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The ladies’ man

Andrea Laidman | Sunday, February 24, 2008

On Feb. 5, Kimberle Crenshaw and Notre Dame favorite Eve Ensler published an important article on The Huffington Post, using the feminist mantra “Not in Our Name” to condemn “feminist ultimatums.” They were referring to the controversial idea plaguing many women during this primary season: Vote for Hillary Clinton or compromise your feminist principles; endorse the first viable woman candidate for the White House, or face the fact that you’ve given in to the underlying misogyny in society and the media.Young female supporters of Barack Obama are criticized by the feminist hardliners promoting this view (called “either/or feminists” by Crenshaw and Ensler) for forgetting the struggle of their feminist predecessors. Even worse, they are written off as victims of naiveté – swept into the Obama camp by an internal desire to win the approval and protection of men.But an increasing number of feminist authors and female political commentators – as well as the voters themselves – point out that a vote for Obama is a vote for the more feminine campaign. In terms of management, campaign style and even policy, Obama strikes these women as more inclusive and more prone to discussion and dialogue than Clinton.In early February, more than 100 New York feminist leaders joined in releasing a statement that endorsed Obama and criticized Hillary’s record and current approach. For these women, Clinton’s early support for the war in Iraq was the leading cause of their disillusionment.Ruth Rosen, a member of the women’s movement from the 1960s onward and a signee of the “Feminists for Obama” statement (along with 1,000 other feminist leaders) recently wrote, “There is nothing I’d rather do than vote for the first female presidential candidate.” But Rosen cites her own roots in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s as evidence that her endorsement of Obama is consistent with her long-term personal commitments.This is a common explanation of feminist activists and scholars when accounting for their vote for Barack: Feminism is inclusive and stresses equality for all; feminism demands that the best candidate for not only women but also for the poor and for minorities is chosen. These concerns, write women who maintain that feminism evolves with the issues of the day, must be weighed with as much passion as the desire to elect a female president.In her Feb. 24 piece, “¿Quién Es Less Macho?” New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd asserts a paradox of Clinton’s campaign: “The first serious female candidate for president was rejected by voters drawn to the more feminine management style of her male rival.”Dowd argues that the last 16 years in Washington – divisive Congress-White House relations followed by a belligerent president and a war-without-end – have seeded a desire not only for peace but for inclusivity and empathy, “a less autocratic leadership style.”Dowd writes, “Hillary was so busy trying to prove she could be one of the boys – getting on the Armed Services Committee, voting to let W. go to war in Iraq, strong-arming supporters and donors and trying to out-macho Obama – that she only belatedly realized that many Democratic and independent voters, especially women, were eager to move from hard-power locker-room tactics to a soft-power sewing circle approach.”The ultimate irony, and perhaps unfair reality, is that Hillary Clinton worked throughout her “35 years of experience” to dispel the nurturing yet incapable image of woman, and with great success. She re-defined the role of First Lady and took on policy challenges and substantive issues in a manner – however criticized – that was not seen before or since.The tragedy for Clinton is that this may be the first time in political history when a woman need not “man up” to get ahead. The voters of the last 11 democratic primaries prove that the nation is indeed hungry for change and a new style of leadership.No one reflects this shifting mindset more than the “Feminists for Obama,” who would elect a man over a woman because of his personal and political record, his alternative experiences, his efforts and success in building a truly grassroots campaign – approaching one million donors nationwide – and his broad appeal among voters young and old. Obama epitomizes the coalition-for-change-and-equality which feminists have sought for decades.There is no doubt that this democratic primary race is a historic one, marking the first real chance to have a woman or African-American lead the nation.The stakes are also high for feminism.As Ensler and Crenshaw assert: “At issue is a profound difference in seeing feminism as intersectional and global rather than essentialist and insular. Women have grappled with these questions in every feminist wave, struggling to see feminism as something other than a ‘me too’ bid for power whether it be in the family, the party, the race or the state.”This is the real challenge facing women in the democratic presidential primary: To choose their candidate based on values, policies, leadership style and political record – and not based on gender alone. As long as these basic tenets of fairness are observed, feminism will only benefit from such a public and earnest effort to discern what is best for America during the 2008 bid for the White House.

Andrea Laidman is a senior political science and peace studies major. Her column’s title recalls advice given to John Adams by his wife, Abigail: “We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.” She can be contacted at [email protected] views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.