Feminism is important to me. Not the kind of feminism that says all females have to be alike and all women have to chose a certain life style, but rather the kind of feminism that allows women to live their lives on an equal footing with men, at least in terms of the choices and salaries they are able to make. I attended those early “consciousness raising” meetings and, at first, there was a sort of herding element among feminists and a certain stridency. We were asking society to consider women in a different light. Yes, we already had the vote, we already were able to go to college and study, but, in our minds, we had not visualized what freedom for women could really mean. A big blobby dilemma (or a sweet blobby dilemma, take your pick) standing directly in the way of true freedom for women was the whole issue of motherhood, which we are still struggling with today.
The pill gave us freedom sexually, although less than we originally thought because AIDS came along to temper that particular freedom. The pill did not change the image of women as moms and stay-at-home wives whose key roles were as nurturers and housekeepers (household managers). Control over our own bodies in the sense of being able to choose whether to have another child or any child at all was definitely another great leveler, still being hotly contested today. However, once it became so costly to live that two incomes seemed necessary the race was truly on; the race to break through that glass ceiling and rule the world as equals with white men. Women also knew that the future of our culture had to belong not just to women, but also to people of color. Being inclusive may be making the whole process a bit slower but it is the right thing to do and it guarantees that we won’t have to go through it twice.
So any time we see a woman who achieves success we should lift her up and celebrate her ability to reach the top of the heap. We want to be able to stand in solidarity with our sisters and be supportive of them as they become more powerful. We assume that they will feel a kind of solidarity with all of us whose struggles have contributed to their success. However, women who end up on top do not always believe that the efforts of the women’s movement have any relationship to their current success which they see as something they achieved through a combination of their own personal attributes and their own endeavors, which, of course, is also true
Then we have two pretty and strong women who burst into politics from the fringes of the Republican Party and we want to feel pride in their accomplishment but we just can’t all celebrate them. We feel terribly guilty about this, but there it is. Is it envy? Is it contempt? What is it about these two that challenges our theoretical dedication to sisterhood? We are actually insulted by their outrageous behavior, by their dramatic presence, by their flakiness, and by the way men accept them in their midst because they charm them. Are these women sell-outs? Are they movie stars who wandered into the wrong arena? They certainly did not give women a reputation for seriousness and trustworthiness. We have Kirsten Gillibrand, Gabby Giffords, Susan Collins, Diane Feinstein and a number of much quieter heroines who do represent these great qualities, but not Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin.
These two got the lion’s share of recent attention and yet the qualities that have made them news fodder are not qualities that make women look good. The value they have had is that they have been entertaining. They made politics outrageous and silly, because they are outrageous and silly. They are essentially both examples of “Crazy Barbie”. We owned Barbies that represented a variety of different careers, but they all had one characteristic in common; they did not talk. I’m sure that is why there was never a Crazy Barbie. These two political drama queens didn’t actually have to choose to be a Barbie at all. They could have just been women, which is quite enough to entitle them to “hold up half the sky”. We should be sad that they have left center stage but instead, we are just relieved. Of course, they may be back, but if they are let’s hope they bring us their more genuine selves, and that they learn some history and some geography. It’s OK for women to be vapid and snarky, but it is not a good combination for someone in government.