The historic candidacies of Sens. Clinton and Obama have now made it impossible to talk about the generic “woman voter”–and that alone is a triumph for women of all stripes. Now, we are learning to talk about women as they really are: individuals who differ by race, class, age and geographic location, who will make different choices in candidates based on their different experiences of and in the world. That’s good for our democracy because it bring a chorus of new voices, perspectives, and issues to the table. It creates a more robust national conversation, a more representative plate of issues to address, and a population that is encouraged and inspired to take a more active role in the political process — which is good for all of us.
As someone who came to the women’s movement during the “second wave,” I know how our differences can be a source of pride as well as contention. And I’m happy that women aren’t being seen or acting as if we are all alike, because it’s our prerogative to be the authentic individuals that we are. Further, I see it as a privilege that we women can now feel comfortable disagreeing with each other on the public stage. In the past, disagreement was something we felt we couldn’t afford, so we had these conversations mostly behind closed doors and behind each other’s backs.
Nowhere are we seeing a more dynamic picture of our newfound comfort with discussing our political differences than in the online universe, which has most recently been a launching point for some passionate debates concerning our first female candidate. Renowned leaders of women’s causes are vocally disagreeing, and for every well-known feminist who offers commentary on this historic election, hundreds of lesser-knowns are contributing too, with often eloquent and moving language about why they are supporting Obama or Clinton. When it’s all over, the women’s movement will have a trove of spirited, intelligent, and diverse debates documented as part of our rich, evolving history. This, too, is a good thing — though you might not know it from reading the press coverage.
Men disagree often. It is seen as the natural order of things, and no one gets alarmed. When women have open disagreements, it’s different. The press revs it up, exploiting the healthy ritual of debate as hostile, destructive, divisive. But we know better. At the heart of the matter, we know that we are jointly committed to the causes that have always been women’s issues — we just have differing views on how to get there. What we are seeing is the maturing of a movement and the ability of its members to thoughtfully disagree. Let’s resist the urging of the media to divide and conquer what we hold as true — and instead celebrate this monumental year as we continue to move the women’s movement into the 21st century.
Amen to all that I say.