Monday, February 4, 2008

WWSD: What Would the Suffragists Do? or, Will Women Vote Their DNA?

Once again, women voters are in the driver's seat and charting the course of the Democratic Party -- and it's not because the men would not stop to ask for directions. That's right, ladies. When you line up at the polls on Super Duper Nuclear Tuesday, your shear numbers will once again be determining the fate of the Democratic nominees. You Go, Girls!

There are basically two sentiments running through the girl-power set these days. It goes something like this:

  • If you're a woman, you vote for Hillary because of what it means to women everywhere. It's past time one of our own was in the White House, dammit, and she's ready for the job.

  • If I'm supposed to vote for Hillary just because I'm a woman and she's a woman, isn't that almost as sexist as NOT voting for her because she's a woman?

That's the issue many of us have been mulling, especially when both candidates clearly have much to recommend them. Do you vote for a woman to finally and forever shatter that particular marble ceiling? Or do you make a decision that is not confined by gender but rather empowered by your own conscience. Hmmm.... it's a tough call, especially when Obama's bid to become the first black president is every bit as historic as Clinton's run for the record books. And when McCain is breathing down our necks. Baby boomer women (mid-40's to mid-60s) seem particularly torn about their choice, wavering between honoring their mothers and listening to their daughters.

Are women who vote for Obama somehow traitorous? Oprah, Caroline Kennedy, Maria Shriver, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (CA) and Clare McCaskill (MO), Reps. Rosa DeLauro (CT) and Jan Schakowsky (IL), Gov. Janet Napolitano (AZ) and writer Alice Walker would argue otherwise -- none of them are slouches when it comes to women's equity. Women's rights advocate Kate Michelman, an Edwards supporter, has joined the Obama camp now that Edwards has bowed out. Among women "Barack stars," there does not seem to be any sense of opportunity lost in supporting Obama over Clinton. They simply believe in their candidate, and they also believe there will be another woman in the near future. The women for Obama seem to be saying to women nationwide, "it's okay, there's still time to change your mind." There is real confidence that, once busted, this particular barrier will be down to stay -- that Hillary is just the first of many (Margaret Thatcher might beg to differ, but that is the sentiment).

I think there will be other women in my lifetime who will run for president. This isn't going to be women's only chance to vote our DNA, should we chose to do so. And perhaps that is the crux of the matter: this inevitability divide is also often a generational divide. It's no coincidence that Hillary's biggest fan base is women over 65 -- women who've been waiting their whole lives for the chance to vote for a woman. Women who are the least likely to pass this way again. Women whose grandmothers were suffragists.

On the other hand, women can often be our own worst enemy. Women are often the most critical of women candidates, holding them to a higher standard and personalizing our decisions about them. Some women's disdain for Hillary's decision to fight for her marriage rather than leave her philandering husband is a good example; using this as a basis for a presidential vote is rediculous. While Obama has been closing fast in the polls, lots of women could wake up Tuesday -- as they seemed to do in New Hampshire a few weeks ago -- look in the mirror and think to themselves: "Am I smokin' crack? Am I really going to vote against the first viable women candidate? Put down the pipe!"

All this leads me to wonder, what would the suffragists do if faced with this dilemma? I mean, besides a little happy dance that such a wealth of choices is ours to begin with? These women were all about the vote, the franchise, the fundamental right of women to speak their minds at the ballot box. They would rejoice at the pivotal role women's votes now play in most elections, marveling at the gender gap but also encouraging ALL people to exercise this basic responsibility of citizenship. Somehow, I can't imagine the suffragists would want us to vote for Hillary just because she is a woman. In fact, Hillary has said repeatedly that she doesn't want that kind of support, any more than Obama wants us to vote for him just because he's a black man. Both these candidates have encouraged us too look into our hearts, our guts -- but not our DNA. To cast a vote on such a simplistic notion disrespects the right those suffragists fought and even died for not all that long ago.


atw said...

Well said.

Spencer said...

As a woman, the only thing I owe other women and my country is to exercise my right to vote; and to select the candidate that can best address the daunting challenges facing our country today.

I am voting for Barak Obama because he wants to change the world. I didn't vote for Hillary because she just wants to be president.