Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Some Perspective

As we're all now well aware, in the democratic primary older women tended to support Senator Clinton, with younger women more often supporting Senator Obama. This rift heated into an ugly little battle between the generations that I was actually quite surprised by (perhaps naively so). The opinion pages were full of rancorous accusations from feminists like Gloria Steinem who felt a vote for Obama was a betrayal of the feminist cause, that we'd be losing everything we'd fought for by not voting for Clinton. And then the unpleasantness of Geraldine Ferraro's comments, the Clinton supporter decrying Obama as an "inadequate black male," and finally the accusations that the nomination had been stolen from Clinton that became entangled with cries of prejudice and sexism.

Without question, there was rampant sexism in this race, mainly from the media. Clinton has always been a favorite punching bag of the right wing pundits and probably would've continued to draw their fire had McCain not pulled into the lead, instigating such bizarre scenes as Ann Coulter's quasi-endorsement of Clinton. The fact is, the sexism encountered was (just like the bigotry Obama still faces) a certainty that Clinton's campaign had to face from the outset. She was far and away the favorite in the beginning, and sexism did not lose her the nomination. So please, sisters, take a deep breath and let go of a little bit of your anger. It makes no sense for women who've voted democrat in the past to vote for McCain now, and it's certainly not Obama's fault that Clinton had to endure sexism. That's all our fault as a society, and we have to deal with the reality of where we are now. She was the first, and she had to cut through it with a machete, to make a path where there wasn't one before.

All that being said, I've spent the past few months pretty miffed at older feminists trying to tell me who I can and can't vote for. Last time I checked, women didn't have to put up with that. And I see feminism not as about being victorious over men but about gender equality: shouldn't we try to make a decision about the candidates without regard for gender? I think that's how most Obama feminists see it. But the thing I've only recently realized, which is perhaps blatantly obvious to others, is that we're young. I've lived through four presidents. For younger women, there's no urgency to elect a woman. No, there haven't been any female presidents, but it seems more like a fluke than inequality: I feel like a female president is inevitable. We have grown up in a different world, where women occupy the same positions men do (admittedly sometimes in fewer numbers). It's one where girls graduate from high school at a higher rate, go to college and graduate in larger numbers, and in general experience very little persecution or resistance because of gender. Growing up in Arizona, I lived through an equal number of female and male governors (and I might add, a far more admirable showing by the women: Mecham and Symington stand in sharp contrast to Janet Napolitano, who besides being an extremely competent, smart, and popular governor was also the first Arizona governor and first woman to chair the National Governor's Association). I know there are still gaps and places we can do better. But the feeling of being less, of having lower expectations for girls than boys, is all but gone.

So I would like to say first of all that I'm sorry for being annoyed with women's aspirations for Hillary Clinton. And to say thanks: Thank you to Senator Clinton being a pioneer and taking the blows so that now it's normal and accepted to see a woman running for president. And thank you to the women who stood up for themselves and for all women to be regarded as full citizens and equals. My generation's relative complacency is proof you succeeded: women aren't an oddity in the workplace or politics, but in fact just another person, to be judged and considered on the same merits as a man. Male is not the default, and women are not the exception: we're just people of different genders. So thanks, to all the women and men who changed minds—and had their minds changed—to create a world where I take my rights and opportunities for granted.

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