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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In an hour and a half I will be taking the final for the class, “The History of Western Feminist Thought.” I’m nervous as heck because we had to do a shit-load of reading, plus heard twenty-some presentations about various feminists–all will be on the final, in addition to the lectures of course. I think I’m prepared–I certainly learned a lot this quarter. But whether or not I’ll be able to translate that to the page, I just don’t know. We’ll see. So far I have an A going in the class–I hope I don’t blow it with this one test.

When I got my degree in history, I ended up with a 3.42 GPA. I didn’t love getting Bs, but I was okay with them because I felt that I did my best, under the circumstances (which I won’t go into here). But now it’s vitally important to me to get As. Why? Because this fall I’m applying to a master’s program in women’s studies and the four classes that I’ve had this and last quarter are the only women’s studies classes I’ve ever had–except for one I took thirty-some years ago when I was first in college. I’m not sure what my chances are of getting into the program, but all I can do is try.

Added Note: I got A’s in all four Women’s Studies courses I took.

Second Time Around

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I took a course on the women’s movement back when it was barely walking. There were no women’s studies departments then, not even women’s studies courses. This one just happened to be on a topic of current interest–the year was 1971.

Now, thirty-six years later, I am planning to apply to a master’s program in women’s studies even though I was absent from the movement for most of the intervening years. It’s been disconcerting to find out that I’m something of a dinosaur: a relic of the Second Wave of feminism. One of the classes I’m taking is “The History of Western Feminist Thought,” and it was weird to find out that my past, my memories, are now being taught as history. I feel like Rip Van Winkle, caught in a time warp, like I went home again only to find that someone else is living in my house. And even the house is not the same.

But I also feel more alive than I have in years. Is feminism on the move again or is it just me? I would love to be part of a rebirth of the feminist spirit. It may be all in my head, and yet history tells me that these things go in cycles, and after a long dry period of conservatism, this society is ripe for a change. It’s tired of being told what to do, of always having to toe the line, of never being able to speak openly about the issues close to its heart.

It could be wishful thinking on my part. Maybe the women’s movement has had its day and is just waiting for the Third Wave to pass by. But again, maybe not. Maybe it’s being roused along with grumbling about the war. (It’s happened before.) Maybe we haven’t even had a Third Wave yet; we just didn’t know what to call the period in between heartbeats.

I’m going to use this blog to process what’s going on with feminism, both in my classes and in the world. It changed me–and the world–before; maybe it’s due for another go-round. I know I am.