Women and Power

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As they took turns bowling, the five men talked about politics. Cliff Albea, a dissatisfied former Republican who stamps logos on cigarette packs for a grocery distributor, thought he might vote for Clinton because he liked her conviction about high gas prices. John Gilmore, a recently retired mechanic, favored Obama because “I can’t really bring myself to vote for a woman.” [From a story in the Washington Post on May 6, 2008 by Eli Saslow.]

I can’t help but wonder how many men–and women–in this country feel the same way as John Gilmore. There’s a lot of talk about how voting for Obama gives a black man a chance to advance, but you rarely, if ever, hear the media say that voting for Clinton does the same for a woman. I’m not proposing that anyone vote for Clinton just because she’s a woman. There are plenty of women I wouldn’t vote for. But she shouldn’t be counted out because she’s a woman either, no more than Obama should be counted out because he’s black. Like the days when black men got the vote before women did, racial discrimination is seen as the greater evil.

Why does John Gilmore feel the way he does? I don’t know for sure, but one reason could be that women are seen as being powerless in this society. It seems more fitting to many people to have a man in charge, “even” if he’s a black man. They feel that he’s more likely to get respect and cooperation than a woman is. Just because he’s a man.

There may be some truth to that sentiment. Look how Hillary was treated when her husband was in office and she tried to get somewhere with health care. Some of the criticism was that she was not an elected or appointed official and therefore had no place in the debate. But there was a lot of talk about her not knowing her “place”–as a woman. She was getting “uppity.”

It’s a double bind for women. They’re socialized to let men have the upper hand. So a woman who bucks the system is then denigrated for not having enough power. Men don’t want her to have it, but then call her inferior because she doesn’t have it. And if she does have any power, they insist that she doesn’t have enough to make it in a “man’s” world. The same world that took it from her in the first place.

No one uses the words “male chauvinism” these days but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It isn’t mentioned the way it was in the 60s and 70s because this society wants to believe that the problem of discrimination against women has been licked. That would imply that men have seen the error of their ways. Well, John Gilmore hasn’t. And I bet he’s not the only one.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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