Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Politics, briefly

To my American readers: it's not my place to tell you how to vote for your President and that's not my intention. It's merely my incredulity, looking at the array of candidates from both parties taking the stage at New Hampshire that only one was a woman. Never mind who that woman is, what her politics are, who her party is or who she is married to. Why only one woman not even to have a shot at becoming President, but just to have a shot at getting the nomination for becoming President? And let's face it, if Hillary Clinton had not been the former First Lady would she have even been on that stage?

Why in America, the powerhouse of the struggle for women's rights this century, where second wave feminism was born - the country that gave us Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Andrea Dworkin, Kate Millett - has there been no-one before even close to the Presidency? Only one vice presidential candidate.

In Britain we have had a woman prime minister, a woman running for leadership of the Labour Party and women in two of the three top Cabinet jobs (Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary). Angela Merkel in Germany. Helen Clark in New Zealand. Benazir Bhutto running again in Pakistan before the thugs gunned her down. Indira Gandhi in India. Golda Meir in Israel (and Tsipi Livni currently with her eyes on the top job.)

What is it about America that is so afraid of women running for the highest office, or is it that the system requires so much independent wealth or fund-raising that only candidates with the most powerful machines behind them can have a tilt at the White House? There is a deeply conservative side to America which thwarted the Equal Rights Amendment, but there are deeply conservative elements in India, Israel and Pakistan.

I'm a voter on policy, not gender. I never voted for Margaret Thatcher. But the issue is whether the system is open to everyone, not just minorities, but 51 per cent of the population.


Toby Wollin said...

Linda, we've got two very strong threads here in the United States, one of which has become much stronger over the past thirty years directly as a result of the rise and encouragement of the Religious Right by the Republican Party. The first is anti-liberalism/anti-progressivism. The second is an overwhelming anti-women's rights tendency. Women are supposed to stay home, stay pregnant, and have no choices in their lives other than to obey their masters, their husbands or fathers. Women who work are demonized if they have children. And we will not discuss what has happened to reproductive choice in this country.
This morning, we have the news that Hillary Rodham Clinton won - not by a landslide by any means, but she did beat the other guys in New Hampshire. This is going to bring out the conservatives like wildfire. This is their wildest political dream - to have someone they can rally all the "base" against. No matter if you do or do not like her or her policies or whatever (I admit here that I am a resident of the State of New York, so Hillary Clinton is one of my senators and I have to say that she has worked very hard to be a good senator for us), what will come out now is the fight against her based on gender. I hate that.

Josie the Massachusetts Pussycat said...

Brief note on women running - there have actually been many more women who have run for President including at least two that I can remember who ran in the 1800s and Carol Moseley-Braun from the last election cycle, but Hillary is the first to go so far and to be so mobbed by the media.

Part of the problem with running as a woman in this country (and I speak as a female political science student with plans to run for office) is that it requires battling such a wide range of issues before you even get to the first primary. In America, women have traditionally influenced politics from outside elected office, a trend that has only reversed with any kind of vigor in the past 50 years. Add that to the varied sexist attitudes that still run rampant in the country, and no matter how much progress has been made on that front, it's still an issue that must be considered.

On the upside, I think progress in this area is coming stronger and more quickly than ever before. It's still wrong that we've only had one female candidate able to make this much of a splash, but at least it's a start. Hillary is a start. Even Obama is a start. Even if neither of them wins, after this election cycle, people will have had to consider the possibility of a female president, of a black president, and that, to me, is the first step towards removing the reflexive vote for rich white guys.

Mopsa said...

Can anyone tell me why Condoleeza Rice isn't running?

Anonymous said...

Sen. Clinton is following the well-trod family road into politics, one that Benazir Bhutto and Mrs. Gandhi walked before her. It's my (under-informed) understanding that many female rulers of Asian nations have also taken this path. Mrs. Clinton is doing it as a wife, rather than a daughter.

Also, European parties tend to have selection mechanisms designed to expand the ranks of women, such as specific numbers of places for women on party lists. I expect this has much to do with women's prominence in Northern European nations. U.S. parties are much more loosely governed (or not governed at all), and a free-for-all in terms of who advances and who doesn't.

And please note that Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher are, so far, one-offs, although your point about women in top cabinet posts is well taken. I wonder if women's participation in the Israeli army creates an openness to women in public life broadly? And most fancifully, I wonder if Queens Elizabeth advanced a certain comfort with women rulers in Britain.

California Dreamer said...

Condoleeza Rice has been begged to run, but repeatedly says she will not. However, as the Secretary of State, she is arguably one of the most powerful people in the country. Nancy Pelosi, too, wields significant power as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the most powerful position in that august body. While Washington is dominated by men, the women who stand among them are formidable in their own right.

Speaking as a conservative woman, I have no problem with a woman in the White House as Chief Executive. For me, such personal details as gender and race are insignificant compared to political stance and character. I will never vote for--or against--a candidate because she is a woman or black or some other statistical ephemera. I disagree with Pelosi and Senator Clinton politically. I could vote for Secretary Rice, if she chose to run, but I would have to look more closely at her positions before I made a final decision.

I disagree with Toby Wollin in her characterization of the opposition to Senator Clinton. Hillary has been around too long to not have accumulated personal baggage. There are women all over the political spectrum who dislike the way Hillary defended Bill's misbehavior, people who find her unlikeable, people who oppose her policies, and other issues too numerous to clog up the comments with. She has long been recognized as one of the most polarizing people in American politics, and while gender may play a role, it's not the only aspect. When Hillary faces off against Barack Obama, it's not Woman against Black, unless you want it to be. For most people, it's two individual people going head to head.

At least, I hope it is.

Linda Grant said...

Good point about Nancy Pelosi, though Condoleeza Rice is not an elected politician and hence has not had to endure the bruising political battles.

Gayle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NancyF said...

America loves its archetypes: men as protectors/rescuers, women as helpless victims. (For a thorough and articulate examination of this, see Susan Faludi's recent "The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America," which places the post-9/11 anti-feminist backlash in proper historical context.)

Women have, however, made significant gains in local and state politics. There are towns and even cities where *all* of the elected officials are women. And there are currently nine women serving as state governors and eleven as lieutanant governors. Here in California, both of my senators are women, as is my congressional representative (Barbara Lee, who voted against the Iraq adventure).

Tracey said...

Great post Linda. You can add Julia Gillard (Australia's first female deputy PM) to your mental list:

Although I don't vote by gender either, I admit I look forward to the day when Australia gets it's first female PM.

enc said...

I only wish more women participated in government. I like that Nancy Pelosi has taken a stronger position. I like that Hillary Clinton is running for President. I like that more an more women are stepping up, but it's just not enough. I think if Clinton were elected president, things could possibly crack wide open. I'm trying to remain optimistic.

But . . .

There's a huge contingent of staunch male Republicans who control most of the money, lobbies and media, and they support the conservative end of policy and ethics. They will not loosen their grip as long as they control the money and the power. Why would they? I think we all know that they will fight against any woman coming to power as President, because it means a dilution of their power base.

Additionally, the Supreme Court is now swayed to the conservative side. With only only one woman, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the demographics are skewed, and she won't last forever. Our current "President" has loaded the SC with appointees who will serve his conservative agenda. These conservative appointees have life terms on the bench, and some would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

I for one do not want to be represented by a majority of men, especially men who don't represent my viewpoint. I'm a woman, and I really don't want a man legislating my body, or the schools' science curriculum, or separation of church and state.

When Bush was "re-elected," I was deeply saddened. I felt a cold grief (an expression I heard used by a man speaking on public radio—the most perfect description I've ever heard for that feeling). I couldn't believe that Bush was back in office, a second time, when the country voted against him. Twice.

So . . .

I continue to hope that people like Pelosi, Clinton and the not-previously-mentioned Boxer (and Rice, even though she's a conservative) can keep pushing the limits of our representation. What we need are more women and minorities in powerful government seats before anything can really begin to change.

I'm voting again this year, and crossing my fingers we won't have to endure another fraudulent set of results.

god help us (I'm an atheist).

Rant over

Anonymous said...

I am a 15 year old girl, and i am slowly starting to realize that the consequences of my country's actions today will soon fall to my generation to correct. The lack of positive female leaders in our soceity is depressing and does not exactly inspire hope in all of the girls who dream of someday becoming president, or a senator, or even a doctor.

i hope all the british readers of the blog know that not all americains are overconsuming, chauvanistic dumbasses who drive escalades and vote for bush. unfourtunatly, our country is screwed up enough that there are too many of those ignorant people roaming around, using their skewered logic and policies to taint others minds. I would like to apoligize to the rest of the world, and let you all know that americains should not all be equated to right wing extremists who think our occupation of iraq was a good idea.

Phyllis said...

I think there is an economic component to this as well. When you live in a country with no national health, no affordable childcare, and college tuition rates that increase yearloy at twice the rate of inflation the daily grind if keeping your head above water doesn't leave too much time for to devote their lives to public service unless you make scads of money or have reliable help from your family.

thepinkeminence said...

Maybe it is possible that in America we judge people by the content of their character and the strength of their resume rather than the gender of the package they come in...? Idealistic perhaps, but possible. I loathe the utterly silly notion that women are needed to represent women, short people are needed to represent the childish. Hillary won't win the presidency because her ideas are horrid, which will always trump the fact that she's female.

Linda Grant said...

I agree, the pinkeminence, that one should not vote according to gender. However one may justifiably ask why so few women even make it onto the ballot? Do they all have something wrong with their character and their resume?

Chaser said...

There are actually quite a few examples of cabinet-level appointments for women in the US going all the way back to the 1930s, even.

You can see A list of current female heads of state and the list of presidential candidates from around the world.

There's plenty of baggage that Condoleeza carries around, too. You don't get where these women are if you are afraid to piss people off.

California Dreamer said...

Linda, you pose a legitimate question. I ask another question: why do so few women even test the waters, let alone make it onto the ballot? I don't have answers, but perhaps some insights.

Very few people (male or female) are in a position to command the many millions of dollars it takes to run for president. (Every election cycle, we see a few who try, and they invariably come to naught.)

Those who do, unless they are extremely wealthy and wish to use their own money for this purpose, must convince their party's machine or special interests that they (a) have a real chance of winning, and (b) will advance the purposes of those putting up the money. Both of these conditions require that one has had significant time on the political scene to create a track record and to accumulate power.

There are very few women in this position at this time. No Democrat woman is going to throw her hat in the ring when Hillary is running; it would be political suicide (I'm thinking of Nancy Pelosi.) No Republican woman is in a position to run this year except Condoleeza Rice, and she has opted out.

Another element is personal. Anyone who chooses to run for president can count on having their entire life laid bare, including that of their family members. Who among us wishes to endure that kind of scrutiny? I suspect many individuals have refused to run because they wish to preserve a veneer of privacy.

brooksie said...

Times have changed, America is far more conservative than it used to be on a "local" level. You have to get around the huge combined voting blocks of the midwest and south. You can see this all over the culture. At the end of the day, I believe France recently simply too conservative to elect a female to the highest office, tho for very different reasons.

The biggest voting block, both in age and inclination, are the Boomer generation (same prominent voting bloc in France...the 68ers) and many of these folks at the end of the day still hold "traditional" gender biases, despite being the generation of 2nd wave feminism. Religiosity plays a HUGE part here.

To be blunt, I don't see any woman being electable until the Boomer generation and the "great generation" starts to die off. A woman will be elected once generations who didn't grow up w/ prefeminist era acculturization becomes a majority......IOW, a long time from now.

As for Indira Ghandi and Benazir Bhutto....both of them being murdered in or seeking office isn't much of a vote of confidence in this situation. In many ways, this reinforced the stereotype that women are too "weak" for positions of power.

(I'm neither a conservative or comments are inclusive of either party in the current US political spectrum)

greeneyes said...

Taking it down to a very "local" level, I've heard several women remark that they would not vote for Hillary Clinton because they had a bad female boss once, and they don't trust women in charge.

The worst boss I ever had was a man, but that doesn't keep me from voting for one (uh, not that I have any choice, right?). I also find it interesting that the men I know (around the office, etc.) seem to have more respect for Clinton than the women do, even if they aren't supporting her candidacy, and seemed less offended by her crying in NH.

Anonymous said...

If women want a woman to be president, why don't the 51% of you elect one?

The reason is that many women I talk to utterly detest and loathe Hillary Clinton.

I'm as conservative a male as one will find but even I could vote for a black woman should she be qualified and nonpolarizing. Hillary is a joke.

Anonymous said...

Fully 1/3 of the women you have pictured have been assassinated, not a good statistic.

I do find it interesting that people are so focused on Hillary Clinton specifically rather than the question at hand. Hillary Clinton is only the latest woman to seek election for US president.

anon 21:43 hits all the reasons why on the head, however unwittingly. First of all, he assumes that it's ONLY women who want a woman for President. That alone says a lot. Using that logic (ie that only women desire a female president and only women would vote for one), why is it that only males have been elected so far? The comment about a black female even proves the point more strongly. George bush and Bill Clinton were both "polarizing" depending on who you ask, but this apparently isn't an issue for a male seeking election.

Linda, he answered your question even better than anyone else.

Teresa said...

When I look for a person to vote for - I don't look at their gender, color, or religion. Unlike the press in this country, I look to see if their stated interest in this country comes closest to matching mine. PERIOD.

So far there has not been a woman to this point who has fit that description.

In the UK - Mrs. Thatcher (or is it Baroness now... sorry I forget her title) was not elected directly!!! She didn't have to run a national campaign like the nominees run in this country. You have a Parliamentary system. She was the head of her party - I assume she was elected by other elected officials in her party - and this is a far far easier process than getting the majority of the entire electorate to vote for you!

When her party became the majority party - she then became the PM. That is a VASTLY different system than ours. In essence there is not a legitimate comparison at all.

We have plenty of women in the House of Representatives and even in the Senate. If we used your system. Nancy Pelosi would be our President. We don't do it that way.

We separate the President from the other elected representatives. And this makes it very very difficult to become President - for anyone not just women or people of color.

Just because one person has breasts or the other person has a different skin tone or yet another has testicles... none of those things makes them Presidential material.

It took John Kennedy to break down the barrier for Catholics to be elected President! Few people now remember what a hurdle that was. Barrack Obama has done more than anyone else to erase the color barrier with his campaign - by simply ignoring it as a position. When we can stop looking at the candidate as "a woman" or "a man" we will finally break down the gender barrier.

In the end - we get the person who gets the most electoral college votes. And being as it is only one person and the election is only every 4 years - it's a slow process.

desertwind said...

We're a young country with an old heart. Or something.

lagatta à Montréal said...

In a Parliamentary system PMs have to stand for a seat as MPs - no, they are not "directly" elected, the party is, but in the US Presidents aren't directly elected either. I think perhaps Presidents are directly elected in some other presidential systems. Must check on Presidents Michelle Bachelet and Cristina Kirchner, in Chile and Argentina!

Emily, I was so touched by your post. At your age I was an antiwar activist too - but against the war in Vietnam, not Iraq or Afghanistan. No, I certainly don't think all US-Americans are war hawks. But I do think it is a key issue, and we can't go about saying "don't mention the war"!

Finally, I want to compliment Linda on the semiotics in the photographs - they are well chosen to illustrate the theme of this blog, as they show how all the very different women leaders portrayed used their presentation of self as a political instrument. Obviously men do that too, and it might be interesting to have a gallery of very different male political leaders and how they present themselves on the public stage.

Anonymous said...

As an American woman, I would love to be able to vote a woman into the highest office in the nation. However, I prefer to vote based on a candidates stance on the issues at hand. Sadly Hillary is the 'Establishment' candidate in this election (out of the Democratic candidates running) and I don't really connect to her politically. I would ironically prefer Edwards or Denis Kucinich (both white men) who are far more 'liberal'.

Which then leaves me and many of my fellow voters with a choice - do you vote for someone whose policy you think can lead the country onto a better path, or do you vote for someone who's presence in office could change peoples perception of women?

Both are important, very important, and it's a shame that we have to consider making that kind of trade off.

Becs said...

As someone in her early twenties who just got out of college, I think the amount of women in politics will increase a great deal in the coming years - I can think of several women of my acquaintance who intend to pursue political office.

One of the other commenters mentioned the fact that it takes a lot of backing to run for the higher positions in the US government, and I think that has a great deal to do with it. Washington is still very "good old boys", and it's not just the Republicans, for all the Democrats would disagree. I have friends working in government on both sides of the aisle, and neither party can honestly claim to be totally open in that regard.

I would be fine with having a female president (of any race) but I'm never going to vote for a woman just because she's a woman. I'm going to vote for the person I feel will represent my views best. I greatly dislike Hilary, but that's because I'm a fiscal and social conservative whose views in politics are pretty much at the opposite end of the spectrum.

I don't know who's going to read down this far, but please try to remember that conservatives aren't automatically evil. We just disagree (and a lot of us try to do that politely and for the sake of fostering discussion). We can admit that sometimes we're wrong ;)