Thursday, February 7

:: Kristof: We're Not Ready for a Feminist President (Part Two)

Nicholas Kristof says our country isn't ready for a feminist President... and that's okay.
The most disturbing part of today’s contribution by Nicholas Kristof to the New York Times’ daily dose of anti-Clintonism (Who Is More Electable?) is this:

Another way of looking at electability is to wonder whether it’s more of a disadvantage to be black or to be female. Shirley Chisholm, the black woman who ran for president in 1972, argued in effect that there were more sexists than racists in America. “I met more discrimination as a woman, than for being black,” Ms. Chisholm once said.

And recent polling and psychology research seem to back that up.

Moreover, my hunch is that a conservative woman like Margaret Thatcher may have a better chance of being elected than a feminist with a distinguished record of standing up for women’s rights. For the same reason, Senator Obama probably has a better chance than a black candidate who emerged from the civil rights movement.

Quite simply, Mr. Kristof asserts that there is too much sexism in our culture to allow a woman to become president – except perhaps for a conservative woman such as Margaret Thatcher, who would disavow feminism and actively reaffirm the traditional power status quo.

Mr. Kristof suggests something similar of Senator Obama – that an African-American candidate who lacks a history of standing up for African-American rights is more palatable to whites than one who has directly challenged the status quo. The fact that Senator Obama has no notable accomplishments with regard to civil rights (other than the fact of his candidacy for President) is apparently an asset in this election. That is backhanded praise indeed.

What disturbs me his tacit acceptance of this situation. Instead of encouraging people of good will to recognize and oppose sexism, he treats it like an immutable fact of life. If we don’t challenge it now, how will we ever reach “the right time” for a female President? We already lag behind many countries around the world.

I posted the following comment at the Times in response to the column; I reproduce it here because it never saw the light of day though a comment I posted later showed up. The Times isn’t very timely or careful about posting readers’ comments. Perhaps they are still getting used to the idea.


After months of feeling enthusiastic about the prospect of Senator Clinton becoming president, I am finally being worn down. It may be that Mr. Kristof is correct in saying that this country is too steeped in misogyny to elect a woman to its highest office.
Only Senator Clinton is said to have “just” seven years of experience because she was first elected to public office in 2000. The assumption is that the other 28 years of her 35 year career were spent being “just” a wife, an ornament, a figurehead who “poured tea” in exotic locales. I am told that her substantial, demonstrable achievements outside of elected office simply “don’t count.” Yet no one suggests that Mitt Romney’s experience saving the Salt Lake City Olympics or Senator McCain’s experience as a soldier “don’t count” because they didn’t hold elected office at the time.

Only Senator Clinton is criticized for the personal moral failings of her spouse. I am told she should not become President because her husband’s past infidelity would tarnish the White House. But no one suggests that Senator McCain should not become President because he would bring to the White House a spouse who publicly admitted to (and apologized for) drug abuse and embezzlement at a difficult time in her life. No one suggests his moral character is compromised because of the actions of his wife.

Only Senator Clinton is described as someone who would be “nothing” or “nowhere” without her spouse. I frequently hear that her only real achievement is her marriage to a successful man. Yet no one suggests that Senator McCain, whose political career flourished only after he married an heiress whose father bankrolled his campaigns, would be nothing without his wife. No one suggests Mitt Romney would be nowhere if his father had not been a beloved governor.

Only Senator Clinton is posited as ineligible for the office of President because a family member held that office (Andrew Sullivan, for example, recently wrote a column suggesting her candidacy violates the spirit if not the letter of the Constitution). But members of the Kennedy family are regularly praised for their family’s commitment to public service, and Ted and Caroline are praised for “passing the baton” of JFK and RFK to Senator Obama. No one suggests that future Kennedys should be barred from office because of that family’s disproportionate representation in national politics.

Only Senator Clinton is regularly derided by commentators in the mainstream media, such as MSNBC or the op-ed pages of the Times, for being an “emasculating,” “castrating,” “cold,” “imperious,” “witchy” harridan who is injurious to male self-esteem. But no respectable commentator would dare mock Senator Obama using pernicious racial stereotypes, or suggest that his success comes at the expense of Caucasian America. Instead, such an action would be resoundingly and rightly condemned.

Only Senator Clinton is said to be a “disgrace” to other women because of her actions within her marriage (meaning, because she did not divorce her husband over his infidelity). No one suggests Senator McCain is a “disgrace” to other men because he cheated on and subsequently divorced his first wife after she suffered a disfiguring and debilitating car accident. Senator Clinton’s behavior as a wife is considered integral to her moral character, while Senator McCain’s behavior as a husband is considered tangential or meaningless.

It is has been deemed unimportant – even by certain well-known feminists – that no candidate except Senator Clinton has a track record of working on issues that pertain to gender equality such as the disproportionate level of violence directed at women by men, the dearth of social and governmental support systems for women who choose to give birth and raise children, the degradation of women in the media and the impact this has on the self-esteem and safety of young girls, the trafficking and enslavement of women to supply the demand for commercial sex work, and the myriad gender issues pertaining to human rights and international development. But the fact that a President Obama would make a positive contribution to the self-esteem of young African-Americans is regularly (and rightly) recognized as a feature of his appeal.

Unfortunately, this list could go on and on. The fact that I am learning to face is that very few people – including few “progressives” - actually care if women face prejudice, ridicule, insults, threats of violence or actual violence simply because they are female. Very few people care if women aren’t treated fairly.

Nevertheless I will continue to volunteer and contribute to Senator Clinton’s campaign and hope that she will be our next President.

1 comment:

ladybec said...

Well said! And it's online now, which I know because I have now spent way too much time reading the comments to this annoying article when I should be doing work. I'm getting so sick of this unbelievable sexism, but thanks for keeping up the fight. You said it so eloquently. Do we have a volunteer plan for the weekend? I'm so fired up and ready to do something! Obama's supporters are not the only ones with passion.