I wrote the following as part of a letter to the editor recently (it was cut, even though the letter was published):
In joining those who imply that feminism’s work is done, this writer forecloses investigation of some of the most significant and damaging ideas that arising from responses to the Clinton bid for presidency: that Clinton failed to represent change to voters not only because she was a Washington insider married to a former president but more importantly because feminism itself is too old a story, a played-out narrative which has accomplished its goals and which, as a result, can no longer serve as a vehicle for voters’ utopian hopes. If it is true that feminism no longer signals transformation to voters despite its status as a largely unfinished project, we should be asking ourselves how to make its goals once again seem intrinsic to the programme of Left politics, rather than insisting that it has had and fulfilled its brief moment of promise.
I was responding to one of those self-congratulatory pieces written by Obama supporters at the end of the primary season designed to explain why we need have no regret about Clinton’s loss. What struck me about the piece was how neatly it encapsulated what seemed to be a prevailing view: having a woman in the White House doesn’t look like change, because we’ve already got gender equality. Whereas, to borrow the sort of rhetoric often found in such articles, having a black man in office suggested an America unimaginable thirty years ago.
Of course, it can and should mean something; of course I’m not suggested the US has achieved racial equality–far from it. But the Left’s failure to embrace feminism as a symbol of change only seems to have allowed the Right to pick up the slack. Palin might be making her career out of attacking everything feminism stands for, but when the Republicans pick a woman, they still send out a signal of change, just by doing the thing usually associated with the other team. For them, even the slightest bit of gender equality reads like a big step forward, whereas for the Democrats it read like a step taken way too long ago to be worth anything.
In effect, in writing feminism off as a symbol of national progress, the Left has allowed the Right to put its own horrific, ‘hockey-mom’ version of women’s rights on centre stage; the Right seems to have become be the sole owner of the feeling of openness and possibility once associated with changes in gender roles on the Left.