Sunday, March 02, 2008

Finding my Feminist Roots: When Being the Best is Undercut By Being a Woman

With the Texas primary coming up on Tuesday, I have been thinking long and hard about who to vote for. Of course, I am going to vote in the Democratic primary - and attend the caucus afterward - but that shouldn't surprise anyone who reads my blog. Clearly, I am a left-leaning liberal feminist from way, way back.

Our choices this year seem like an embarrassment of riches. The excitement of having either a woman or a black person run for president is electrifying. But I have great ambivalence about which candidate best represents my beliefs. Michael and I have been discussing this off and on for several months.

Michael went ahead and voted early one lunch hour at a polling place very convenient to his job. I waited because I haven't been certain who to vote for. I am as susceptible as anyone to the excitement Obama generates and I find him very reminiscent of John Kennedy in his ability to engage the younger generations. (Kennedy died when I was 13.) On the other hand, Clinton is stronger in experience and political savvy. I do not think that "outsiders" really make it in Washington because they don't have the political green stamps and skeleton-in-the-closet knowledge to use in making deals.

My grade school education taught me that our government works on a quid pro quo basis - you help me and I'll help you; you cross me and I'll get you back. Compromise in Congress, compromise between the executive and congressional branches, compromise that has been taken too far with lobbyists but that's another blog. I think Hillary will be far better prepared to negotiate those rocky shoals than Obama. (Compare Lyndon Johnson with Jimmy Carter to get my drift.)

On Friday, Michael and I engaged in yet another discussion of the primary race. I asked him who he had voted for and he indicated Clinton. (I have his permission to reveal that to the world.) I told him that, after much internal debate, I had pretty much decided to vote for Obama. I then asked his reasons and he basically said everything I just stated above. He went a step further and told me that his vote was win/win for him because he voted for the person he thought would be best, but he would be okay if Obama won, going back to the unprecedented situation of a black person and a woman both in serious contention for the Democratic Party's nomination for president.

Musing about this for a minute, Michael added that he remembered learning in college (which hasn't been so long ago for him) that the social hierarchy in America consisted of white men, black men, white women, black women. Privilege and opportunity, acceptance by society followed those rankings.

That rang a bell for me, also and got me thinking. I said to Michael, "We have an older experienced white woman contending with a younger, less experienced, but charismatic black man. What if the roles were reversed? Let's say an older, more experienced black man versus a younger, less experienced, but charismatic white women?" And then I stopped in my tracks, caught by an aha! moment.

There would never be such a competition in our society as it exists today. There could not be a white female or black female Obama. That person would never have made it out of the starting gate. I know it as surely as I know my own name. Michael agreed wholeheartedly when I told him what had occurred to me.

When I went to graduate school, the head of my department told me pointblank that my talents would outstrip my male colleagues because a mediocre man could get into programs that only an exceptional woman could attain. He cautioned me that I might be disappointed in the abilities of the men around me.

Apparently, the same conditions apply to politics today: It takes a superbly talented and experienced woman to get into the political game that a relatively inexperienced - albeit charismatic - man can get into.

Aside: I attended graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis on a full tuition scholarship in a new program that called Technology and Human Affairs that has since morphed into Engineering and Public Policy. Lacking an undergraduate science degree, I could no longer get into this program, but at the beginning it was multi-disciplinary.

You know, I feel terrible about this realization. I feel betrayed in a way. I (among many other people) worked so hard for women's rights in my lifetime and what has it gotten? The chance for a woman to play with the boys, but not on a level playing field. All this has made me decide to vote for Hillary Clinton instead of Barack Obama. He is young and charismatic and he has a future in politics, but let him earn a few more stripes in political service before going to the head of the line in the Democratic Party for 2008's election.

Clinton is experienced, dedicated, and a work horse by all accounts. Even her opponents in Congress applaud her work ethic and her bipartisanship. She is ready to step into the Oval Office and I think she should be the Democratic candidate for President this year. She can beat McCain because she knows the ropes. Even the polls, flawed though they may be, show Clinton besting Obama against McCain. And that is what this is about, right?

I want a Democrat back in the White House. I'll support Obama if he is the party's choice, but my heart - and my vote - is with Hillary Clinton.


PS As they say in Chicago, "Vote early and often!"


Unknown said...

My first blog comment ever! I voted Obama--just the once so far--because everything Clinton does in office will be attributed to our sex, and I just don't want to hear it. I want our first woman president to be trustworthy. I'll probably wait forever. Cheers, Susie

Anonymous said...

I have no internal struggle over Hilary v Barrack. He is an intelligent, charismatic, effective leader. Hilary is a DC insider. Eight years in the White House and another eight in the Senate have given her all the advantages you list. Her experience and the experience of her peers got us into a quagmire of a war on two fronts. Her wheeling and dealing with Congress and the White House have not achieved universal healthcare, have not achieved an end to poverty, have not raised the US's educational standings and other than a meanless tax cut that is a bandaide on a gangernous wound, have not improved my life.
I reject her experience. I reject her insider status. I reject her.
I want hope for better days ahead. I want a break in the clouds of threat levels and iminent attacks. She has not offered that to me. Her ads here in Texas play to fear, not hope. And frankly, experience without judgement is useless.
For me, as a 33 year old woman, whether or not she's a she is so much less important to me than she is who she is.
I will vote for the Democrat the party nominates. Today, I voted for Barrack Obama. Not because he is a man or a person of color. I voted for him because I like who he is and what he stands for, which is so much more important than gender or color.
I learned to look at people as people and judge them for who they are rather than as genders or colors from my parents. The irony does not escape me.
I have not been institutionalized to the heirarchy you perceive. I have been freed from it.

Anonymous said...

I've always said that the biggest obstacle to women achieving equality in this world is other women. I will repeat this because it is important: the biggest obstacle to women achieving equality in this world is other women. Here we have a brilliant & qualified candidate who is a woman & other women refuse to support her because she has not put an end to poverty & improved educational standards in just 8 years! Your standards for her, Alix, are very high. What precisely has Obama done in the 3 years he has been in the Senate? Has he pushed through any major or controversial legislation? No. Has he been present in the Senate on the days that they are voting on controversial issues? No. Has he called any meetings, fer Chrissakes, of the one committee he does chair? No. What he has done is run, run, run for president the minute he was elected senator.

& By the way, as far as the issue of improving educational standards goes--you might want to think of raising your own standards. Your post is riddled with misspellings (gangernous, iminent, heirachy, &, most importantly Barrack (!) Obama).

Talk to me again in 17 years when you are 50 years old & there has never been & there probably never will be a female president because women won't support qualified candidates. You're not gender blind, sweetheart. You are just blind to the brutal realities of sexism & of the political glass ceiling in this country.

Anonymous said...

Lane here, asking that commentators refrain from personal attacks. Let's discuss ideas, not spelling. In the heat of writing, even the best of us can scramble finger strokes. I am interested in what other people think as long as it is stated in a respectful way.

Anonymous said...

Lane--I stand by my assertion that supporters of Barack Obama who write in public forums should know how to spell his name correctly. I'm doing Alix a favor by pointing out the error. Her misspelling his name reflects badly on Obama.

By the way, I love your blog. You rock.

Anonymous said...

Anon is absolutely right. I should be able to spell my candidate's name correctly!! I have brought shame upon mine own head for it's lack of internal spell-checker!!!

Oh Mighty Obama-n-ator, forgive me!
I shall send you a "gator" to "wrassle" in the White House as thus you spake on the Letterman!!!