The Role of Feminism in Politics

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That was more or less the topic of this conversation earlier in the week on WNYC, the public radio station in New York, between guests Betsy Reed, executive editor of The Nation, and Rebecca Traister, senior writer for Salon.  A digital audio recording of that segment is here.  In the Traister writes a scathing criticism of the Democratic party in the October 18, 2010 edition of the Nation.  Reed isn’t convinced that this is the “GOP Year of the Woman.”  She writes: 

When all is said and done in the 2010 midterms, it’s quite possible, even likely, that the ranks of women in Congress will be depleted by ten or more. Given the Democratic advantage in women legislators, even if a few more Republican women are elected, a bad year for Dems will be a bad year for women, as many Democratic women legislators who arrived in 2006 or 2008—like Arizona’s Gabrielle Giffords, Colorado’s Betsey Markey and Illinois’s Debbie Halvorson—find themselves vulnerable to challenges from Republican men. Such a decline in female representation would be the first in more than thirty years. We may see the faces of some newly elected right-wing female legislators on TV, but moderate and independent women will likely find themselves with an even smaller voice in Washington. The irony is that, in this so-called year of the woman, this result will be, more than anything else, an expression of the preferences and passions of angry white men.

The full article is here.

Traister takes the Democrats to task:

[A]version to any hint of femininity is likely why we rarely hear about the prowoman legislation Democrats have pushed through. The first bill President Obama signed was the foot-stomping, beret-tossing Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, about which we don’t hear a peep these days, even as the purportedly women-driven Tea Party barks about the ways women have been economically injured by this administration.  * * * The party’s reluctance to capitalize on its feminist successes makes it look scared and, well, weak. It has also allowed Sarah Palin and her brood of appallingly conservative female candidates to step into the void, attempting to rebrand their female-unfriendly ideology as the estrogen-driven arbiter of gender equality.  * * * As false as Palin’s claims to feminism ring, we can’t forget that they are coming just two years after 18 million Democrats voted for a woman with a real-life commitment to socially progressive policy and an actual stake in the feminist legacy. It should be increasingly clear that an appetite for dynamic female leadership, perhaps long suppressed, has been whetted, and that either party might benefit by rising to satisfy it.

Yet in this election cycle, we see no Democratic equivalent to the Mama Grizzlies, no energetic retort to Republicans’ anemic claims that they are the party of women. Why are Democrats reluctant to take this moment to assert their association with the legacy of women’s liberation as a point of pride? Why has there been no attempt to promote national stars or to capitalize on the argument that empowering gifted women—especially those whose policy aims actually benefit other women—is a noble, progressive goal to which we should all proudly commit ourselves?

Read that full article here.

-Bridget Crawford

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