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Gender nationalism

By Michael J. Smith on Monday June 9, 2008 03:32 PM

Every so often even the New Republic contains some good news:
3 A.M. For Feminism
Clinton dead-enders and the crisis in the women's movement.

Amy Siskind, a 42-year-old mother of two from Westchester, stood in a Washington, D.C., park on the last day in May, telling a few hundred cheering people that she would not, under any circumstances, vote for Barack Obama. She was a lifelong Democrat, she said, a donor and a volunteer for the party. But... she was appalled at the leadership's failure to defend Hillary Clinton from the sexism that she believes bolstered Barack Obama's campaign....

Siskind was one of the speakers at a rally that brought busloads of people, overwhelmingly women, to demonstrate near the Democratic National Committee (DNC) meeting that would decide the status of the Florida and Michigan delegations. The states had been stripped of their delegates--a decision Clinton endorsed--because they had broken party rules in holding their primaries early. But, as Clinton lost steam, seating them in full became crucial to her argument for the nomination, and thus, to her supporters, a matter of high democratic principle....

A strange narrative has developed, abetted by Clinton and some of the mainstream feminist organizations. In it, the will of the voters was thwarted by chauvinistic party leaders in concert with a servile media, and Obama's victory represents a repeat of George W. Bush's in 2000. It's a story in which Obama becomes every arrogant young man who has ever edged out a more deserving middle-aged woman, and Clinton.... is not a spoiler but a feminist martyr.

Westchester is a nice touch. I like the idea that the demonstrators were overwhelmingly women, too. I know a lot of women like that. (And men too of course.) But since I like spoilers so much I guess it may be time to revise my view of Hillary.

Some months back I passed along a concept invented (as far as I know) by an old feminist friend of mine: "free-alterations feminism." -- the bourgeois, careerist, white-collar feminism of equal access to the executive washroom. Hillary of course is the poster girl for this particular style of feminism, much adhered to by many women of my generation. (Suskind, at 42, is a little dewy for this Gloria "Sweetheart of the CIA" Steinem stuff. But maybe Westchester ages one prematurely. Or it's some kind of time-stands-still, baby-boomer Shangri-La up there.)

Unfortunately, it's hard to believe that the Suskinds of the nation will actually be numerous enough, or committed enough, to deprive Obama of victory. Most of them, I dare say, will turn out to be such deep-dyed lesser-evillists that their tropism to the donkey lever will overcome their female nationalism.

* * *

It's nice that it's such a generational thing, this 70s feminism. Since I always think the kids are all right, on principle, it's a little melancholy to see so many of 'em falling for the Obama snake oil. But most of em haven't after all, been burned before, and that's how you learn. And at least they don't have that nasty blend of middle-class self-congratulatory complacency with preachy, sanctimonious holier-than-thou false radicalism that characterized the Yenta Generation feminists.

Here's a view from the other side, by Amy Tiemann, only two or three years younger than Siskind of Westchester:

Obama v. Clinton Puts Stretch Marks on Sisterhood

"Sisterhood" bound women together during the second wave of feminism in the 1970s.

Fast-forward three decades, and it is time to start asking ourselves what happens when you try to stretch sisterhood across a generational divide and then push and pull it between the campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Answer: serious stretch marks.

Yes, Clinton is attracting her share of Gen X and Y supporters as she wages an impressive political battle.

And plenty of older, self-described feminists support Obama. Take Sheila Goldmacher.

"I am a 74-year-old Jewish feminist lesbian and do not support Hillary and have disliked her for a long time as well as her husband Bill," she recently e-mailed Women's eNews. "They have helped to bring us the disaster we now have on our hands by the imposition of NAFTA, which she seems to been backtracking on; the so-called Welfare Reform Act, which has continued to make life miserable for countless numbers of women and children in this country. Stop trying to see this race as only men vs. women."
Goldmacher notwithstanding, plenty of second-wavers have turned the campaigns into a test of feminist credentials....

In "The Feminine Mistake" Leslie Bennetts interviewed a woman who complained she hasn't seen the "young Gloria Steinems."

And a good thing too.

Of course Tiemann is an Obama-ite. But Steinem and Morgan et al. are Clintonites, so they can't claim any moral high ground. In fact Clinton feminism represents, I guess, the logical conclusion of bouregois-corporate feminism. Women ought to have an equal opportunity to be corporate plunderers... and imperial mass-murderers.

Naivete may be some excuse for Obama fans. But nobody can claim ignorance of what Hillary Clinton stands for.

Comments (4)

Nicholas Hart:

It's precisely this sort of politics that destroyed the feminist movement in the first place. The concerns of well-to-do middle class (and ruling class) women basically hijacked the agenda of the feminist movement as a whole. The movement was de-mobilized and steered away from class struggle into the safe (and nonthreatening) confines of the Democratic party.

Breaking the glass ceiling in the corporate boardroom or the imperial Senate is seen as more important than addressing the concrete needs of working women (and men) everywhere: free (and quality) child care, equal wages for equal work (still not there), equal education opportunities for girls and women, free abortion on demand (nothing but full-on retreat from that goal under the Clinton administration, and no hopeful signs from the Hillary "tragic choice" Clinton campaign).

Let's not fight for any of these reforms that might genuinely improve the majority of women's lives--instead let's battle to get a ruling class woman who opposes these things into the Oval Office. Then, and only then can we achieve... uh... I'm sorry, what were fighting for again? A "better" occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan? Humanitarian bombing of innocent women and children? Or perhaps merely having a woman calling the shots will make declining living standards and war hurt less than if a man were in charge.

Ah well, the point is moot. Now we've got a genuine Black Man (tm) whose agenda is virtually identical to Hillary's (and McCain's for that matter). Since Obama is Wall Street's man he'll no doubt make the greatest theft of African-American wealth in US history a less bitter pill to swallow (note: since one can't put a price tag on human life I'm not counting slavery in this equation).

Ah, progress! Finally the Democrats have figured out the magic formula. No need to offer actually progressive policies that a majority of the public supports! Just repackage the the same old pro-war, pro-corporate formula but with a veneer of identity politics and the Left will fall into line.


"The movement was de-mobilized and steered away from class struggle"

when was it threatening
to head toward class struggle ???

"Ah, progress! Finally the Democrats have figured out the magic formula....Just repackage the the same old pro-war, pro-corporate formula but with a veneer of identity politics ..."

hey ...that's been the van guard
dem prog gig since
the terrible summer of 68


"The movement was de-mobilized and steered away from class struggle"

when was it threatening
to head toward class struggle ???

"Ah, progress! Finally the Democrats have figured out the magic formula....Just repackage the the same old pro-war, pro-corporate formula but with a veneer of identity politics ..."

hey ...that's been the van guard
dem prog gig since
the terrible summer of 68

I think I already explained here some time ago the folly of treating "free alterations feminism" as some kind of Ivy League issue. But I don't have the energy to go into it again. Just trust me, Gents, it has impact way beyond a few hotshot attorneys and their tailored suits. You might just as well argue that the gas tax only affects BMW drivers on their way to the Yuppie Mart, and not anyone lower down the food chain.

I try to keep the corner of my eye always turned towards every possible fracture out there, no matter how damn tiny it looks from here. Otherwise, I wouldn't have even a long shot at staying sane.

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