change in and of itself.

Until we have a power structure in this country that actually reflects our population, electing women of any race and minorities of either gender is going to continue to be a major step forward. Consider this fact: non-Hispanic white men -- a third of the US population --- make up about 80 percent of U.S. senators and governors. (I don't even want to guess what the figures look like in corporate boardrooms.)

Those of us who've been left out of the system are in this together. Let's not make the Democratic primary a fight about whether race or gender is a bigger issue.


Stuart said...

Electing an African-American or woman as President will be change, but will it bring progressive, democratic change?

Electing a woman Prime Minister in Great Britain (Thachter) brought reactionary economics. Electing a woman Prime Minister of India (Ghandi) bought dictatorship.

Nancy Jane Moore said...

Well, I certainly wouldn't vote for Condoleeza Rice for precisely that reason. But both Sens. Obama and Clinton are reasonably progressive, especially compared against other candidates we've seen in the US in recent years, and both are an incredible improvement on what we've got right now. Because they're not opposed to fundamental change -- as Thatcher was -- their presence will have a real effect. (Near as I can tell, electing women in India has had no effect whatsoever on women's rights there, probably because Gandhi was first and foremost part of a dynasty.)