Of Philosophers and Queens

Nicholas Kristof’s column yesterday in the New York Times contained some trenchant (if not novel) observations about women and leadership.  He based his analysis on a review of the last couple thousand years of world history, and pondered why there have been relatively few women heads of state since the Age of Revolutions, relative to their at least occasional appearance as sovereign monarchs before 1800.  His theory:  “In monarchies, women who rose to the top dealt mostly with a narrow elite, so they could prove themselves and get on with governing. But in democracies in the television age, female leaders also have to navigate public prejudices – and these make democratic politics far more challenging for a woman than for a man.”

The problem he points to is that the demos in democracy–that is, all of us voters–perceive women to be either likable or capable, but rarely both.  “This creates a huge challenge for ambitious women in politics or business: If they’re self-effacing, people find them unimpressive, but if they talk up their accomplishments, they come across as pushy braggarts,” reports Kristof.  Excellence, or even competence, is not a feminine virtue.  It’s enough to make a girl go curl up with Catharine Mackinnon and re-read Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, you know, the parts where she deconstructs the whole concept that so-called liberal democracies work for women as well as men?

Your thoughts, gentle readers?

UPDATE:  Speaking of the contradictory things people want to see in women leaders, see this blog post by Stanley Fish on Hillary Clinton hatred, a follow-up to his original post last week discussing its rabid, evidence-free nature.  (Warning:  if you click those links, watch out for flying monkeys!)  The huge number of comments that column and this one elicited offer us a disturbing view of our culture’s misogyny, and the twisted logic that has corrupted the minds of some putative Democrats.  As Fish explains, many commentors suggest that the mere existence of this irrational hatred, lamentable though it is, is a good enough reason not to support Clinton.  “In other words [their logic goes], by being the targets of unwarranted attacks – that is their crime, being innocent-the Clintons are putting us in the uncomfortable position of voting against them for reasons we would rather not own up to.  How dare they?  Given the fierceness of the opposition to her candidacy, why doesn’t Hillary do the decent thing and withdraw?  ‘What bothers me about Hillary is that she must know this, yet she apparently thinks so much of herself, or wants to be president so badly, that she’s willing to risk compromising the Democrats’ chances of winning in November to stay in the race’ (Matthew, 440). How inconsiderate of her both to want to be president and to persist in her quest in the face of calumny.” 

It’s simply unimaginable that people would make that demand of a male politician.  Quite the contrary, in fact:  George W. Bush has made the opposition of 70% of Americans a self-styled badge of honor.  Barry Goldwater made it seem to other conservatives that his walloping in 1964 by Lyndon Johnson was something to be proud of.  How dare a Senator who was re-elected with nearly 70% of the vote “think so much of herself,” or “want to be president?”

Senatorella for President

New campaign slogan:  She’s got the smarts and the lady parts!

heathers.jpgIt’s caucus day here in my square state.  While I’m out doing my civic duty, here’s an interesting review by Susan Faludi of a new book called Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary:  Reflections by Women Writers, edited by Susan Morrison.  (H/t to the lovely and talented Amanda Marcotte.)  It sounds like the book should be called Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary by a Bunch of Jealous Heathers, plus a sensible essay by Katha Pollitt, although she’s voting for Barack Obama today.  What is it with Baby Boomers and their pathological envy of the Clintons?  I’ve always assumed that there was no small amount of class bias in the embarassingly obvious ressentiment of Maureen Dowd and the Washington establishment crowd.  Who did those hicks from Arkansas think they were, anyway?  (Well, Little Rock via those hick schools Wellesley, Georgetown, and Yale.)  Faludi’s review is a brief but brilliant foray into the gendered nature of Clinton-obsession, the Hillary version.  (Not that my generation should be let off the hook–although it would be nice if someone other than the obtuse Katie Roiphe were invited to comment, she who dismisses rape and Hillary Clinton because no one she knows has been raped or likes Hillary Clinton.  Well, no one I know likes Katie Roiphe, so there.)

The best part of the review is the introduction, where Faludi makes a counterfactual proposition that highlights the trivial issues the writers in this volume use to judge Hillary Clinton.  Faludi writes, “let’s imagine this book’s concept-30 well-known women writers talk about how they ‘feel’ about Hillary Clinton-applied to 30 male writers and a male presidential candidate. Adjusting for gender, the essay titles would now read: ‘Barack’s Underpants,’ ‘Elect Brother Frigidaire,’ ‘Mephistopheles for President,’ ‘The Road to Codpiece-Gate,’ and so on. Inside, we would find ruminations on the male candidate’s doggy looks and flabby pectorals; musings on such ‘revealing’ traits as the candidate’s lack of interest in backyard grilling, industrial arts and pets; and mocking remarks about his lack of popularity with the cool boys on the playground (i.e., the writers and their ‘friends’). We would hear a great deal of speculation about whether the candidate was really manly or just ‘faking it.’ We would hear a great deal about how the candidate made them feel about themselves as men and whether they could see their manhood reflected in the politician’s testosterone displays.” 

Seriously people, get over it:  it’s not about you–not about your unresolved conflict with your mother, not about your discomfort with ambitious middle-aged women (even if you are one too), and not about your need to pretend you know which superior choices the Senator supposedly should have made instead at any point in her well-documented life.  Cowboy up.  Git ‘er done. 

UPDATE:  Ruth Rosen, who will be appearing at the Berkshire Conference in June to speak on the topic of “Changes and Continuities in U.S. American Feminism, 1890-1990,” offers a different opinion in “Why Would a Feminist Vote for Obama?”

UPDATE II:  Perez Hilton endorses HRC!  (Hillary Rodham Clinton, not the Human Rights Campaign, although I assume he’s probably cool with both HRCs.)

UPDATE III:  Via Feminist Law Professors, here’s a great commentary on the mysterious, inscrutable origins of Hillary hating at Feminist Philosophers.  I think they’ve gotten to the bottom of it!

Senatorella's coach stops at Caesar's Palace tonight

cinderellas-coach.jpgWell, it looks like Senatorella has pulled it off again.  With 90% of all precincts reporting, Hillary Clinton has beaten Barack Obama decisively with 51% of the vote to 45%.  Never has a front-runner done so unexpectedly well!  (Please, Crayzee Chris, insanity means never having to say you’re sorry for your misogynist rants!  With enemies like you, who needs delegates?)  Complete results here, with age and sex breakdowns for both Republicans and Democrats.

It looks like as in New Hampshire, the Alice vote is what put her over the top–59% of Democrats who caucused today were women, and fully 68% of the Democrats were 45 and older, an excellent demographic for Clinton.  The OC vote, which showed up to caucus in Iowa in historic numbers and put Obama over the top, didn’t make it out to caucus in Nevada.  18-29 year-olds appeared at an anemic 13%, and Historiann’s own demographic of 30-44 mustered only a scandalously low turnout of 19%.  (Whazzup, peeps?  Stuck in your minivans shuttling kids from ballet to soccer to circus day-camp this morning?  Did you stay up too late fooling around with TurboTax 2007 and trying to program your TiVO to record Desperate HousewivesAlexis de Tocqueville would be appalled had he lived another 149 years to see this!)

Memo to my generation:  Kiss my grits!

It's a Senatorella story

It looks like the voters have come to praise Senator Clinton, not to bury her in the snows of New Hampshire.  At least, as of about 10:45 EST most of the networks are calling it a win for the Senator from New York.  In your faces, Iron My Shirt dudes!  Historiann says it is ON, baby.

Update 11:55 p.m.:  In 1992, Bill Clinton proclaimed himself “the comeback kid” for coming in second in New Hampshire.  Senator Clinton won the New Hampshire primary decisively tonight. 

The Invisible Princess, by Faith Ringgold (2001)

invis-princess.gifBecause it’s the Christmukkwanzaastice season, please allow me to recommend a wonderful picture book for all children, but especially for little girls who are in the thrall of the Disney Princesses. I won’t waste valuable blog real estate here listing everything that’s wrong with the D.P.’s, but for me, it’s not their simpering dependence on handsome princes, their bizarre narcolepsy (Sleeping Beauty, Snow White), their boobalicious couture (The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas), or their overwhelming whiteness (all but Pocahontas, Jasmine, and Mulan). It’s their lack of anger–their cheerful acceptance of their servitude, and their naive belief that things will get better without getting angry and doing something about it themselves. I could almost handle the bland, rhinoplastic aesthetic (and the singing mice) if only Cinderella would get righteously pissed-off and clock her stepmother with her mop handle and run away. Seriously: if you found out that all along you had a Fairy Godmother who allowed your labor to be stolen from you throughout your adolescence and young adulthood, you’d kind of wonder what the whole point of a Fairy Godmother was, right? And when she swanned along one night to grant you a wish, you’d go for something a little bigger than a night on the town, even if it came with a new Narcisco Rodriguez frock and car service.

For little girls and boys (or big girls and boys, whatevs) who may have sustained the kind of brain damage necessary to believe that Cinderella has a coherent narrative, I prescribe Faith Ringgold’s The Invisible Princess. It’s a fairy tale based in American history in slavery times, and features a princess who is not powerless, but rather uses her power to free her entire plantation. Her parents, Mama and Papa Love, were childless for many years because they feared that any child they might have would be torn away from them by their master, Captain Pepper. When their daughter is born, they ask that she be hidden away from danger, thus with help from the powers of nature, she becomes the Invisible Princess. This book is valuable not just for offering another vision (and aesthetic) of what a princess could be, but also in introducing children to the history of slavery. Slavery is introduced on the first page as an institution that tears apart families–fathers from mothers, and mothers from children–which is not only historically accurate but a highly effective means of helping children today understand the crime of slavery. In my opinion, redemption comes a little too easily for Captain Pepper, who is permitted at the end to join the Invisible Village of Peace, Freedom, and Love along with the people he enslaved and tortured, but it’s a fairy tale, right? And even Historianns need a holiday. Happy Christmukkwanzaastice.

Not a very good story

In the last post, I mentioned something about how your children might not want to have Historiann over to tell bedtime stories.  My winning ways with young children go back many, many years.  In 1995 when I was still an earnest graduate student, I visited a friend of mine who had a 5 year old.  Hannah was in love with the movie Pocahontas, which the Walt Disney deathstar had just foisted on the unsuspecting public.  (I’ve come to really like the movie as an entertainment product–good songs and animation, and I’ve even used it in teaching my survey class.)  As an earnest graduate student with little familiarity with young children, I felt the need to tell Hannah the “real story” of Pocahontas.  So, I said, “Actually, Pocahontas didn’t love John Smith, she married a man named John Rolfe.  She then visited England, and died of smallpox there.”  Like all sensible five-year olds (and many undergraduates, actually), Hannah paid polite attention to the clueless adult, then turned away and continued chattering away about the Pocahontas she wanted to believe in.

A few years later, Hannah’s mother called to tell me that the story I told lived on, much to her surprise.  She said that Hannah was playing with a friend at her house, who said, “let’s play Pocahontas!”  Hannah then said, “Do you want to hear the real story of Pocahontas?  Well, she didn’t love John Smith, she married John Rolfe, and went to England and died of smallpox.”  Hannah’s friend blinked, and then said, “Well, that’s not a very good story!”

And that, my friends, is why Disney makes the big money, and chumps like me dig under the couch cushions for loose change.