Friday, November 17, 2006

Reason #623 Why Knee-Jerk American "Feminists" Don't Get It

Ségolène Royal

To be fair to my sisters, in this case it's really most Americans don't get it, period, regardless of gender.

The results of yesterday's Socialist Party balloting in France, where Ségolène Royal took 60% of the party vote as their presidential candidate, seem to contain two lessons that Americans can take to the bank about world politics today. Especially about feminism on the political world stage.

Lesson #1: Don't be afraid to run, and run hard, on populist ideas. Royal won her party's nomination on an unabashedly populist/grassroots platform that would make a 1960's radical proud, at a time when France is confronting enormous strife as a result of tensions within its diverse population and there is enormous cultural pressure to "crack down" on the diverse youth. Guaranteed Health Care. Subsidies. Affordable Housing. Virtual town halls and Citizen Juries. Ideas all of which have been described by her political opponents as "naive", "too liberal", "inexperienced".

Ideas which, apparently, got her more than 60% of her party's vote despite what some suggest are really fairly middle-of-the-road political views -- some even conservative -- when you scratch her surface.

And at least for now, it is predicted that Royal will run neck-and-neck in next year's general Presidental elections in France with that conservative powerhouse and rhetorical juggeranut, Nicolas Sarkozy. If I was Mme. Royal, I'd have only two words for Mr. Sarkozy in light of yesterday's balloting:

Bring It.

Lesson #2: If a woman gains power in part through her appearance and femininity, it's not necessarily evidence of the return of the patriarchy.

That lesson could definitely be learned by the hardcore American "feminists" running around talking about politics and insisting that their way is the only way to true feminist power in the world. I know this morning that at least a few must be struggling to wrap their brains around how it is possible that this type of female politician - who purposefully recreated herself from what was described as "geeky" into unabashedly feminine, public-bikini-strutting mother of four kids who in 25 years hasn't felt it necessary to marry their father, the head of her political party (someone who in delightful irony might well be her political rival someday) - appears now poised to join Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Angela Merkel, Michelle Bachelet and even Wu Yi in furtherance of what appears to be increasing world momentum to turn the reins of state over to not just women, but non-mainstream, visually-feminine women. Women who made it on their own with no political coattails to ride on (from both the left and the right in their respective countries, as their political landscape doesn't line up neatly with American notions of politics. Few people, for example, would readily associate the words "feminist" or "progressive" with Chancellor Merkel, although you'd be hard-pressed to consider both Presidents Johnson-Sirleaf and Bachelet as anything but.)

(In pitiful contrast, here in America we still have feminists claiming to be politically-savvy wasting precious time hand-wringing over whether someone they don't even know uses the word "bitch-slap" or whinging that the sex-positive arm of Third Wave Feminism or the religious/faith-based arm of the much-heraleded Fourth Wave of Feminism are somehow "dangerous" to women or "anti-feminist".)

Anyone who doesn't realize that Royal's life choices and willingness to play on her gender as a reason to elect her or even as a factor to be considered affirmatively would be FATAL to any American female politician is in steep denial where American misogyny is concerned. Just compare Ms. Royal and her rhetoric to that of any of the women *our* country is willing to tolerate -- I've yet to see acceptance -- having some modicum of power. Nancy Pelosi couldn't wake anyone up with a frying pan and a drum; we know she has a husband but all we ever see is her grandchildren - she's permitted to be nothing other than a matron. Hillary Clinton is a devout Methodist mother who installed a kitchen in the White House to feed her family breakfast, is in church every Sunday and other than a dye job has never indicated any nod to feminine vanity; and the single biggest beef against her in "heartland" continues to be has always been that she had the audacity and the nerve while Big Dawg was president to actually have -- and SPEAK -- her own mind about *his* job. Not to mention that other than the African-American women, you'd be hard pressed to find any serious female politician in America who does not feel compelled to be seen everday only in the most unglamous, ungendered haircut, the most unflattering make-up job and severe, sexless, boring-ass clothes imaginable. Dianne Feinstein? (Oh Lord, where do I start?) And Laura Bush, our first lady? Two words:

Stepford Wife.

All one has to do is remember the reaction when Cynthia McKinney, one of the most consistently anti-war leftists -- and an unapologetic womanist -- this country has ever seen, abandoned "the uniform" for more feminine clothing and one of our people's natural -- and quite popular -- do's:

Even on the left, this was brought up as evidence that she was "a ghetto slut" unfit for public office. Feminists in this country certainly didn't stand up all that hard for Cynthia when she was being run out on a rail either in 2002 or 2006 by men who by comparison politically were Old Guard conservative, perhaps because Cynthia McKinney never made sexism the sole explanation of what was happening to her politically (which IME usually pisses off white knee-jerk feminists, who seem to never grok the idea of intersectionality and why feminism cannot take an "only sexism all the time" or "sexism as the worst of oppressions" approach to global women's liberation because that approach nullifies the life-experience of the majority of the world's women: women of color.)

Finally, while senator Barbara Boxer tries to push the envelope from time to time in terms of her appearance, her politics are already considered "too radical" by most folks it's hard to know whether it makes any difference in her case.

My point in all this is that women who are politically involved here in America, especially our traditional feminist movements -- are still trying to play politics -- the "man's game" -- using men's rules, instead of our own. We dress like them. Our rhetoric sounds like them. And our issues are still articulated with reference to "them" (the abortion debate continues to be waged with the subliminal message that women are victims, always, if they are pregnant when they don't want to me, about as disempowering as you can get IMO). Unlike women all over the world that do not worry about the niceties of language or "professional dress" or sounding like men.

I think watching how far that type of female politician abroad has risen in terms of politcal power - even in countries that we know still have really serious problems with institutional patriarchy and misogyny -- is a possible road-map for success here in America where women and politics are concerned. It's food for thought, anyway.

I am not a denizen of French politics but will definitely be keeping my eye on Mme. Royal and this particular contest. Because any woman running for political office that dismisses her detractors by reminding the Male Old Guard that "“I hear that Gazelles run faster than elephants” is indeed All Woman, and All That.

(One caveat: I do hope she rethinks her opposition to same sex marriages, the one thing that disappointed me as I spent this morning learning more about her after reading the Times. Any woman that has bucked the system by playing the system can surely see that these types of arbitrary discriminations have no place in a genuinely populist society.)


At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Shanikka, very intelligent commentary.


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