This Democratic primary has given the nation a chance to focus on a few issues and drill down to see what is really at the heart of them. Is it the two wars we are fighting? No. Is it paid family leave? No. It is whether or not Obama is black enough, if Latin@s would vote for a black man, if Millennials would vote for a motherly figure, and front row seats to the feminist cat fight.
I believe that the media is focusing on the feminist infighting as yet another way to put a nail in the feminist coffin. I'm starting to think that feminism is like Dracula. You slay it, bury it, and it still keeps on ticking! Now that we are in March and our candidate is not picked AND the Clinton campaign is turning ugly, we are seeing more and more discussion about women's role in this race.
Young feminist of the moment, Jessica Valenti writes at The Nation that we shouldn't ignore this intergenerational infighting:
No matter what Clinton's fate, feminist election tensions will start to fade--but we shouldn't let them, no matter how many calls for solidarity are issued by movement leaders. Instead of the group hug approach, let's focus on tangible goals: fostering youth leadership, working from the margins in and using intersectionality as our lens--instead of just a talking point. Let's use this moment, when our politics and emotions are raw, to push for a better, more forward-looking feminism.
The problem I see in her "let's talk it out" approach to the infighting is that this country is at a perilous time. Back in 1992 after Bill Clinton was elected the membership in feminist organizations plummeted. Reproductive rights coalitions around the country folded. We had a feminist in the White House! We were safe was the thought. IF Obama or Clinton occupy the White House next January, I fear that by focusing on what is wrong with feminism will lead us astray from reconnecting with the nation as a whole to reintroduce feminism and why we need to spend the first year or two of the next administration repealing many laws.
Now as a third waver (I'm too old for the Obamania and too young to be a Hillerista) who is kinda middle management in the feminist industrial complex, I know all too well the feeling of being ignored by elder stateswomen, of being waved aside in meetings due to a lack of experience. But I also have seen how my views have not just evolved with experience, but been proven wrong with reality. A complete and total revolution will not happen, it takes painstakingly slow baby steps to change this country.
And you know what? Obama subscribes to that theory more than anyone else I've ever seen in politics.
I am goddess damn lucky that I am in a leadership program that was created by second wavers to nurture us whippersnappers. I have not one, but two formal mentors of very experienced women in Chicago who want to help me take the next step. I have many informal mentors who can tell me tales of the ERA marches, leaving friends at a bus stop so a Jane can pick them up for an abortion, and still tell me honestly how to get there from here.
I was raised a Catholic. We didn't go to church on a regular basis and I was allowed to drop out of CCD classes, but we were Catholic. By the time I was a teenager I knew I wasn't really a Catholic thou. During undergrad, I took a women's studies course led by a religious scholar. She asked me point blank why I left that fight (birth control, women as priests, etc.). I often come back to that question when I find myself banging my head on the wall of feminism. My answer is that for Catholicism, there wasn't anything there that I loved enough for me to stay and fight for. Now feminism...that's something that I'll go down fighting for any day.
I don't believe that fighting the good fight for inclusion happens outside large organizations like NOW (where I have been a member & leader since 2000) nor do I believe it only happens inside them. It happens on all sides, inside, outside, with them, without them, in the blogosphere as well as in board meetings.
Valenti knows that Clinton supporters are harassed by sexist Obama supporters:
But it's not just sexism that Clinton supporters face. This one faces something Valenti & Marcotte won't experience ethnic peer pressure. Yes, this Latina has felt the peer pressure to join her Black sisters and brothers in supporting a fellow person of color for our country's leader. I've also felt the generational peer pressure too. It comes out as pointing out how incredibly uncool I am to be supporting Clinton.
We know that Clinton supporters are taking heat from sexists--whether at home, at work or from pundits who relish talking about Clinton's "shrill" voice or whatever thinly veiled misogyny of the day is on cable news. We don't want to provide the backlash more fodder. We also know how hard our feminist foremothers fought to be here and how important the moment is--and we want to be a part of it. I certainly do. But not at the expense of what I believe is best for women, and not just because a movement that assumes it knows what's best for me tells me to.
At the end of the day thou, I just want to get a Democrat in the White House. Without that, we can't move forward and make offensive moves like equal marriage, affordable birth control on college campuses, and nominating feminist judges around the country.
Courtney E. Martin & Deborah Siegel hit it right on the nose with this statement:
Okay, ladies. You've expressed yourselves. Now cease fire. Time to agree to disagree. The idea that all young female Obamaites are anti-feminist and all older Hillaryistas are old school plays into the worst kind of lazy black-and-white thinking. Feminist history has taught us that social change is as complex as the humans who try to enact it.This debate over Hillary & Barack shouldn't be as complex as some are making it out to be. Heck, the issues are complex enough. The work is going to be hard enough!
So as silly as it sounds, let's embrace the group hug mentality AND continue to debate and strategize on how to mentor tomorrow's leaders. Let's work together to help women who think that they aren't political realize that everything is political. Your child's education, your pay check, why you have to drive an extra 15 minutes to an ER because you know your HMO will fight you over the payment if you go to the one across the street...In that vein we should grab the feminist next to us, no matter if they are a Obama or Clinton supporter, and walk down to the coffee shop or pub. Sit down with our drink of choice, maybe some fried cheese sticks and make a plan. How the hell are we going to make this country whole again? How are we going to disagree and still have each other's backs?
Martin & Siegel sum it up like this:
The personal is still political, the political is personal, and we're bound to feel passionately about two such historic candidates. But the question of whether you can be a feminist and still support Obama has about as much integrity as the question of whether you can be a feminist and wear lipstick. Those who ask it play into the divide-and-conquer model that real feminism tries to renounce.
We can do it all, ladies. But we can't do it without each other.
Women are bound to disagree. Feminism itself remains one of the most dynamic movements -- the most debated, fought over, fought for, blamed and reclaimed -- of the past 40 years, in part because so much is at stake. Thoughtful conflict is clarifying. Genuine progress is born of debate -- the kind we are experiencing at kitchen tables, in coffee shops and in classrooms nationwide. How nice it would be if the media highlighted some of these passionate discussions. Can women disagree over candidates during primary season, just as men do, and still find common ground when it's time to elect our next Democratic president? Yes, we can. Yes, we will. Day One starts now.
We can be fed up with the media's treatment of Clinton and still vote for Obama. We can be inspired by Obama's promise and still vote for Clinton. And when it's time to do battle with John McCain, we must be fiercely committed to throwing our weight behind either Democratic leader. So enough with the catfight. Eyes on the prize, people. We've got a much bigger battle ahead.
Technorati tags: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, feminism, intergenerational, Courtney E. Martin, Deborah Siegel