She would rather light candles than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world. (Adlai Stevenson on Eleanor Roosevelt)
I adore Eleanor Roosevelt. For transforming the role of a first lady (despite the social conditions of the time), for her eloquence, her dedication to civil rights and social justice, and for her grace.
Eleanor Roosevelt did not settle for progress, she reformed. And all the while, she never compromised her morals. Beyond her hand in the civil rights movement and her denouncement of segregation, she used her influence to challenge patriarchal institutions– holding press conferences which she limited to female reporters so that the newspapers had no choice but to hire women. A woman before her time, she encouraged young women to explore their opportunities and identities before rushing into marriage. She overcame insecurities about her appearance by letting her actions speak for her.
She was a feminist, not because she was a woman, but because of the change that her good deeds and compassion inspired. In fact, she herself said, “I do not think women should be judged as women alone when it comes to appointing them or electing them purely because they are women.”
That being said… I refuse to accept Hillary Rodham Clinton as a “feminist” based solely on her gender. I also decry those women or self-proclaimed feminists who are planning to vote for Hillary because they believe it’s time for a woman to be president. (Which, you may think I am making a generalization about, but that was the response given by more than a few students in my women’s studies class this week)
I did not decide to write this blog because I want to wax poetic about my political beliefs or how and why I plan to vote in the upcoming presidential election. I don’t pretend to be an expert on political science and believe wholeheartedly that everyone has the power and capability to make their own (un)informed decisions. But with all the buzz surrounding Gloria Steinem’s New York Times editorial and Michael Barone’s commentary in US News on young women and feminism, I wanted to add my two cents.
Today’s young women voters are different. They were not raised by mothers who told them they had a duty to stay home with their children. They were raised by mothers who told them they had all sorts of choices they could choose. And mothers who, in some cases, made their own choices which the girls resentedâ€”divorce, spending lots of time at the office. These young women don’t react defensively to antichoice politicians and don’t feel a need to be liberated from restraints that were never urged on them. (Michael Barone)
I give Barone credit for his observations on the different opportunities available to my generation. This is a very interesting time to be a young woman in America. Us, “Millenials,” have access to power, education, and mobility that our predecessors could only dream. BUT being blessed with these choices, does NOT render us ungrateful or unable to acknowledge the historic struggles and/or those barriers still yet to overcome.
Gloria Steinem is worried, “that some women, perhaps especially younger ones, hope to deny or escape the sexual caste system.” Believe me. I have absolutely no expectations of immunity from sexism in America. Quite the opposite, in fact. I believe the sexual caste system in America is so institutionalized that it will take a hell of a lot more than a president with breasts to dismantle years of patriarchal oppression. They speak as if young female voters today have no understanding of the complexity of the “isms” plaguing our country, yet I know enough to know that what they espouse regarding comparisons between racism and sexism, severely oversimplifies the multiple and intersecting oppressions that contribute to the hegemony.
Steinem’s article (much like Hillary’s campaign) reeks of contradiction and hypocrisy. She criticizes the pervasiveness of sexism due to assumptions about biological differences, yet lists the fact that Hillary has “no masculinity to prove” as one of her reasons for supporting her. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Barone too says, “The idea of a first woman president evidently is not of great appeal to them.” He thinks that the idea of having a female president should appeal to young women because they are women, but would criticize anyone who says she is less qualified because she is a woman.
So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? I have a question for you, Gloria. Why are you measuring and dividing two oppressions that operate under the same tenet- that one group of people is innately and inherently superior to another – instead of acknowledging that both are harmful beyond a quantifying amount, and are so inextricably linked that fighting to eradicate one could only benefit the other, not to mention the power of coalition in acknowledging their commonalities and separating oppression from equity rather than “black” from “female.”
Voting for Obama will not eliminate racism, just as Obama has not said that people should support him because he is black. Obama has supporters because he is inspirational and hopeful. He encourages unity of all forms, not specific to gender. His campaign does not make people of color feel guilty or treat them as traitors to their race for not voting in his favor, whereas Hillary’s supporters act as if we are turning our back on our fellow women and encouraging the perpetuation of misogyny should we vote for anyone else.
Anywho. I guess I’ll step down from my soapbox. Didn’t mean for this rant to be so lengthy, but as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “I could not at any age be content to take my place in a corner by the fireside and simply look on.”