It's been a while since I pontificated, hasn't it? Well then.
Reading this post over at Ultra Violet made me think (somewhat tangentially) about a kind of reverse-sexism we're often guilty of - the assumption that a woman, any woman, will naturally be sympathetic to / concerned about women's rights issues.
The logic behind this bias is not hard to see. All women are, to a lesser or greater extent, victims of patriarchy, so it seems reasonable to assume that a woman will have greater empathy for the plight of her fellow-victims and will be prepared to make common cause with them.
Except, of course, it doesn't work that way. If the history of oppression teaches us anything, it teaches us that victimization at the hands of a common oppressor does not automatically lead to unity. Instead, class consciousness takes time and effort to achieve, and collective action requires a level of coordination that is truly astonishing when you consider how much the participants have to gain. This is true even when the oppression is explicit and clearly perceived, let alone when it comes disguised in a superstructure of tradition and community 'values' so that those oppressed may not even recognize themselves as such. In fact, because the oppressed have access to little power / resources as a class, they end up seeing each other as competition, and fight amongst each other for what little privilege is allowed them, instead of trying to work collectively for more. And those who do manage to secure status / privilege for themselves now have a vested interest in maintaining the social order and often end up working to support the oppressor rather than to help the oppressed.
It's not hard to see this at work where gender is concerned. Pick any patriarchal institution and you'll find scores of women serving as its agents. Attempts to deny women the right to abortion, for instance, have widespread female support, even though such legislation means taking away women's right over their own body and granting it to the state. Women are perpetrators in dowry deaths and genital mutilation and, as we have seen, are often active advocates of the idea that women can avoid being attacked / harassed if they dress properly, stay at home and generally 'behave responsibly'.
None of this is to suggest, of course, that women are not, as a group, more likely to be concerned about women's rights than men (or, in other words, the probability that a given individual will be sympathetic towards gender issues is higher if that individual is a woman). That, sadly, is still true. But one must guard against the fallacy of division that ascribes this property to every woman. That's why the notion of the 'first woman president' is a largely meaningless one . We have little or no reason to expect that a woman who is president will be, simply by the fact of being a woman, more responsive to gender issues than a man would be in her place .
In her post, Indhu says that "we should subject all political offices and the state to a feminist scrutiny". I agree. And I think a key starting point there is moving beyond the tokenism that sees electing women to political office as being somehow a victory for women's rights. Electing feminists to political office may certainly help, electing women per se is unlikely to. The flip side to subjecting male politicians to the same scrutiny or expectations (as Indhu suggests) is recognizing that our expectations from female politicians should be no higher than those from their male counterparts. In both cases, we should demand much, but (realistically) expect little.
 This is not to say, to take a different context, that if Hillary were to become President she's unlikely to pay attention to gender issues. Given Hillary's background, as well as her probable need to keep women voters happy if she wants to be reelected, I'd expect her to be responsive to women's concerns. But I'm not convinced, for example, that she'll be more responsive to them than, say, Obama.
 The assumption that women will be naturally more sympathetic to other women also leads, of course, to a backlash against those who do not conform to this expectation, with people feeling disappointed and betrayed when women behave in patriarchal ways. My point is that the expectation that leads to this sense of betrayal is erroneous, and we'd be all better off if we recognized that once and for all, instead of being repeatedly surprised when it didn't come true.
Update: Reading through this again, I realize that I missed a 'not' in the last but one paragraph. This is why one should not write posts late in the night after an evening at the local pub. It's still a terribly constructed sentence but hopefully you know what I mean.