Saturday, October 18, 2008

At Stake

More required reading on the election: The New York Review of Books election special. Predictably intelligent, articulate and (consequently) Democrat. It's always a joy to read Didion, and I also enjoyed the Dworkin and Lelyveld pieces.

I'm a little surprised, and disappointed, that there's no real feminist take on the election (I guess Frances Fitzgerald comes closest, but it's not very close, is it?). Women's rights are certainly at stake in this election - overturning Roe vs Wade will be a major blow, no matter what Wills may say - and with a 'woman' candidate on the Republican ticket, and all the noise about Clinton's disgruntled supporters (some of whom are apparently now supporting Palin - are these women deaf and blind?), surely gender is an issue.

But I think there's more to it than that. I think there was a point when this election had the potential to represent a turning point in gender politics. Remember Naomi Wolf's assertion that the Clinton victory in '92 was at least partly a result of the working of the new female power - the conversion of outrage over Anita Hill into a resounding defeat for the forces of patriarchy and conservatism? The path to real power for women, Wolf argued, lies in their becoming a critical constituency in the national elections - the more critical women are as a vote bank, the more women's issues become central to the political agenda. If the Democrats (who are, after all, the logical choice to be the champion of women's rights) can use the gender card against the old Republican race / class card, then both Democrats and women stand to benefit - the former can parlay women's votes into political victory, the latter can use the decisive nature of their support to ensure their demands for equality are met. That, after all, is how democracy is supposed to work.

And not so long ago, it looked as though this election could be the one where female power finally ended up front and center. In the days leading up to the Palin nomination, the importance of capturing the female vote was a salient part of the larger narrative of the election, so that it seemed that both candidates would finally have to start caring about women's issues. In recent weeks, however, we have heard relatively little about the women's vote, partly, I suspect, because the Palin nomination has sufficiently obscured the issue, and partly because the financial and economic crisis has ended up taking centre stage.

It remains true, however, that the outcome of this election has important implications for the feminist movement, at least in the US. If McCain's gambit of picking Palin succeeds in getting him a disproportionate amount of the female vote, that will only serve to validate the cynical tokenism involved in choosing a female running mate who stands against everything that feminists have fought for all these years. It will send the message that women's rights per se do not matter - as long as you have a few token women on your side, you can continue to pursue your old patriarchal policies, and women will vote for you anyway.

But the implications of this election for the feminist movement go beyond the question of who ends up as president. Even if Obama wins, but wins with more or less equal support from women as from men, that victory will represent, in some sense, a lost opportunity in the battle for gender equality. Because the real opportunity for women in this country coming out of this election is the opportunity to make themselves heard. If the results of this election show that women's votes played a significant role in ensuring victory for whichever candidate eventually ends up winning, that will mean that for campaigns to come candidates will invest time and effort into wooing women voters - time and effort that (assuming tokenism has been shown to fail) will involve thinking seriously and closely about gender inequalities. Imagine an election where the discussion focussed not on the concerns of Joe Sixpack and Joe Plumber but the concerns of Jane Single Mom and Jane Rape Victim. Imagine an election where the analysis wasn't focused on who was ahead in the swing states, but who was ahead with women. All of that seemed possible just six weeks ago, and may still be possible, come 2012, if and only if the results on Nov 4th show Obama winning thanks to an overwhelming proportion of the female vote. The time for women to act as a class for themselves is now.


Anonymous said...

Surely you mean parlay, not parley?

ggop said...

Totally get you on the focus should shift to Jane the single mom or the rape victim. Wait! Palin will make her pay for the evidence kit :-(

Falstaff said...

anon: Yes, thank you. Changed now.

ggop: Only if she didn't like her. If she did like her, she would go all out to help. Why, she would probably have half the FBI working on getting her abusive ex-husband fired from his current job. Now isn't that exactly the kind of pett...errr...detail oriented President we need?