In February 2009, MS. Magazine offered their bold interpretation of feminism by publishing an article which infuriated me to no end. Featured on the cover was President Barack Obama clad in Superman garb. Looking utterly heroic, Super Obama was peeling off his costume to reveal a shirt which bared the phrase” This is What a Feminist Looks Like”. My blood was boiling. How could MS. Run such a story after what happened to Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin during the election of 2008? Remember guys Obama is the one that said during of Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Primaries:
“I understand that Senator Clinton, periodically when she’s feeling down, launches attacks as a way of trying to boost her appeal.”
Yes Barack Obama…the man who was accused of being a sexist by Geraldine Ferraro.
The man who implied that Sarah Palin was a pig from “Wasilly, AK”
My anger with Ms. Concerned their uplifting of Barack Obama as an example of a feminist while he and his campaign in fact, marginalized the political role of women.
I understand that the relationship between feminism and politics is one that is historically stormy and open to criticism by the patriarchy. Stop being whiny girl, since 1789 you have had 37 women in the senate.
Well I understand that the relationship between feminism and politics is one that has deep connections to liberalism. Sarah Palin can get hung out to dry. She is a conservative so that it is okay when the mainstream media verbally assaults her. Heck, as we are liberal women too so let’s join in on the bash fest by accusing her of being stupid, and a bad mother because she is on the campaign trail while she has a small children. Oh God, she flew on a airplane while she was in labor. Like Hillary Clinton, how can Sarah run the White House if “Her house is not in order”???
By stating this, I am not attacking traditionally liberal feminist organizations such as NOW. I simply want to posit that there can be multiple and coexisting embodiments of feminism. I am speaking against this current and troubling trend that inclines feminist groups this tremendous push- this hypocritical tendency to dismiss any woman that is not an agent of the political left. To be inhospitable and dismissive in response to conservative women who justly deserve to be acknowledged as feminists, only serves to reinforce the power of the patriarchy and undermined any hope of a united front.
In an effort to legitimize their claim that Obama is what a feminist looks like, MS publisher Eleanor Smeal published in the Huffington Post this dandy gem as footnoted proof of the previous assertion and to commemorate President Obama’s 100th day in office:
The Huffington Post
Obama’s First 100 Days: Giant Strides for Women
President of The Feminist Majority Foundation and Publisher of Ms. magazine
Posted April 29, 2009
By any measure, the work President Obama and his team have accomplished for women and girls in the first 100 days is impressive. They not only have reversed some of the most egregious Bush policies, but also have taken some powerful actions to advance and empower women.
I’ve been working for women’s rights in Washington, D.C. since the Carter days and I have never seen anything like these first days. The pace is fast, and the outreach is inclusive. It started during the transition: The Obama/Biden team reached out to women’s leaders and met with us on a whole host of issues frequently and at high levels.
Oh, how nice. “The Obama/Biden team reached out to women’s leaders…” And tell me Ms. Smeal when they reached out did the feminist leaders reciprocate by offering in return a battered and bruised hand? The hand of feminism that was swollen and stained with the dried but lost and unforgotten blood rendered by wounds from the 2008 election? Come on. Any woman must be blind, deaf and dumb if she cannot admit to herself that the election cycle of 2008 had a crippling effect on feminist identity.
The article then begins to center on Obama’s accomplishments as a feminist during his first 100 days. This is described as a “list of the major Obama achievements thus far vis-à-vis women’s issues.” Smeals adds that the list “ bears repeating”. Yes Ms. Smeal does indeed bear repeating. We could not hear it quite clearly the first time. We still have that ringing in our ears from the whipping we took. Keith Olberman took our dignity into a room and “Only he “ came out.
Smeals prefaces her list by adding the proverbial pacifying of the savage beast of feminism. You know, kind of like when you have been held prisoner for years in your captor’s unfinished basement. They feed you mush on a plate slid underneath the door for decades but once in a while whenever they are so inclined and feeling periodically UP, they add a York’s Peppermint Patty on the side of your paper plate.
One area of concern that should be noted, however, is the percentage of women in top jobs. We must keep pushing. According to the Washington Post’s appointment tracking database, women thus far number only 30% of appointments to positions needing Senate confirmation. But very encouragingly, appointments include a high percentage of people of color and include many outstanding feminists.
This warrants further contemplation. Color me pissed off. We have 30% of positions that are filled by women but we should be “encouraged”. That is like saying we could’ve had a V-8. I drank some Obama Kool Aid energy drink that promised to turn me into Superwoman and now after 100 days I am feeling weak again.
What follows is the list of King Obama’s contributions to the fight for women’s rights:
JAN 23: President Obama overturns the “global gag rule,” a move that will literally save countless women’s lives in developing nations and will lead to the U.S. re-funding many international family-planning programs
JAN 29: Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring women’s ability to sue for pay discrimination
FEB 4: Obama signs act to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover 11 million children–Bush had vetoed this act twice
FEB 17: Obama’s economic stimulus package saves and creates jobs not only in construction, where men dominate, but in fields where women workers are the substantial majority–health care, child care and education; also increases Medicaid, food stamps and unemployment benefits
FEB 27: Obama moves to rescind the Bush administration’s “conscience” clause, which could have let health-care workers deny patients abortion, contraception or any other procedure they objected to
MAR 2: With the choice of Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services secretary, Obama appoints a total of seven women to Cabinet-level positions
MAR 6 : Obama institutes a new ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues and names Melanne Verveer to the post
MAR 9: Obama lifts restrictions on stem-cell research
MAR 11: Obama establishes the White House Council on Women and Girls and names senior adviser Valerie Jarrett as chair and director of public liaison Tina Tchen as executive director
MAR 19: Obama pledges to sign a U.N. declaration to decriminalize homosexuality, which Bush had refused to sign
MAR 20: Obama appointee Elena Kagan is confirmed as the first woman Solicitor General
APR 3: Obama calls Afghanistan’s proposed Shia Family Law–which would permit marital rape–“abhorrent,” helping to lead Afghan President Hamid Karzai to review the law
APR 23: The FDA extends Plan B availability to 17-year-olds–something highly unlikely to have happened under Bush
While I agree that the list includes many items that we can safely check off as strides for women, I wish to counter that legislative victories cannot in isolation translate into sole markers for the success of women. If gender equality is judged solely by these standards, then it will become a myth. Just because something says so on paper does not make it true in the real world.
Furthermore, this “legislation passed” method is a mistake and pure folly considering the way Obama has treated women in the past. Let’s also consider that for the most part our First Lady, Michelle Obama, a woman of accomplishment in her own right, has been reduced by the mainstream media into the traditional role of a rosemary and thyme planting fashion plate. A role which reinforces negative stereotypes of a women looking picture perfect while hubby is diligently working away at the office. Purring dear wifey is every so content to preen and stuff a capon in the kitchen. The girls are in the backyard playing footsy with Bo. All is well because after all (wink) Michelle, your house is in order. Unfortunately this is a role that our first lady seems all too eager to embrace.
Perhaps I am being too hard on Michelle Obama. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps my definition of success in the struggle for women’s rights is too broad. Maybe it should only be articulated through legislative benchmarks.
Call me picky but if we as women dutifully step aside and let down our guard because of the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter law what happens if another woman such as oh say Hillary Clinton, or Srah Palin decides to run against Obama in 2012? Sure, I am offering a hypothetical. It may not at all be the case. Mitt Romney may be the GOP presidential nominee and feminists can breathe a collective sigh of relief. No difficult definitions of what makes a feminist to negotiate. But what happens if the hypothetical becomes a reality and all of the “Obama is what a feminist looks like” converts are found among the dead in his underworld of sexism and the patriarchy?
This will be revisited I assure you.
Autographed Letter Signed,