Women and the vote

The triumph of feminism

Sep 11th 2008

From The Economist print edition

America’s feminists may have lost a battle or two. But they are winning the war

THIS was supposed to be the year in which America’s feminists celebrated the shattering of the highest glass ceiling. They had the ideal candidate in Hillary Rodham Clinton, a woman who had been tempered in the fires of Washington. And they had every reason to think that she would whip both the young Barack Obama and the elderly John McCain.

But it was Mrs Clinton who got the whipping. She not only lost an unlosable primary race. She was dissed and denounced in the process. Chris Matthews of MSNBC said that she owed her Senate seat to her husband’s infidelity. One lobbyist created an anti-Hillary pressure group called Citizens United Not Timid. A couple of young men ordered her to “iron my shirt”. Mr McCain, whom she regards as a good friend, looked on benignly when a Republican asked him “How do we beat the bitch?”

Mr McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running-mate has turned the defeat into Armageddon. Mrs Palin is everything that liberal feminists loathe: a gun-toting evangelical, a polar bear-hating former beauty queen, a mother of five who opposes abortion rights and celebrates the fact that her pregnant teenage daughter has “chosen life”. During her campaign for Alaska’s lieutenant-governorship in 2002 she called herself as “pro-life as any candidate can be”.

Gloria Steinem, the founder of Ms magazine, says that “Palin shares nothing but a chromosome with Clinton”. Kim Gandy, the president of the National Organisation of Women, dismisses her as a “woman who opposes women’s rights”. Debbie Dingell, a leading Michigan Democrat, said that women felt insulted by the choice. Joe Biden says that, if Mrs Palin becomes the first female vice-president, it will be a “backward step for women”. “Eighteen million cracks”, says the New Republic, (referring to Mrs Clinton’s 18m votes and the glass ceiling) “and one crackpot.”

Mrs Palin’s arrival on the national stage is inspiring some startling political somersaults. Some feminists claim to be outraged that Mr McCain has promoted somebody just because she is a woman. Sally Quinn, a writer for the Washington Post, has even argued that, given the size of her family, she cannot possibly be both a national candidate and a good mother. At the same time, conservative traditionalists are suddenly realising that they have always been supporters of mould-breaking working mothers, whatever impression they may have given to the contrary. The whole business is also inspiring plenty of speculation about the end of feminism. One group of Hillary supporters said that their heroine’s defeat was like being told to “sit down, shut up and move to the back of the bus.”

But is feminism really faring so badly? American women are certainly under-represented in public life. They make up less than 20% of governors and members of Congress. The number of women on the Supreme Court has recently fallen by half, from two to one, thanks to Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement. But what Ms Steinem regards as the most “restricting force” in America is nevertheless getting ever less restrictive. Some of the most culturally conservative states in the country, such as Kansas and Michigan, have female governors. In 1998 women won the top five elected offices in Arizona. Mrs O’Connor was arguably the most powerful voice on the Supreme Court for decades.

Women are also winning the most important of all gender wars—the war for educational qualifications. They earn 57% of bachelor’s degrees, 59% of master’s degrees and half of doctorates. And they are doing better all the time. In terms of higher education, women drew equal with men in 1980. By the early 1990s six women graduated from college for every five men. Projections show that by 2017 three women will graduate for every two men. The meritocracy is inexorably turning into a matriarchy, and visibly so on many campuses: the heads of Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Brown and the National Defence University are all women.

Boys, meanwhile, are more likely to drop out of high school than girls. They are also more likely to be consigned to special education classes or prescribed mood-managing drugs. Men are more likely to commit crimes, end up in prison, kill themselves or be murdered. Even their sperm count is headed south. The long-term result seems unavoidable: men are becoming ever more marginalised, while women are taking over the commanding heights of wealth and power.

The new Madonna

It is even plausible to argue that there is feminist-friendly news buried in the recent headlines. One reason why younger women did not coalesce behind Mrs Clinton in the same way as their mothers must surely be that they have simply become accustomed to living in a world of opportunities. On Super Tuesday, for example, Mr Obama did very well with women under 30, while Mrs Clinton won easily among women over 60. Convinced that they will see a woman in the White House during their lifetimes, they did not feel the same “fierce urgency of now” (to borrow a phrase from Mr Obama) as 70-somethings like Ms Steinem.

In her idiosyncratic way, Mrs Palin also represents the fulfilment of the feminist dream. She demonstrates that gender is no longer a barrier to success in one of the most conservative corners of the land, the Alaska Republican Party. She also proves that you can be a career woman without needing to subscribe to any fixed feminist ideology. Camille Paglia hails her as the biggest step forward for feminism since Madonna. One can argue, as we have, that it was astoundingly reckless of Mr McCain to have picked her on the basis of having once met her for 15 minutes. But if feminism means, at its core, that women should be able to compete equally in the workplace while deciding for themselves how they organise their family life, then Mrs Palin deserves to be treated as a pioneer, not dismissed as a crackpot.



New member
I think today such people as Mrs. Palin can't be allowed to participate in elections. I'm happy to know that our people become smarter and more tolerant over years
I agree with you at this point but there are a lot of versus factors. Liberal feminism must develop more against radical one. Radical ways are harmful is their core. I've found a great feminism-relevant book "The yellow wallpaper" which showed such topics. I hope to see decent people in the government in the future, but now it's not, unfortunately.


New member
I agree with you at this point but there are a lot of versus factors. Liberal feminism must develop more against radical one. Radical ways are harmful is their core. I've found a summary of a great feminism-relevant book "The yellow wallpaper" here https://eduzaurus.com/free-essay-samples/the-yellow-wallpaper/ which showed such topics. I hope to see decent people in the government in the future, but now it's not, unfortunately.
I agree with the point above that our people become more tolerant but it's still not enough...


Super Anarchist

Latest posts