This is a telling piece (Washington Post, 12/27/09). For some reason Anne Kornblut takes us back to the Democratic presidential primary elections of 2008 to rail against the perfidy of young women for failing to vote for Hilary Clinton in sufficient numbers. Kornblut’s vehicle for her rant is former VP candidate and congresswoman, Geraldine Ferraro.
According to Kornblut, on election night in some undisclosed state, Ferraro’s adult daughter called her and “confessed” to having voted for Obama instead of Clinton.
Ferraro was livid, and distraught. What more did Hillary Clinton have to do to prove herself? How could anyone — least of all Ferraro’s own daughter — fail to grasp the historic significance of electing a woman president, in probably the only chance the country would have to do so for years to come? Ferraro hung up enraged, not so much at her daughter but at the world. Clinton was being unfairly cast aside, and, along with her, the dreams of a generation and a movement.
To Kornblut, the contrast between the attitudes and votes of Ferraro and her daughter reflect a “generational divide” among feminist women, with the older generation valuing a woman in the White House per se, while the younger looked for more. This article makes the latter point in the words of a Wellesley College student (Washington Post, 1/11/08).
Carreon Aguilar, a senior, said: “If I’m supposed to vote for Hillary just because I’m a woman, that’s kind of sexist.”
Tellingly, Kornblut makes the claim, but produces no data to support it. Was there a generational split between self-identified feminists? If so, did it make any difference in the outcome of the Democratic primary? Surely the results of those primary elections have been analyzed and those questions answered, but Kornblut doesn’t let us in on the secret.
But beyond those most obvious points are others, perhaps less obvious, but no less important. First, the notion that feminists want a woman, any woman, to hold office, is plainly false. Sarah Palin alone contradicts that assertion, but there are plenty of others. Feminists who reject Palin are prone to saying that she’s not qualified for the job of president, and I agree. But there are a good number of female governors and senators who are fully as qualified as, say, Barack Obama or Bill Clinton in 1992. So would a Kay Bailey Hutchison or an Olympia Snowe grab a lot of feminist votes? Based on voting patterns in their states, the answer is a resounding “no.”
So it’s not qualifications that keep women from voting women into office, which they could easily do if they wanted to. I don’t mean to disturb the world views of people like Ferraro, but it looks suspiciously like women tend to agree with Wellesley senior, Carreon Aguilar. They don’t vote their sex, they vote their values, and if their politics coincide better with the male candidate’s, that’s who they’ll vote for.
But if that were all that’s going on, you’d think the ranks of officeholders would be a lot closer to a 50/50 split between men and women than they are. I mean, why would men have such a radically better hold on women’s politics than women do?
I think Kornblut answers that question even though I doubt she knows it. Writing of Hilary Clinton and her supposed lack of appeal to younger feminists, Kornblut mentions that “she hadn’t gotten there on her own.”
Ah, comes the dawn.
The undeniable fact about the junior senator from the State of New York was that, intelligent and educated as she is, she had never run for public office before being elected U.S. senator. How many people in modern times have managed that feat? The only reason she was able to do so was that she was Bill Clinton’s wife. Didn’t it look to voters, male and female alike, that, for her to accede to the presidency would have been more of a coronation than an election? Among Clinton’s very weighty personal baggage was one marked ’privilege;’ she had the fatal air of entitlement, unearned and undeserved.
But that still doesn’t answer the most obvious question of all. Women (well, white women) have had the vote in this country for over 80 years. By now, they vote in greater numbers than do men. But in all that time, they’ve never come close to consistently voting women into office. Likewise, in party primaries, they’ve never consistently voted women to be candidates for office. In short, women have never been the kind of sexists that Geraldine Ferraro demands that they be. The question is, “what gives?”
Again, I think the answer lies in Kornblut’s words “she hadn’t gotten there on her own.” Of course Kornblut was referring to Hilary Clinton, but I believe the same can be said of other women. In the same way that people saw Clinton as trading on privilege, perhaps they generalize about women who run for office. I think that men and women both see what the Geraldine Ferraros of the world never will – that as long as women are treated as privileged creatures, people (particularly voters) will perceive them as such. As long as women are exempted from the military draft and combat duty, as long as they pretend that the democratic process constitutes some sort of “glass ceiling,” as long as they claim to be discriminated against across the board in wages when the law, common sense and statistics say otherwise, as long as they are privileged in family law, domestic violence law, education, sentencing for crime, and on and on, women can’t demand to be seen as equally deserving of public office.
If I’m right, the great irony is that the very ones demanding ever-greater privileges for women are the same ones who cry ‘foul’ when the votes are counted. The Anne Kornbluts and Geraldine Ferraros of the world should be advised: you can’t have it both ways. Feminists have claimed the mantle of equality while arguing for privilege. Many elites have been fooled, but it seems the people, women included, have not.