Sunday, January 13, 2008

Achola Obama

So I finally read Steinem's op-ed published earlier this week. I thought Steinem raised a solid point about how we understand women's accomplishments in terms of relationships, rather than individual successes. But it also revealed the inadequacy of the message Hillary Clinton is currently campaigning behind.

The figurative punch of her lede—the mysterious, unelectable black woman—comes from our attribution of the woman's accomplishments with those of her husband, children, and the people around her. That is, her marriage to a corporate lawyer and raising of two children is right up there with her work as a community organizer and a state senator. Hell, she can't even choose her racial self-identification ('in this race-conscious country she IS CONSIDERED black). It's a classic example of having her identity as a woman defined by her relationships, and by those standards alone we would dismiss her candidacy prematurely.

It's a valid point, but it also happens to be the substance of Hillary's entire campaign. Hillary seems to bring Chelsea to events not to add another voice to her campaign—Chelsea doesn't speak to reporters or supporters—but to reaffirm her status as a mother. Bill stands right beside her, reinforcing the fact that her "experience" is based on eight years as the wife of the sitting president. I don't honestly believe she or the American public would say an additional four years in the US Senate is enough to deduce that she has more experience to lead. I also don't think Laura Bush or Nancy Reagan somehow have significantly more experience than any junior senator. But while Steinem decries our unwillingness to look beyond gender and see the true accomplishments of the individual, Hillary is, in essence, asking us to wait a couple of months before heeding Steinem's advice.

Hillary Clinton is definitely qualified to run for president and lead the country. But I really don't think her campaign of experience is challenging us to look critically at how we perceive gender, either.


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