Baby boomer feminism and voting

Is there a good feminist argument for voting for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries (if unlike me, you are eligible to do so)? I ask, because what I seem to be coming across more often at the moment is poor quality feminist arguments for her. See for example, this article by Robin Morgan.

What it doesn’t do is present any good policy reasons why Hillary Clinton would make a more effective feminist president than Barack Obama would. In fact, she admits that their views on policy are similar (though some might say that Obama is more progressive on, for example, transgender issues). When I asked one pro-Clinton feminist about this on Obsidian Wings, all she could bring up was that although Clinton hadn’t campaigned on issues such as work-family balance and the problems of female carers, she had written about them in the past. (This doesn’t mean that there may not be feminist issues on which Clinton is better – I just haven’t heard what they are). And it’s noticeable that while Morgan complains about Obama being all talk and no action, rather than focus on any actions that Clinton has taken, she starts quoting from her speeches.

Instead, the main focus of the article is on the sexism that Clinton has faced, which has indeed been nasty. But that doesn’t answer the question: why should someone vote for her? The presidency isn’t a consolation prize, to go to the person most badly treated (and if it were, isn’t the ex-POW in line for that)? And it is simply naive to believe or claim that a female president would mean an end to sexist comments in the media: it certainly didn’t in the UK. There’s also a nasty taste in the mouth left by the claim that women are more oppressed than African Americans: it’s very hard to argue that is true in the US. Morgan’s complaint about black women for Clinton being called race traitors would be more potent if she wasn’t implicitly calling women who vote for Obama traitors to their sex. (And note how she complains about age discrimination towards Clinton while pointing out that Ted Kennedy is 76).

Morgan’s article also tries to fudge the two big feminist problems with Hillary’s campaign. One is her voting for the Iraq war and her inability to apologise for this (unlike John Edwards). Now technically, you can say this is not necessarily a feminist issue, although a lot of women anti-war protestors would say that their feminism deeply informs their concerns. However, in Clinton’s case, it seems that her determination to stand by a serious error of political and moral judgement is intended to show her militaristic ‘toughness’. (So contrary to Gloria Steinem’s view, she probably does feel the need to prove her ‘masculinity’ more than some other candidates). In other words, Clinton’s record suggests that as president it will be business as usual; she will not be a woman who will ‘govern differently’, as Morgan claims.

The other feminist problem that Morgan skirts round is the dynastic issue. Would Hillary Rodman Smith be a serious candidate for US president? The answer, surely, is no: she would almost certainly not have the political skills to become one. That is not to compare her with George W. Clinton is an intelligent and politically well-informed woman and would be a competent president, but it is difficult to argue that she has personally the specific skills (coalition building, deal-making, oratory) either to get this far electorally or to achieve significant political results once in office. (If someone wants to dispute this, then I would again be happy to hear more about her political successes, bills passed etc).

Morgan is reduced to saying that dynastic politics can be a way of getting women into high positions, (while ignoring the many women leaders such as Thatcher and Merkel who don’t fit this), just as Steinam mentions powerful fathers, but not powerful husbands. On that argument, maybe the US should bring back hereditary monarchy. In fact, Clinton’s campaign is arguably more dynastically dependent than many of the examples Morgan quotes. Most of the female politicians she mentions achieved their success after the deaths of their fathers/husbands (one exception being Cristina Kirchner of Argentina). They may have inherited a political legacy and a political leg-up, but it was up to them to exploit it on their own. On the other hand, it’s clear that at least some of Hillary’s supporters are really hoping for the third term in office of ‘Billary’. The reliance of Hillary on her husband’s popularity and advice now seems to be a failing tactic, but it is hardly appealing to feminists. How does it benefit women’s political advance if a woman can seemingly only succeed when boosted by a more successful male politician? I think it feels particularly disappointing to me because I can remember back when Bill Clinton was campaigning. Then Hillary’s suggestion that you could get a 2-for-1 did seem a positive way of getting feminism more of a foothold in politics. But I think the Clintons’ subsequent career hasn’t suggested any serious commitment to changing the gender status quo.

Morgan’s article, then, doesn’t seem to me to make a good feminist case for Hillary Clinton, but it’s not just that that is the problem for me with the article. There’s also the whole tone, which to a non-baby- boomer likes me smacks a bit too much of the put-down of an unappreciative younger generation. What would the boomers of 30 or 40 years ago have said to being told by their mothers and grandmothers: ‘we know best, do as we say?’ They rightly rejected that. Feminism today doesn’t have the same contours that feminism had in the 1960s and 1970s, but to imply that it is therefore inferior, or that young women who vote for Obama are trying to please their boyfriends is just patronising. If there is a positive feminist case for Clinton, it needs to be made without running down Obama and to have more substance than older women complaining ‘it’s not fair’. And if someone is making this case, I’d be interested to read it.


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