Rebecca Walker


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Strike One for Team Hillary

Running on my Huffington Post Blog Today:

The Fence

As a bi-racial, Ivy-League educated, thirty-something feminist who campaigned for Bill Clinton, the election has me squarely on the fence. I love Barack's vision and know intimately the mosaic of ideas and experiences that helped shape it. I also feel a profound loyalty to Hillary who, after much sacrifice, has the chance to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all.

Gloria Steinem's op-ed in the NYTimes didn't help Team Hillary [full disclosure, GS is my godmother]. It crystallized for me that Hillary, no matter how symbolically potent, runs the risk of being seen as a Second Wave candidate. She's one of the first women to gain power and access, and may be one of the first with power and access to ignore the criticisms of women of color, progressive men, and many young women, all of whom have been sending clear messages to Second Wave feminist leadership for well over a decade.

Messages like:

Women are not only victims, but active participants in the shaping of their lives. It's not Hillary's gender that may keep her from winning this election, it's her lack of preparation. If she had an inter-generational, multi-racial, digitally savvy, globally inclined machine behind her, crafting electrifying rhetoric like The Audacity of Hope and The Power of Now, she'd be swept into the White House by a landslide. Hillary wasn't forced into the number two position in Iowa, she made decisions that put her there. New Hampshire is a case in point; she made different decisions and got different results.

Racism and classism are as definitive as sexism. Did Steinem insinuate that Barack's gender, and not his talent, put him in the top spot? I thought black men were capable of performing at his level without an irrationally granted advantage. And the idea that black men always reach the Promised Land before white women? Forty per cent of black men don't finish high school in America, and one in four are incarcerated. Hillary, and her feminist supporters, are not going to win this election by glossing over the realities of African-American men.

Men are not the enemy. Steinem claims that sexism is responsible for Hillary's loss in Iowa, implicitly accusing men-at-large of devaluing women, while many of them may simply be more inspired by a candidate who happens to be a man. This type of divisive discourse that judges and alienates the many men who support the women in their families, communities, and the civic sphere every day is not only bad for women, it's bad for Hillary's campaign. Obama is running as a uniter. Hillary needs to avoid re-inscribing historical divisions in order to gain ground.

And, finally:

Young women are not stupid. The idea that young women are too naive to realize the pervasiveness of sexism is an old Second Wave trope used to dismiss and discredit an entire generation, many of whom now support Obama because he doesn't insult them. As a result, there are a few women lining up behind the "feminist" placard, but many more running in the other direction.

Far from being ungrateful or unintelligent, these women know that confrontational political labels and a religious fixation on gender aren't productive. They, rightly, choose to enjoy the rights they should have had all along, and find other, more complex approaches to righting the rampant injustice in the world. Hillary's gender is not enough to win their vote, and she needs to show them that she knows it.

So while there's still plenty of time for Hillary to win me over, Obama is looking pretty good at the moment. He's listened to what many of my generational peers and I have been saying for the last decade, and his momentum proves it.

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Blogger Kim said...

Wow, you are my hero. I think you should be running! I read GS's op-ed piece and agree with your review.

Anonymous AYo aka SouL said...

Ah tis at least interesting to be a WOC in these days.

Blogger Michelle O'Neil said...

You nailed it Rebecca!

Blogger jacklq said...

true, true... point well taken! thx for such an interesting perspective (as usual).


Blogger Rebecca Walker said...

This post has been removed by the author.

Anonymous black woman said...

I just voted for Obama. On the short walk home, to my surprise, I felt sad and guilty I didn't vote for Hillary. Her and that damn war vote, I can't forgive it! I still felt sad though.

Blogger Rebecca Walker said...

Thanks so much for this honest post black woman...I am glad I don't have to vote today...still thinking about it all and your thoughts def have an impact.

Blogger Kim said...

I have to vote today and I too am voting for Obama and feel very sad about not voting for Hillary and guilty. It's not the war vote for me but the real hope for change that I feel Obama can bring and that's what I have to go on. Sorry Hillary. But, hurray for Obama. My husband has the same conflict as I do and he had a hard time at the polls as well but he voted for Obama. It's time for a change.

Blogger Kim said...

I too have to vote today and I am torn. I feel sad and guilty about not wanting to vote for Hillary anymore. My husband is feeling torn as well. but, we have decided, we are voting for Obama. We both feel he is what this country needs. I love Hillary and respect her hard work and intelligence....but, Obama is the new hope and change we are looking for.

Anonymous black woman (aka Yolanda) said...

Hi, Rebecca, thanks for adding my post. I LOVE your work!

I think the war vote is HUGE for many reasons and should not be ignored.

Was it a vote of conscience or one of political calculation?

I believe it was one of political calculation, and refuse to sleep on it because it is despicable to send young women & men to die and kill others to advance your political career. I won't even get into how reactionary it was.

She was playing both sides of the fence. If it was a success, she wouldn't be the Democrat that was "soft on terror." And if it failed miserably she could say she was duped and would have a greater chance to win the presidency, the same way her husband won it, when things were in shambles after George Bush Sr. and his war.

Someone might say "there is no way to know that it was political calculation and it's unfair to say it was."

Well, I work for a top fortune 500 company, and let me tell you, if there is an agonizing decision that the CEO faces, we are in that boardroom 15hrs a day for days on end, using focus groups etc... analyzing the decision, the consequences of the decision, you name it. I find it hard to believe that HRC did not do the same in the face of such a huge decision.

What surprised me about the sadness that I initially wrote about, was that it's not like I am voting for Obama because he is black (bi-racial), his views are closer to mine (I like Dennis Kucinich better than all of them). I have legitimate gripes about Hillary. So I was shocked that sadness came over me.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree with your assessment of this election. I think you are really diminishing how much of a threat Hillary is to the male power structure in America. I have never seen the media make the kind of brazen, non-stop sexist attacks against anybody like they have against Hillary. She is a Democratic woman who already knows how the Executive Branch works and that makes her more formidable than her opponent. She won’t spend months or even years figuring out how to get things done. And imagine the change in this country if 50% of the population woke up.

And you say that it’s not Hillary’s gender that might keep her from winning this election, it’s her lack of preparation. Nobody can say with any certainty how gender affects people at the ballot box, but Iowa and Mississippi have never elected a female to Congress, despite having populations that are approximately 50% female. Pointing this out does not mean that you consider men the enemy.

I would say that Hillary is supremely prepared when it comes to knowledge of the issues. What she lacks is the ability to communicate like a preacher. I say that not to detract from Obama’s ability to articulate a vision for the country, but I question his ability to implement that vision, especially in times as hostile as these. And why is Obama described as a progressive and Hillary as a moderate, when they have the same voting record?

And why do you hold Hillary personally responsible for what Gloria Steinem thinks and says? You conflate the two. Should we hold Obama personally responsible for what you think and say? That would be ridiculous.

And I don’t understand this attack on Second Wave feminists. Those women revolutionized women’s place in America. As Tina Fey would say, they got things done. Why can’t people disagree without completely attacking a movement that has improved the lives of American women? What have Third Wave feminists ever done except criticize Gloria Steinem?

You say that Hillary “may be one of the first [women] with power and access to ignore the criticisms of women of color.” Who exactly do you mean when you say women of color? Many non-white women are voting for Hillary in record numbers, in part because they want to elect a female President. Many want universal healthcare, something no other candidate has offered.

The only reason feminism is even in the news again is because Hillary is running for President.

Blogger Rebecca Walker said...

Interesting perspective. A few thoughts:

I agree that HIllary is a threat to the male power struggle, though for too many reasons to name here, I don't think you can say that Obama --a black, biracial man with an Islamic name--isn't a threat to the white male power structure. Clearly we need a movement that can liberate all, but we've got to honest about the situation as it stands and that would include being honest about who is a threat to whom.

Which 50 per cent of the population are you referring to? I'm pretty sure many of the fifty about whom you are speaking feel they have already woken up. But never mind that, the suggestion that women are monolithic and asleep and need to "wake up" is part of the problem endemic to Second Wave. A lot of women are already awake and the narrative and symbology of Second Wave leadership does not speak to them, hence the crisis in feminism.

In terms of what Third Wave the movement has done--I can't even imagine how much less feminism would be in the news without it. I know from the thousands of young women who read my book, To Be Real and have written me about it, that a whole lot of the fresh blood in women's organizations is there because of Third Wave's contribution.

In terms of the organization--well we've dispersed over a million dollars to young women for empowerment projects nationally. Because of the mandate we integrated into our by-laws, the women and transgender youth we've supported come from every imaginable racial, cultural, orientation, class and ability. And this is especially true in the positions of power--not just the people who receive the monies, but those giving them out represent the inclusive power not seen organically in Second Wave leadership.

If Hillary does win, I think it will be an important moment in history. What exactly will a white woman do on behalf of black families, for instance. Her husband (whom I campaigned for), initiated the so-called Welfare Reform program that put many women of color in dire circumstances. The prison system, where a lot of the partners and sons of those women now dwell, grew at an alarming rate under BC.

I could go on and on but I think what's happening out there speaks for itself.

IMO we need to start preparing for what happens when one of them wins. The supporters of each candidate will have a tremendous amount of power and clout. Which candidate will be the best voice for both groups moving forward? Which candidate can then beat McCain?

That's where I think we should be looking now.


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