Thursday, February 11, 2016

The personal is political, and maybe you should skip this unless you want to talk politics

I made a reference to Bernie Bros in class yesterday, and a sweet, smart, earnest student came up to talk to me after class to tell me that he is organizing for Senator Sanders and the people here are not bros at all but are labor leaders from way back.  We talked for a few minutes about nuance and sexism and Donald Trump saying pussy-- all larger themes we had been discussing in class.

I try really hard to shit on all of the candidates equally in class, and I am pretty good at that.  I pride myself on creating an environment where conservative students feel good about being Republican in one of the most liberal places in the world, and we always have excellent dialogue about political issues, and no one feels like their voice would be unwelcome.  I get political papers in election years, and I love how many young Republicans find their argumentative voices in my class, even though you all know that socialist is maybe not a liberal enough way to describe me.

Yesterday, we talked about Elizabeth Cady Stanton's famous "Solitude of Self" speech right after we spent a class period talking about Hillary Clinton's 1995 "Women's Rights are Human Rights" speech form Beijing.  I asked students to think about what these two speeches had to say to each other, and I contextualized them in the waves of feminist activism metaphor, hoping to help these kids understand why Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright are saying the things they are saying.

I think I am a second-wave feminist born in the wrong era, and I want to see a woman president.

I have a daughter this election cycle, and I want to her to know that her future is limitless because she accepts achievement without boundaries as the way things have always been.

First waver feminists had the 19 amendment as their big accomplishment, the piece of legislation they could look to and say "See?  We did it!"  I mean, sure, most of them died before suffrage was a thing,  but the wave has a definite end (How does a wave end?  Crest?  This metaphor annoys the shit out of me).

Scholars trace the next big swell of feminist work to the 1960s.  Most say that Betty Friedan's 1963 The Feminine Mystique heralded a new era of women organizing qua women.  And of course, there is a ton of great scholarship about the blurriness of these lines and the things women were doing as communists and as other social activists that blended with their feminism.  And, of course, this happened in the first wave, too, with abolitionists and temperance women working on their own causes before and after the Seneca Falls convention.

The second wave, though, doesn't have a huge accomplishment like the 19th amendment to point to.  Roe v. Wade, maybe, but reproductive rights weren't the sole focus of second-wave feminist activism, and reproductive freedoms have been slowly chipped away since then.  Women could have sex outside marriage and think about maybe not automatically being housewives, but these are more amorphous gains than voting rights.

(And then after the second wave there was backlash and post feminism and a really wonky third wave and now maybe a fourth wave or maybe Dalloway feminism?  I DON'T KNOW. The metaphor only really works for the first 3/4 of the twentieth century)

My point in class and my point here is this:  Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright said things that sounded anti-feminist to today's feminists, the women my roughly age and younger who have grown up with in a world where feminism is like fluoride-- in the damn water.  But the idea that a woman could really be the president of our country is a HUGE THING to second-wavers, and , I hope, to us, their daughters.  A thing we probably can't fully understand because to us the possibility of a woman president has always been there, even if the actual thing hasn't happened yet, thank, in large part, to the very women we're all getting up in arms about right now.

Is gender a voter issue?  Maybe not for you, but it is for me, I mean, as long as I also like the candidate.  I am probably more liberal than Clinton, and the "safe, legal, rare," abortion rhetoric of the Bill Clinton years is a real bummer, but I get tears in my eyes just thinking about taking my 3 year old daughter into the voting booth to cast a ballot for a woman to be president.  And I suspect this isn't as big of a deal for fathers and sons because that's been the way things are in our country since we were a country, back women women weren't citizens and could only go to school because they happened to be raising future citizens.

Is gender a voter issue?   I think it is for more people than will admit it.  Think about the people flocking in droves to an ancient Vermont senator who only has 60% name recognition nationwide.  I'll bet at least some of them are doing it because he's not a woman, even if they don't say it like that even to themselves.

I gender a voter issue?  Maybe for women who care about maternity leave and abortion rights and healthcare and their aging parents AS WELL AS national security and the economy and don't want to be patted on the head and told that these are special interest issues, that we'll be taken care of when the revolution happens, as long as we stay in line and keep cleaning up everybody's shit.

This is one of those times when I really wish I had that awesome bumper sticker I see around town sometimes that says "I'll be a post-feminist in a post-patriarchy" because seriously.

We still need feminism, and feminism has to be about more than women acting like disembodied liberal citizens (liberal like political theory, not liberal like partisan politics) and about the feel-good/mean-nothing refrain of respecting each other's choices.  Feminism is about more than gender equality.  It's about women claiming our rightful place in the public sphere and remaking the world to reflect our participation in it.  And to me, it is about supporting women, especially when one of them is poised to be a revolution just by being herself.


  1. This is great, Sarah--thank you. (Also, I used an image of that very post-feminism bumper sticker in class yesterday and we all laughed because it is perfect and awesome and I wish I had one, too.)

    I struggle with this, because I, too, think I'm a second waver born in the wrong era. And I would be thrilled if Hillary became president. But ultimately Bernie's policies resonate most strongly with me, and I am excited about the fact that he and those politics are getting the nationwide support they're getting. So my political heart is with Bernie, even as I would enthuastically support and embrace a Hillary nomination and win.

    But I really REALLY hate the rhetoric on BOTH of these sides about each candidate's supporters. I do not support Bernie because he's a man, or because I want to attract men, even as I suppose some folks must (at least in that first camp; I still think Steinem was out of line with her comment and I LOOOOOVE Gloria Steinem). And I certainly don't think Hillary's supporters only love her because she's a woman, even as--again--I suppose a few do.

    A friend of mine posted this on FB yesterday and it basically perfectly summed up my thoughts:

    Hillary supporter, let's call a truce, huh? I don’t think you’re supporting her because she’s a woman. I think you’re supporting her because you most closely align with her platform (and being female is a big bonus). Can you also give me the benefit of the doubt that I’m not anti-feminist if I support Bernie? I have no issue with Hillary; Bernie’s message just resonates more for me. Will I be disappointed if Bernie doesn’t get the nomination? Sure. Will I have any problem supporting Hillary if she is the eventual nominee? Absolutely not! Let’s remember the eventual goal here and save the divisiveness for the general election. Anyway, Elizabeth Warren, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation if you would’ve thrown your hat in the ring. ‪#‎Warren2024‬

    So that's where I stand. It's a tricky place, but I will enthusiastically support whoever gets the nomination and look forward to a time when we stop sniping at one another as Democrats/liberals and work together to defeat whomever gets the Republican nom.

  2. Anonymous9:28 PM

    Have you seen this?
    The smiling through crap really resonated with me. The day I don't have to will be a great day indeed. Hopefully we can bring that day for your daughter.

  3. Thanks for this!

    I too thought it was particularly rich--so folks who usually say feminists didn't have a sense of humor didn't get that Steinem and Albright were being facetious?!

    This post was interesting:

  4. Anonymous2:50 PM

    I heart this. And echo what everyone else says - Hillary resonates with me a lot, but a MASSIVE part of my support of her as a Democrat is because she's no Hail Mary like Sarah Palin was.
    And in the end, we just want a D in the house. Doesn't matter who, if you ask me.

  5. THIS THIS THIS!!!!!!

  6. THIS THIS THIS!!!!!!