Cross-posted from Peacocks & Lilies.
Pretty amazing things are afoot for women this election year. Will we seize the opportunity?
Women have been much in the news lately. From the contraception debate to caterpillar analogies to country clubs, it’s obvious the political parties are waging a war for women; that is, for their votes. Why the change in focus now? Perhaps because leveraging works?
Back in 2008, Dr. Violet Socks published an article called Archimedes Lever, about women leveraging political power. In it, she laid out the problem, the spark, and the opportunity that 2008 represented for women in the political realm. It represented an opportunity to leverage their power as a voting block by denying what had until that point been commonly accepted as “the party of women,” Democrats, by withholding their votes. That article was pretty popular at the time, representing a kind of watershed “click moment” among the group of mostly women bloggers who comprised the PUMA movement (full disclosure: I was involved in PUMA, authoring The Declaration of Objections).
This was important because the political realm is both evidence of women’s continued unequal treatment and one of the few avenues to seek redress for that unequal treatment. It stands as evidence because women are not even close to realizing parity. Less than 25% of state-associated political officeholders are women. Less than 17% of either federal congressional chamber are women politicians. There has never been a woman president. And yet the gains that women have made, and the gains that they can make are tied inevitably to this political structure. Understanding how to, and having a good reason for breaking the status quo quickly because a top priority of PUMA and its proponents.
I don’t know how Violet Socks feels about the results of what she accurately predicted would be an opportunity to successfully leverage women’s political power. She banned me a few years ago after what I will politely refer to as an interpersonal meltdown, the details of which it would be rude to discuss here. Reading her blog today, one would imagine she might be inclined toward horror, considering her apparent opposition to conservatism and her propensity to use left-wing short-hand, the foggy memes that are so often perpetuated throughout the leftist blogosphere. Because women did leverage their power, but they did not choose a third party to do so, nor did they abstain from voting. They went to the polls and voted for Republicans in record numbers in 2010. The numbers were so high, they erased a 10 point gender gap that Democrats had enjoyed for decades.
Something drove this phenomenon, and it wasn’t the policies that Republicans were offering. They didn’t offer any pro-woman legislation or policy ideas in the wake of the 2008 election. Neither was it an influx of new voters and the dropping out of regular voters. Some of it absolutely belongs to the power of Sarah Palin and the risk that John McCain took in selecting her. That may have been the first time many PUMAs, most of whom had been loyal Democrats, gave the GOP an honest look. Very soon thereafter some PUMA bloggers and other disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters, including yours truly, began to blog about the idea of voting Republican. This was an incredible risk for us to take, because it so often led to the alienation of family and friends who couldn’t understand why we were upset, or didn’t believe us when we told them. We did not let these rhetorical manipulations sway us from our primary purpose: to register our disapproval of Democratic sexism and the manipulations of the system that led to Hillary Clinton’s loss, and to attempt to persuade the Republican Party and women of all political stripes that we needed to focus on closing specific gaps in equality for women. This was a fight we could not win in 2008, not with the generic ballot what it was, not with the economic meltdown in progress.
But we tried anyway, because 2008 served as a wakeup call that women had only come so far and had stalled in our progress, and that stalling had direct consequences in the defeat of Hillary Clinton. We began to question long-held assumptions and listening to people on the other side. We tried to figure out how some conservative ideas came to be, and in the process learned that some of these ideas were misrepresented by a party we had once trusted as the final arbiter of feminine truth: Democrats. It was like a second pair of blinders being ripped off. In the bright glare of new light it became obvious how we’d been duped, sold a bill of goods about reproductive issues while continuing to have opportunity and power-sharing denied to us. We were forced to ask: What have Democrats done for us, and the answers we came up with were woefully inadequate.
Some suggested maybe it was a bad idea to want equality for Democratic women only, and that women might be able to help reform the GOP just by being willing to engage it, changing it from the inside out. Most of us were fans of Sarah Palin, too, and we continued to fight back against the sexist onslaught against her that never quite subsided after Obama cinched the election. For the next two years we continued to discuss all of this, a whole group of us were talking about it, which was making the feminist establishment very nervous, indeed. Throughout 2009 the media talked about Sarah Palin changing the face of feminism, whispering our rhetoric in buried stories that few paid much attention to. Then, in 2010, Sarah Palin used the word “feminist” and all hell broke loose.
The feminist-on-feminist backlash left the traditional feminist establishment, comprised of old standard-bearers like Gloria Stienem, as well younger feminists like Amanda Marcotte, in tatters. I imagine that they’re still smug and self-satisfied to this day that they put down the likes of Sarah Palin and protected their term from the stink of her cooties, but in winning the battle they lost the war. To the larger, uninvested American audience it played like a one-sided cat fight, which wasn’t nearly as sexy or persuasive as they’d hoped. It made them look like they were deliberately, cattily exclusive, which belied their claim of the universality of their rhetoric. It translated to regular Americans as some women are more equal than others, an idea that most thinking women and men who are not invested in the intricacies of traditional feminism would and did reject.
After all of this, in 2010 we all went to the polls and a remarkable thing happened. (more…)
Filed under: 2012 Elections, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin | 68 Comments »