Power and the Feminine

Feb 19, 2016

A few days ago, I heard Anna Maria Tremonti of CBC Radio’s The Current trying valiantly to moderate a conversation – debate might be the more accurate term – between two women, both feminists, separated by a feminist wave or two and their respective preference for the next president of the United States.  It has been interesting to hear second-wave icons the stature of Gloria Steinem insist that no self-respecting feminist would do anything but throw their support behind Hillary Rodham Clinton. Commentators suggested that the age difference between the sides these two women represent is key to understanding their views on Bern vs Hill.  We’ve waited so long, the Hillary supporters say; it’s our turn!  Who can forget Frederick Douglass saying to Elizabeth Cady Stanton some mid-19th century version of ‘Take a number’?  It’s our turn!

It is as troubling to suggest that all women should vote for Hillary as to suggest that any other sector of the human population will and must support their ‘own’, no matter what.  Women in leadership who act no differently than men – or sometimes worse in an effort to prove themselves worthy in a world where power is exercised overwhelmingly by men – are establishment window-dressing.  (Cornel West is not the only one to suggest that the same has been true of Barack Obama; many statistics can be quoted to demonstrate less gun control, less environmental protection, more militarisation and deeper security-state penetration than those of the George W. Bush years – a ‘Wall Street presidency’, a ‘drone presidency’.)

When we look at women in power around the world – from Megawati Sukarnoputri (Indonesia) or Chandrika Kumaratunga (Sri Lanka) or Indira Gandhi (India) or Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (the Philipppines) to Isabel Perón (Argentina), Violeta Chamorro (Nicaragua) and, of course, Margaret Thatcher – they tend to be members of dynastic families (Maggie a notable exception) and end up wielding power in typically masculine ways.  Without a critical mass of women exercising agency in ways that are anti-oppressive – anti-othering of all sorts, anti-war (in a Julia Ward Howe sort of way), pro-environment (i.e., anti-fossil fuels), pro-low Gini coëfficient (i.e., wealth distribution), anti-corporate power/Wall Street (i.e., prepared to bring to account the criminals of Wall Street), pro-serious health care, pro-public education, etc. etc. etc., women will continue to step into a paradigm of power that has been created by men – and conform.

[Insert confession here:  I place myself firmly in the middle of the essentialist (nature) – constructivist (nurture) continuum.  Ok, it’s not a confession.  It seems from where I sit the only place to be.  That doesn’t make me a ‘complementarist’ – yikes, no!  I yearn for women – I yearn for me – ready to exercise power in ways that settle into unapologetically feminine energy, unwilling to go along in order to get along – the quintessential dictate of empire (Walter Brueggemann).]

women at Democratic Convention

Bernie Sanders is a straight white male and struggling within those constraints to relate to marginalised sectors of the population.  Yet his history is unwaveringly that of the outsider, tilting ferociously at the not-so-imaginary windmills of the élites of his country, placing himself clearly on the side of those who have borne the brunt of imperial and corporate rule.  Unafraid to call himself a SOCIALIST in a country where the rich believe that they have created their wealth all by themselves, Bernie channels the outsider rage that the feminist ought to recognise as ally.  From her solidly establishment and dynastic position, Hillary has tried to out-boy the boys, emphasising her insider first-name-basis place with such as ‘Henry’ (Kissinger) and ‘Bibi’ (Netanyahu) and counting on Madeleine (‘It was worth it’) Albright to threaten a ‘special place in hell’.   As much a war-monger and corporate-dependent as her male establishment counterparts, she will carry on a Clintonesque régime that bombed hell out of more countries than George W. Bush – and so much more…  Bernie can say 1% and 99% and we believe him; Hillary cannot.  Go Bernie.

PS:  Looking for examples in Canada is not difficult.  In the parliamentary debates about our ‘mission’ in the Middle East in which the NDP are more concerned about Canadian soldiers being harmed than harming (the let’s-kill-without-dying preference of modern industrialised murder) and the Conservatives decry our wussy departure from the ‘fight’, Rona Ambrose stands out as a worthy clone of her male predecessor.


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