- Feminist Currents
We at Frontiers are pleased to present to our readers the first full installment of our interactive column, “Feminist Currents,” edited by Eileen Boris, Hull Professor and chair, Department of Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. Last year Boris asked our readers a question and this year you can read the collective reaction of our feminist community and Boris’s responses to this reaction. She describes her work as cooking up a gumbo out of our responses: mixing, seasoning, and throwing in her own ingredients. We invite you to participate in this feminist dialectic by responding to Boris’s second question, which is given below, at the Frontiers website, http://www.asu.edu/clas/asuhistory/frontiers/ , and on our new page in Facebook. (Yes, Frontiers is innovating; we now have a page on Facebook.) We think you will enjoy engaging with—and thus strengthening—our community of feminist readers. In Boris’s words, “‘Feminist Currents’ is a place for feminists to debate pressing and not so pressing (sometimes whimsical but hopefully compelling) issues of the day, to share perspectives and thoughts, develop strategies, and connect scholarship and teaching to social justice.”
For our first discussion, I posed this question:
Political theorist Anne Phillips offers the concept of “the politics of presence” to argue for electing representatives who not only share the ideas and beliefs of their constituents but also reflect their experiences. In light of the 2008 Presidential contest, assess the ways that group identity, race, and gender have played out—or should have. Or to put this question [End Page 231] more concretely, was Elizabeth Edwards right when she claimed that her husband was more of a feminist than Hillary Clinton? Who should Black women support: Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? Was former presidential candidate Bill Richardsonx Latino enough for Latina voters? And do you have to be a real man to secure the Republican nomination for President and be elected to the highest office of the United States?
I subsequently modified the question to reflect the nomination of Barack Obama and emergence of Sarah Palin to generate more general reflections on race and gender in the 2008 campaign. Here we go!
In complaining that “Women Are Never Front Runners,” Gloria Steinem threw down a gauntlet in January 2008 by channeling Elizabeth Cady Stan-ton’s cry that Black men were advancing more rapidly than White women. “Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter),” Steinem complained in the New York Times. So what if this prominent White feminist concluded that the “country can no longer afford to choose our leaders from a talent pool limited by sex, race, money, powerful fathers and paper degrees”?1 Her point was clear. Hillary Clinton, whom she viewed as the most experienced and in line for the presidency, could not get a fair shake; sexism remains more entrenched than racism.
Two decades of feminist intersectional analysis belie her easy division between race and gender, but pundits and candidate handlers during the recent presidential contest ignored the complexity of identity as they pushed a crude politics of presence. Nonetheless, the assumption that people would vote for representatives who looked like them proved too simple, with the majority of women rejecting Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s misquotation, “There’s a place in Hell reserved for women who don’t support other women.” Palin was twisting former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s statement, which put women in Hell if they failed to help women.2 By that criterion, Palin had better start worrying. As an elected official, she has slashed funding for domestic violence prevention and shelters for teen moms, charged women the cost of rape kits, celebrated guns, supported Bush’s wars, and cheered on those who would ban abortion under any circumstance. Led by women of color, women voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, who received more women’s votes than did John...