Monday, November 5, 2007

Giving Hillary the Treatment

I was struck by the prominence in the NYT today of a quotation from Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman on a major-party ticket as Walter Mondale's choice for VP in 1984. The larger discussion is about the spectacle of all those men beating up on Clinton in the debate the other night, and the question of how women are treated in the upper echelons of politics. "It's OK in this country to be sexist," she said. "It's certainly not OK to be racist...I don't think Barack Obama would have been attacked for two hours." Like all places in the world, so far as I know, there is an age-old problem with sexism here that a modern secular society, at least, ought to be able to address. As to that, let me salute Hillary Clinton for her achievement in getting to the point where all the men (simply by virtue of the fact that every other player is a man) feel called upon to gang up on her. It's called winning, and it comes with its own burdens, as politicians, boxers and beauty queens will attest. As to the accepted standards of comportment of the males, formally speaking that's unclear, since Hillary Clinton is now sailing through uncharted waters where no woman has gone before. Historically speaking if they had rocks they'd stone her.
As to Ferraro's remarks, they were made in the immediate aftermath of the debate and so I'm sympathetic that some of that is the anger talking. Also remember the generous slice of bitter truth. Of course she's way the hell off about how black people are better off in politics than women. With those caveats, I would point out to her (you know, I was going to call her "Geraldine," because back in the day that's what we called her, there was that fight song, remember? But then I was worried that that would be patronizing so I went with "Ferraro." Just an observation, I don't know what that means) two things: First, the beauty of it is that they're all ganging up on her because she's ahead with maybe 45-50 points of the total, leaving the rest of them in the dust. If they don't kill her she surely kills them. It's called winning and it's sweet and you should rejoice. The second rejoinder is that, notwithstanding the fact of women leaders in many other countries now and in the past, the USA is arguably the most feminist country on Earth, the birthplace and locomotive of global secular feminism. Rejoice and a la lucha.
All sorts of old issues bubble up with the renaissance of liberal politics. This tension between the politically active women, who tend to be richer, more educated, white, higher social status, and the black activists goes back to the days when English women were radicalized through their anti-slavery activities, for example. As to this issue of Hillary's treatment: To say that she should be treated as "one of the guys" misses the point that one of the benefits of women in politics ought to be some deeper transformation of political practice. On the other hand I'm of the opinion that wisdom is seeing the sameness among people. We also will be forced to confront some of these deeply internalized assumptions about men, women and sex roles in a new light throughout the campaign. All of this seems a bit awkward and fraught, maybe, but all to the good.

No comments: