Friday, 5 September 2008

Not my sister

There's alleged to be a school of thought that proposes that women should vote for another woman, ahead of a man, regardless of her politics; that the truly feminist position is to always vote XX, even when that means supporting a woman whose views are agin her sisters' rights and dreams.

I say "allegedly" because I am yet to see much evidence of this school other than in the imaginations of those who attack feminism, and feminists. But no doubt there are people out there, in the wide world, who think that way.

For me the choice of who to vote for is not just about who they are, but what they stand for, and what they stand against. If they are for a woman's right to choose then I'll vote for them over someone who is against abortion on demand. If they are for reducing user pays in health then they'll get my tick ahead of the person who supports a continuation of a system that underfunds our hospitals and primary health care providers. It's pretty straight forward really.

Which is why I won't vote for a woman who doesn't share even a smidgen of my politics, not when there's a better option on offer.

Had I had a vote in 1990, I wouldn't have voted for National just because of the presence of Jenny Shipley and Ruth Richardson, and the likelihood of getting some women in a National-led cabinet for the first time since the 1950s. In 1996, my first election, I didn't vote Labour just because they had a woman at the helm.* And I certainly wouldn't vote for a conservative Christian candidate for our local community board just because we have some biology in common.

Thus if I had a vote in the forthcoming US presidential race I would not be casting it for McCain and Palin. I abhor the misogynistic attacks on Sarah Palin, as the ex-expat does. And I wouldn't be giving her a pity vote. I'd be voting with my politics, for the candidate most likely to uphold and pursue my values. Which would be the Democrat contender in this particular situation, not the Republican, for all that the latter have put a woman on the podium for the first time in the history of their party while the former chose a man over a woman for their candidacy.

The pro-life thing is a deal-breaker for me, as is Palin's stance on climate change (deny, deny, deny). To think that while she is prepared to uphold the potential lives of fetuses, yet continue executing adults, seems to me not only bizarre but also oddly inconsistent. Her attitudes to sex-education (abstinence only), and the war in Iraq (more please), not to mention the Republican's positions on issues like tax, education and health, mean she would never get my vote. Hugh has a good post up on the politics of McCain's choice, and more detail on the values of this particular Republican ticket.

It could all be academic anyway. Despite what many consider a great speech to the Republican convention, there is already significant betting on when Palin will be dropped as VP nominee.

Hopefully Palin and her political values won't be making it to the White House anytime soon. But I do hope that one day it is routine to have female candidates contesting the presidency, and the vice-presidency, of the USA. If Palin can break some glass ceilings in her own party then she will have done some good.

* Actually I didn't vote Labour at all.


Carol said...

I'm with you on this, Julie. I lived in London throughout the whole of Margaret Thatcher's time as PM. I had become involved in the UK women's movement just prior to her becoming PM. Thatcher deliberately fractured the grass roots of left organisation, including the networks that sustained the women's movement. Meanwhile, her policies did nothing for working women, especially those who also had family responsibilities, or for sexual and ethnic diversity, or for widespread female autonomy. I always used my vote to vote against Thatcher and her party.

In reading about Sarah Palin, I have come across mentions of "Feminists for Life" and "Righting Feminism". These seem to incorporate ideals that appeal to a narrow range of white women in the US, and do nothing for large numbers of women on low incomes, or from diverse ethnic groups.

I'm not keen on the Daily Kos as I think they have taken misogynist lines on Hillary Clinton and Palin. However, they do provide one of the few links on this right wing feminist phenomenon and the related book "Righting Feminism".

My voting choice in NZ is based on balancing up each party & candidates performance and policies in relation to support for a diverse range of women, as well as for social justice, gender equality, sexual diversity and challenges to oppressive economic inequalities.

Danielle said...

Right on, Julie. (I *do* have a vote in the US election, and I wouldn't vote for Palin if you paid me to. And my vote is in Texas, which will go for McCain anyway by about 60-40, I imagine. Meh.)

homepaddock said...

I'm with you too - voting for someone becaue they happen to be in a particular group or wear a particular label rather than their principles, philosophy and policy is a recipe for disappointment.

Hugh said...

The 'vote for a woman no matter what' school of thought is not entirely made up. I have seen people effectively urging that, although admittedly that was in the context of the Democratic primaries, when all candidates had basically the same policies on feminist issues, making it more defensible. And I suppose it's always possible those people were trolls trying to discredit feminism. But more likely is that the 'vote for a woman' school of thought is very marginal and its role is played up by those seeking to discredit feminism. My intuition is that anybody who truly believed in the innate superiority of female office holders would be so disenchanted with the political status quo that they wouldn't vote for anybody.

More mainstream and dangerous, I think, is the idea that a politician who is a member of a minority* cannot be criticised as robustly as a politician who is a white male. In the Biden/Palin debate, we can expect to see a lot of commentary on whether or not Biden is being sexist towards Palin. We will not see nearly as much commentary questioning whether Palin, a millionaire, is showing class prejudice towards Biden, who before he started earning a senate salary was very much a member of the working class.

It's a well known tactic of the Republican Party, which is spreading to conservative parties worldwide, to appoint prominent female and non-white politicians to positions where they can implement extremely repressive policies. The Bush administration has boasted more racial diversity than any prior administration. We can expect to see something similar if/when National comes to power in New Zealand.

*(I know women aren't technically a minority, but I'm using the term in its political, rather than statistical, sense)

PS: Cheers for the link

Anonymous said...

When I was a teenager I did sometimes run across people shopping the 'the world would be a better place if women ran it' meme, to which the answer was one word long: Thatcher.

When I was at uni, I and my friends all did shifts as returning officers or sitting on polling booths for student union elections. We got a considerable number of people who would simply run down the list and vote for all the girly-looking names. After a couple of years, as an experiment, we ran a female candidate, told people absolutely nothing about her, and she got on.

So I'd say it's got a little edge outside of 'imaginary straw-feminism land'. That said, I entirely agree with you. I vote on issues, not genitals. Her attitudes to gay marriage and freedom of speech would be deal-breakers for me, as well as her utter lack of compassionate welfare policy - hells, it's like someone deliberately manufactured a candidate who stands against everything I stand for.

Justin said...

A couple of critical points:

Oftentimes, feminists do put class before gender, which makes me wonder how compelling feminism is as an independent philosophy. The lack of women in positions of power seems to be an ongoing feminist discourse, but given the (hypothetical) opportunity to change that, you choose not to. It seems to have to be a woman with the “right ideas”: in other words, politics first, gender second. Is feminism merely the ladies branch of socialism?

Additionally, I’ve seen many feminists adopt the enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend mindset and sympathize, say, with Islamic and Arab regimes and/or cultures, despite their oppressive misogyny, simply to express opposition to the United States, as a representative of capitalism.

Finally, I wonder how much feminism marginalizes women who do support Palin, Shipley, Thatcher, et al. Feminism often claims (explicitly or implicitly) to be a philosophy for the benefit of all women and, by extension, speaks for all women, and that to me has always seemed mighty presumptuous. Is it a case of “gender consciousness” where women who do support Palin, Thatcher, etc. have yet to be “enlightened”? Is Palin an “Auntie Tom”?

(Hugh, you’re actually wrong on Palin/Biden: Palin has the working class roots and Biden is the middle-class liberal and highly-paid career politician.)

The ex-expat said...

Argh Justin.

Feminism like any 'ism' is a broad church. A few weeks ago Katerine Rich defended the movement's importance and she is hardly a card carrying socialist. Come to think of it, she's actually an elected official of the tory party. Which just goes to show that women and feminists can have differing political opinions on some issues and commonality on others.

What feminism does is allow them to have those opinions expressed without having their gender used as a barrier. Moreover feminism can be used it as an analytical tool to policy problems even two 'feminists' can come up with two contradictory answers.

I'd be interested to know where you've seen the so-called 'enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend' mindset here on the Handmirror. Or is the fact that we have a islamic woman as a writer here an automatically nod to the misogyny of 'their' cultures as part of our need to express our anti-americaniess.

Finally I'm curious to know why'd you accuse feminism of marginalizing Palin etc. Obviously you didn't bother to read my post on the sexist attacks coming from the left and the right on her candidacy.

Hugh said...

Justin, Biden is highly paid on comparison to the average American, but compared to other elected politicians he's poor. He has his Senate salary and nothing else; his wife is a teacher.

Palin, while she has a smaller salary (due to giving herself a pay-cut), has extensive interests in land and fishing, giving her a much higher income than Biden.

In terms of their origins, both are relatively unexceptional - Palin's parents were teachers, Biden's a used car salesman, which makes them both fairly lower-middle class. It does annoy me when Biden is called a 'working class candidate'. But ultimately the real test of class is how much you earn now, not how much your parents earned.

Craig Ranapia said...


I don't have any problems with Palin being a right-wing woman. What I have a very big problem with is that she's at, best, such a inexperienced lightweight she'd fall over in a draughty room. At worse, she has flat out lied, repeatedly, about her record as a public official -- not least about the serious and credible allegations that she grossly abused her gubanatorial powers in pursuit of a personal vendetta against her sister's ex-husband.

If McCain's desire to have a woman on the ticket was more than offensively patronising tokenism, there are plenty of conservative women who are (like their politics or not, and I suspect most readers of THM would be in the latter camp) qualified and competent to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.

And if McCain really wanted to be a 'maverick' -- as opposed to crass pandering to the theo-con far-right "base" who've been lukewarm towards McCain so far -- why not go absolutely nuts and select Senator Olympia Snowe (R - Maine). Anywhere else in the world, she would be considered firmly on the center-right. She's won every election she's stood for over the last 35 years. But, of course, she's far too "moderate" -- i.e. doesn't believe in wiping her arse on the Constitution to do down the gays, is off message on abortion, isn't the right kind of Christian (Greek Orthodox), and has voiced doubts about the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bush administration (tax cuts and massive increases in government spending don't compute to her), the conduct of the War on Terror and the prosecution of the War in Iraq.

What's the new campaign slogan for Bush-Palin: Putting Competence Last?

It's certainly clarified for me why I'm an Obama-Con. It's time to let the grown ups take over the playpen. The Republicans are not conservative; and they're not fit to govern.

Asher said...

"But ultimately the real test of class is how much you earn now, not how much your parents earned."

Actually, it's got nothing to do with either - it is to do with your relationship to the means of production, or to put it another way, whether all you have to sell / recieve income from is your labour power.

Hugh said...

"Actually, it's got nothing to do with either - it is to do with your relationship to the means of production, or to put it another way, whether all you have to sell / recieve income from is your labour power"

That's one way to look at it, but it leads to the fundamentally absurd situation where an associate in a major law firm is working class, while somebody who earns $25K a year mowing other people's lawns isn't. Which is ridiculous IMO.

glosoli said...

Absolutely. Palin will get votes not because she is a woman but because she is the candidate who best stands for huntin' and fishin', "jesus, babies and guns". The left needs to critique her on the same grounds.

glosoli said...

"there are plenty of conservative women who are...qualified and competent to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office"

Condoleeza Rice anyone??