Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Disenfranchisement of Democratic Women

We live in a world where women are vastly under-represented in the top ranks. We have only token representation in congress and the cabinet; in the ranks of CEOs, directors and senior management; in the most influential media posts; in every influential area of government and business. This is equally true in Canada.

It can no longer be argued that women are under-represented because we are unready to lead. More women graduate university than men. Changes in childcare practices, such as widespread availability of day care and better sharing of the workload between spouses, mean that women don’t have to drop out of the workforce for a decade.

We could write volumes on why women are still excluded from the top ranks. Many people (both men and women) are locked into a paternalistic framework where women aren't acceptable as leaders. Our vision of a leader is a man in business suit. A woman seems wrong. Lots of things reinforce this. There aren’t enough female university professors so people don’t see women as authority figures and women lack role models. Our society increasingly presents women as sex objects for men. The “old boy’s network”, still going strong, excludes women.

But this year we had a glaring, monstrous, public demonstration of how women are shut out. A woman – for the first time – was a serious contender for the nominee for president, and she was brought down – for various reasons – but publicly because she was a woman. She was ridiculed and demonized for being female. Some of the most widely watched and influential media personalities said they were afraid she’d castrate them. Her biggest failing, we were told, was that she had a sense of entitlement – and people accepted that as a fair criticism. She was criticized for her laugh, ankles, age. She was called shrill, a hypocrite, too mannish, too womanish. The media was more interested in the husband than the candidate. It was blatantly obvious that no woman would be taken seriously.

And after it was all over, the sexism was almost completely denied by the media, her party, and the man who won.

What people don’t seem to get about Hillary supporters who don’t support Obama is that our problem is not that Hillary lost; it’s how she lost. I fully understand that there were numerous factors in that defeat - that her campaign staff made mistakes, that she made mistakes - but the key issue is that the sexism was so egregious and blatant that the campaign represents an attack on all women.

I couldn’t bear to watch Michelle Obama’s speech at the convention last night because it was good. She is intelligent, poised, a good speaker with a great heart, and yet she cannot speak at the Democratic convention except as a spouse supporting her husband. As a woman, it is heartbreaking and maddening to see such ongoing blatant dismissal of our sex. It would almost be easier if women were dismissed as inferior, but we’re not. We have made huge strides in attaining equity in education and pay, but we’re still not equal citizens. We’re allowed into every segment of society except - other than a few tokens - the ruling class.

It is widely reported that over 30% of Hillary supporters have not yet decided to support Obama, and yet nobody, it seems, is taking our concerns seriously. The Democratic party seems to believe that it's up to Hillary to heal the rift. As I've said before, she is not the person to do that. It is the responsibility of the candidate and the party to address this issue. And as they seem to have absolutely no inclination to do that, or even to admit there's a problem, well... the only leverage we have is our numbers and our vote.

This is the time for women to take a stand. We have been promised better female representation for decades and virtually nothing has been done. We have been slapped down too publicly to just be able to say OK, fair enough, we’ll try again in four years. I can barely stand to watch the parade of men at the convention podium. I’m sick of it.

We have watched in horror as a high profile woman has been felled, and it resonates too painfully with all the little ways that each of us has been felled. Equality now.



Scott Tribe said...

And yet if you cut off your nose to spite your face, you're going to have someone in the White House that goes against your stated principles, and Clinton's if you and others like you fail to support Obama and the Democrats. You say John McCain is just shading right-wing to appeal to that group, but that he's really reasonable on women's rights and a moderate? You're being badly fooled by him

McCain did, in fact, say in 1999, that he "would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade." It was a reversal from his previous position, and soon after, McCain reversed right back, denounced Roe, vowed to overturn it, and assured voters he would lead an exclusively pro-life administration, arguably slightly to the right of Bush/Cheney.

Indeed, Sarah Blustain had a great item in The New Republic recently, explaining just how serious a "zealot" McCain is on the issue of reproductive rights.

During his political career, McCain has participated in 130 reproductive health-related votes on Capitol Hill; of these, he voted with the anti-abortion camp in 125. McCain has consistently backed rights for the unborn, voting to cover fetuses under the State Children's Health Insurance Program and supporting the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which allowed a "child in utero" to be recognized as a legal victim of a crime. He has voted in favor of the global gag rule, which prevents U.S. funds from going to international family-planning clinics that use their own money to perform abortions, offer information about abortion, or take a pro-choice stand.

There's a reason McCain has a zero rating from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America. The 1999 quote was just a cheap ploy, intended to make McCain appear reasonable. He's not -- when it comes to women's rights, he's nothing short of a nightmare.

That's part of what you'd be getting if you and others like you support MCcain. You'd also be getting a guy on record as saying he'd be appointing ultra-right wing conservative judges to the Supreme Court.. and you'd see further erosion of Hillary's ideals.

There are ways to fight for your and Hillary's ideals. Voting for McCain isn't the right way to do it.

KC said...

I see you are continuing to ignore the history of overt racism, oppression, second class citizenship, and marginalization experienced by black Americans. Women are not the ONLY group who have been historically disenfranchised, and you continue to ignore the proverbial elephant in the room--ie Obama's non-whiteness. No matter who won or lost the primaries the activist component of one or the other group was going to attribute their candidates loss to deep seated prejudice.

The fact that the chattering classes and middle America are demanding that Obama prove that he "loves America" to me shows enduring racism in that country. Such a presumption of "guilt" would not be applied the same way to a white person, particularly to one who had spent his whole life trying to make it a better place.

Yappa said...

Hi Scott,

You're almost exactly right. I don't propose voting for McCain - just boycotting Obama. If Obama loses because Hillary supporters won't vote for him, maybe the Democratic party will act differently in the next election.

I'd like the backroom boys to feel that they can't win an election without a woman on the ticket. I'd like them to be very committed to moving to equal representation in congress, the cabinet, the judiciary, and senior government posts. I'd like them to see women as a demographic they have to take more seriously.

This is a threat and it's not a bluff, but they could still get us onside by addressing our issues. However that's unlikely, given that so far Obama and the party have denied there's even a problem.

This could rebound very negatively on Hillary: it might even doom her political future if her supporters turned on the party. But it's not about her. There's something really important at stake here, and it's worth losing an election over.

Yappa said...

Hi KC -

I agree completely that it's a great thing that a black person won the nomination. I write about this campaign a lot so don't repeat everything every time. I have been a big Obama fan for many years, although my admiration has dimmed somewhat over the past year, partly because I was rooting for the other guy, er, you know.

But, as I have argued repeatedly before, there was virtually no overt racism in the campaign. Even if you could cite an incident or two or argue that another candidate wouldn't have to prove he "loved America", it pales in comparison to the thousands of incidents of overt, nasty sexism.

Women were sent a resounding message that we will not be taken seriously. I don't plan to accept that message, especially since my demographic represents 51% of the population and about 5% of the power structure. We would be fools to accept this.

Cicely said...

Holy crap! No overt racism in the campaign????? I am a white woman, feminist, dyke and I agree there was sexism but there was just as much racism and islamophobia. In fact, i would argue that some in the Clinton campaign wanted to engage in not so subtle attempts at racism (just ask Mark Penn).

The bottom line is by not voting for Obama it is a de facto vote for McCain and a definite vote for a more regressive Supreme Court that will limit if not roll back a woman's right to chose, roll back a shit load of progressive laws concerning the environment, will trash the right of LGBT folk to marry in Mass and CA. That's just for starters.

The SCOTUS appointments are lifetime appointments. McCain has already speculated that a few Supremes will likely retire or die in his first term. He has already said that he would appoint justices like Alito and Roberts and Scalia.

If you can't see that the fate of this one woman is irrelevant when compared to the prospect of McCain having the opportunity to cement a right wing majority on SCOTUS than I would recommend that you stop referring to yourself as a feminist because you just don't get what it really means.

Cicely said...


Just out of curiosity...if the Obama campaign had run a bad campaign that was made worse by the overt and covert racism that played out in the primary and HRC was the nominee. Would you be sanguine if the black community decided to stay home and not vote?

Do you think it is possible that you and the PUMA folk would be saying that there is pervasive sexism in black america?

I raise this because HuffPo has a clip of Chris Matthews interviewing some women who are Clintonites for McCain. When asked why they wouldn't support Obama the first and only thing they discussed was that he allegedly attended a muslim school when he lived in Indonesia as a child. According to these women this makes him unqualified to be president. This is a message/theme that has come up very regularly by PUMA-types. Can you explain to me why so many of these HRC supporters are focused on Obama's faith or on this 'otherness' which is complete code for black.

You have noted in previous posts that your opposition to Obama is not based on race and that may be true for you but I have come to believe that it is not true for a great many of the Clinton activists who are involved in this 'campaign'.

Whether or not Hillary gives the rousing speech and call to arms that she has promised to deliver tonight, her message that a McCain presidency is diametrically opposed to every thing she has stood and fought for is 100% true.

Some (possibly you) may be hoping that if Obama fails, HRC will be in the running for 2012 and that she will be able to fix all the wrong that McCain will have wrought. There are so many holes in this logic that it sinks before leaving the dock.

1. HRC and her supporters could get blamed for scuttling the best chance the Dems have had at the White House in 10 yrs and she would be screwed - Ted Kennedy didn't make a comeback for the nomination after 1980 and he is a KENNEDY as great as the Clinton name is in dem circles it ain't KENNEDY

2. HRC runs and doesn't win - there could be a myriad of reasons a. incumbent presidents are hard to beat b. stuff comes out about Bill's library donors or he gets caught being randy again c. she isn't as strong a general election candidate as some currently think d. her team runs a crappy campaign like they did this time

3. HRC gets in - can't change the balance of the McCain appointments on SCOTUS (lifetime appointments remember) - abortion remains illegal (thanks to the overturning of Roe V Wade in 2009) and there is no political will in Congress and Senate to write/pass legislation legalizing abortion so HRC has no legislation to sign

Well, a doubt any of this will change your mind (sigh). I really and truly hope that Obama wins so that two years from now you aren't pissed with yourself for being partially responsible for a McCain presidency.

Yappa said...

Hi Cicely -

Welcome back. It seems to me that last time you were here you were similarly irate with me. Oh, well!

I have tried to be so very very clear that this is not about Hillary. (Hillary would be much better off if her supporters would just back Obama. She is taking a huge amount of heat for our intransigence.)

This is about women being mammothly under-represented in the power elite, and women being sent a great big message in the primaries that we are not welcome there. This is about women showing some muscle and forcing change. Nothing else is working. They'll remember us if we throw the election. It's short term pain for long term gain.

I was willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt until he chose another man for the VP position. It didn't have to be Hillary; it could have been Sibelius or someone else. But his refusal to address the issue of sexism in the primaries coupled with his all-male ticket has made me need to draw a line in the sand.

I am calling on other Democrat women to join me in a boycott of the male-dominated political elite. Remember Tommy Douglas's story about the white cats and the black cats? It's time for mice to vote for mice.

Cicely said...


OK. I would buy this (at least in part) if it weren't for the fact that it was Hillary's incredibly bad campaign that really lost her the election. Yes there was sexism but there was just as much racism, particularly on the net but also on FOX news and once reported there it would be repeated on other channels. If you look at the Pew reports Obama gets more coverage than McCain and Hillary before but the majority of it is negative NOT positive.

If you have to place blame, place it where it deserves to be - Penn, Ickes, Bill Clinton, Wolfson, and finally Hillary herself.

She blew her budget early, she chose not to compete in the early caucus states, she opposed giving Florida an Michigan full votes until she needed those votes, she didn't run the table even in the big states that she won.

In terms of a female veep choice. Sebelius and MacCaskill are great but they don't help the ticket sufficiently and I guarantee you that if Obama had picked a woman other than Hillary a considerable number if not the majority of her supporters would have lost it.

I feel for Hillary, I think she would have been far better off had she left Bill after their time in the White House. I think she would still have been a Senator and she may well have won the nomination or been picked for veep. I think the biggest stumbling block for her as Obama's veep pick was the impossibility of having Bill as the veep spouse. It is a completely untenable scenario. It would be one huge psycho-drama after another and that's just during the campaign.

I am not irate as much as frustrated and I appreciate your throwing out the dipper reference but I honestly don't think it is comparable in that there are significant policies differences between the Libs and the NDP and there aren't significant policy difference between Obama and Clinton (as Clinton herself has pointed out time and again).

As important as it is to have women in positions of power, the policies are more important to me. Short term pain could literally mean death for women in need of abortions. McCain seems particularly keen to continue the warlike ways of Bush jr so there are a lot of US service members who might die not to mention folks in Iran or Iraq or the next oil hot spot. That is not the kind of pain that progressive women should want IMO.

Anonymous said...


As a side issue: Bill Clinton was a great president, and he has done great things since he left office.

He brought peace and prosperity. He made the internet possible. Some people complain that he ushered in NAFTA but they don't realize that that was just formalizing a situation that had evolved on its own.

So what if he had an affair with an intern and got disgraced. The US obsession with sex scandals is disgusting. The man was a great president.

Why does the left suddenly hate him so furiously? Obama couldn't win if Bill looked too good. The only way to take down Hill was to first take down Bill. But for god's sake, she lost. You can stop demonizing the guy.

For one thing, it's stupid to toss him aside when he could be extremely helpful in getting Obama elected.

Cicely said...

I don't hate Bill Clinton and he was a pretty good president. I wouldn't say great but only because his ego and his inability to keep his pants zipped up helped fuel the vast right wing conspiracy that pretty well crippled his legislative agenda.

They tried on health care and they didn't get it done. In part it was due to the times but it also had to do with the way they tried to get it passed and their uncanny ability as a couple to trip themselves up.

I completely agree that he is doing great work post presidency and I hope that he will continue it. His post presidency work does not erase the very real problems with them as a political couple.

I have no idea what the real story behind the scene is regarding the Obama - Bill Clinton relationship. Clearly there are hurt feelings and distrust, if Obama is ignoring the Clintons that is short sighted. If Bill's ego is making it impossible for a coming together than that is equally short sighted.

Cicely said...

BTW - I only care about the affairs in that like the Edwards affair it represents a man who is willing to risk incredibly important issues for the sake of getting their ego (and other parts) stroked.

Thio said...

It's reasonable to be exasperated with the media for its sexist handling of the Clinton campaign.

It's also reasonable to be exasperated with the media for its racist handling of the Wright affair, and for its cheerleading of the Iraq War--two things Hillary Clinton enabled.

Neither Obama nor Clinton are beyond reproach for their conduct during the primary, or during their tenure as senators. Some of us, as appealing as we found Hillary, could not bring ourselves to vote for someone with bad enough judgment to support the invasion of Iraq (the most symbolic mistake of this horrendously bad Bush Administration) to stand at the top of the Democratic ticket.

I suppose it might be worth throwing the election, to some, if in fact it meant that "the backroom boys" would get serious about the under-representation of women in the top ranks of power. But that is a serious misunderstanding of what throwing the election will actually accomplish--in reality, it would amount to tossing the reproductive rights of our daughters on the sacrificial altar.

Do you understand the seriousness of what is at stake? As many as three Supreme Court justices could be replaced in the next four years. With a Democratic president, we could thus right the wrongs of the Roberts Court. On the other hand, McCain's SCOTUS nominees would leave a devastating legacy for generations.

To wit, here's an interesting article: http://dailywrit.com/2008/08/08/statistics-show-obama-could-make-scotus-a-6-3-liberal-majority-mccain-could-engineer-an-8-1-conservative-supermajority/

Not interested in your daughters and sons (and granddaughters and grandsons) living under a Conservative Supermajority? Then you simply cannot afford to sit this one out.

Anonymous said...

Well, I for one am signing on: Go Yappa!

Molly said...

Cicely, I am a black woman, and I am telling you there was much (much) more blatant and covert sexism than there ever was racism in the primaries. Nobody in the media disrespected Obama's race, yet daily there were taunts and jabs aimed at Hillary's sex. Daily.

Hmmm...People please don't talk about the race card, because unless you are a black woman in America you have no idea that there is actually much more open sexism than there is racism today. Especially in the media.

Also, as a black New Yorker I have seen (first hand) the good work that the Clinton's have done for minority communities throughout America, and to have Obama then turn around and call a hero of the Democratic Party a racist... Well... This kid is yet to earn my vote. And earn is right. Being a double minority no one handed my ancestors the right to vote - it was hard won by both past generations of African Americans, and past generations of women; so yes, Mr. Obama... please don't think that I am going to just hand it over casually.

Cicely said...

Molly: I am not saying there wasn't sexism not in the least and I am only viewing this from Canada so I may not have seen/heard everything (print,radio, etc.) but I didn't see or hear Obama or his team saying that the Clinton''s were racist. They had to respond to questions about racism (in the media, on the net, etc) but I did not see them going after the Clinton's on race.

Of course I believe that the hard won right to vote (for both women and black people) is incredibily important and should never be taken for granted by any candidate.

I am simply begging feminists who have strong convictions about the HRC campaign to consider the stakes. If SCOTUS and war were not on the table, if McCain were Reagan redux (which he most certainly isn't) or even Bush Sr, I might be more willing to support a no-show on election day.

As an international observer who can't vote, I am incredibly concerned for the American people and American women in particular if McCain were to win.

I would ask everyone to watch Hillary's speech from last night, or read it over at Ben Smith's blog on politico.com. Please make the decision that Hillary did for the reasons she so eloquently outlined.

Molly said...

Cicely.... to answer your question: Yes, for about two weeks the Obama campaign flung racist accusations at President Clinton. At Bill Clinton! The one president who did NOT forget minorities once he was elected. Mr. Obama's team crossed the line when they called Bill & Hillary Clinton racist. Many black americans may conveniently choose to forget all the Clinton's did for minorities in this country, but I will not.

I am not some lemming. I will not vote for someone just because he is the same color as me. If Obama had a TRACK RECORD that I could believe in, and not just a few really great ideas, then maybe he would get my vote.

Geez people we're in the middle of a war. Who cares if I can sing Kumbaya with my neighbor in one world unity if my neighborhood is burning from the aftermath of a terror attack. National Security is the #1 priority to most New Yorkers; cause unlike most other Americans, WE GOT HIT IN OUR FRONT YARD – AND LOST OVER 2500 OF OUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY... 4 of whom I knew personally.