Response to “Who Should Be First?”

When U.S. Senator of Illinois Barack Obama ran up against U.S. Senator of New York Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, many individuals in America were in an uproar—pressuring people to take sides on whether they would elect a Black man or white woman for president. Besides 2008, mainstream discussion about race and gender has not been covered so “generously” by the media since 1870 when the 15th amendment was passed granting Black men the right to vote before white women. Though, many feminists felt the need to exclude and demean others who chose the “other” candidate, it was clear that more importantly feminists worldwide would give and speak up about their own inputs on the issue.

Beverly Guy-Sheftall and Johnnetta Betsh Cole’s “Who Should Be First?: Feminists Speak Out on the 2008 Presidential Campaign” shares a collection of various essays, editorials, articles, and even personal reflections from feminists across diverse ages, races, classes, political stances and family backgrounds.

In “Why I’m Supporting Barack Obama,” Katha Pollitt sparks a new edge on the same conversation. She advocates Obama as a better potential president than Clinton. As Pollitt writes that she “wasn’t delighted to think that success would mean four more years of Bill Clinton either,” it is unfair how she cages Hillary in by associating her with negative feelings towards Hillary’s husband. There are other reasons Pollitt justifies choosing Obama over Hillary, but among these the one that stands out the most is that she believes “Obama is a candidate in a different mold” while Hillary doesn’t connect with people as naturally as Obama does. It is clear that she expects backlash from other feminists because at the end of her essay (with a defensive tone) she lists names of “plenty of feminists [who] support Obama].”

Ariel Garfinkel shares observations among the disparity of opinion between the younger and older generations of women about the 2008 primary elections. There is a higher popularity for Obama among young women while older women lean towards a vote for Clinton instead. Garfinkel states that Obama exuded more “values of feminism” than Clinton did during their campaigns as Obama defended Clinton when there were people urging for her withdrawal in the race. People picked up on Clinton’s racially divisive tactics of placing herself above Obama even within her speeches or interviews. Due to Obama’s frequent nice, supportive and collected self; young people viewed Clinton’s blows as part of “old politics” and Obama’s methods as part of a feminist way of approaching politics.

In “Yo Momma,” Linda Hirshman touches upon the trend for young American women to want to defy their mothers and choose to vote for Obama mostly based on that fact alone. Clinton not only reminds them too much of their own mother, but also knowing that their mothers (feminist or not) would probably vote for Hillary makes them want to rebel all the more and vote for the trendier, nicer candidate who is Obama. Hirshman believes that many of these attitudes come from the “stereotypes of second-wave feminists as overbearing, selfish mothers,” but that young women should not use that as a means of revenge in such an important election as this one. She advocates that Clinton should be president and closes with the note that feminists are allowed to vote whichever way they please, but young women should not dismiss Hillary because of their personal problems with their mothers back at home.

Betsy Reed , author of “Race to the Bottom”, talks about the to and fro attacks about both democratic candidates from the pool of supporters from both sides, Reed mentions that the sexist attacks on Clinton were unfair, but that Clinton’s own racists attacks on Obama were disappointing. Reed makes a significant point about the Catch-22 that every woman has to wrestle through in her life.  Clinton was scourged for being a woman that was too cold and aggressive. Yet, ironically, she was flogged for being too emotional and weak by shedding tears during an event in which she was asked a question about how she’s doing everything as a woman.  Reporters and comedians seemed to leave out her response to the question in which she replied that the reason for her tears was that this whole process was personal because “it is about our country. It’s about our kids’ future. It’s about all of us together. Some of us put ourselves out there and do this against some difficult odds.”

Certainly, Obama comes in a racially different shell considering that he became a representative of every minority racial group’s chance at ever being treated as an equal or getting ahead in the United States. Similarly, Clinton too comes in a gender different shell, as she became a representative for girls and women all across America in the hopes for equality or getting ahead as well. Yet, what needs to be clarified is that it is a misnomer to assume that simply by electing a black man or white woman as president, it will appease the racism and sexism that occurs in this country.

In “Generation Y Refuses Race-Gender Dichotomy,” Courtney E. Martin boldly shares that rather than looking at the 2008 elections as a “litmus test”, she chooses to use it as a platform for “a deeper, more authentic conversation” about the intersection between race and gender. Martin chose to vote for Obama, but shares that she will continue to be an “avid Clinton supporter”. Rather than creating divisions, she encourages Americans to use this event as an opportunity to engage in race-gender discussions that will help foster a united nation.

Expectations in the feminist community of keeping a single-minded opinion are confining and highly unlikely considering. This nation is formed from a myriad of people from varying races and ethnic groups, genders, and backgrounds. The beauty and privilege of this nation is that we are not shackled down to only believe one way or the other. Voting for a black man or a white woman for president should not lessen or increase one woman from being a true feminist over another.

So, with this in mind rather than causing bitterness, hatred and resentment towards people that do not agree with us on every issue in life, shouldn’t we be able to dialogue with one another in a loving, safe environment? Ideally, that would be the case, but some political issues are close to people’s hearts and passion arises out of even political elections especially when it is so closely linked to a person’s acceptance, discovery and empowerment of others of their own gender or minority group.

Then the real issue (among the pool of several essays mentioned above) is not that there are lively, passionate discussions about race, gender and the intersection of the two, but that the overwhelming majority of the discussion is about the candidates’ biological and physical aspects alone. Most of the news articles, essays and interviews have been about the racist or sexist attacks and how to combat them. Undoubtedly, there is a great need for people who are willing to do so, but how is that going to help them actually decide whom they will ultimately vote for in the ballot room.

It seems that there wasn’t enough discussion about both Clinton and Obama’s ability to actually become a good president based on their experience, skills, compassion, and ability as a nation leader. There is no need to dismiss their race and gender because it is a great part of who they are, but the concentrated discussions circling around only race and gender stirs the greater problem, which is that maybe there wasn’t enough focus on what kind of human being they are.

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