Monday, February 25, 2008

Is Obama Leading Like a Woman?

Ellen Goodman had an interesting column last Friday ("The Female Style -- Modeled By a Man") in which she notes that Hillary Clinton has become "the tough guy in the race" and Barack Obama "the Oprah candidate."

As Goodman explains, "He was the quality circle man, the uniter-not-divider, the person who believes we can talk to anyone, even our enemies. He finely honed a language usually associated with women's voices." She quotes political science professor Kathleen Dolan, who sees Obama as "the embodiment of the gentle, collaborative style without threatening his masculine side." Dolan adds, "He's being more feminine than she can be. She is in a much tighter box."

Goodman offers a brief history of leadership studies and concludes with a provocative question: "So, has the women's movement made life easier? For another man?"

I spoke to Goodman for her piece but she didn't end up quoting me. I wish I could have referred her to both Renee Cramer and J.K. Gayle, who were having a similar conversation here on GWP, while I was off feeding sheep!

In his astute response to Renee's post, J.K. Gayle shares some great links, which I wanted to share with everyone here. Comments J.K.:

Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, the world’s greatest scholar on womanly discourse and on presidential rhetoric, has conceded (to some of us at a conference recently) that Barack Obama is using feminist rhetoric. Kohrs Campbell is the one who wrote that famous “Hating Hillary” article a while back, in which she looked at the rhetorics of hate around Clinton. (I asked if she thought Toni Morrison, who endorses Obama, could fairly call him, if elected, “our first woman president.” Kohrs Campbell, who likes the idea of a true woman president sooner rather than later, replies: “yes, you could call him a ‘womanly’ presidential candidate.”)

In a related post, Hugo Schwyzer offers "A few notes on feminism, symbols, and youthful Obamophilia."


(Ellen, ask me again, and I will refer you to GWP readers!)

5 comments:

J. K. Gayle said...

Welcome back, Girl with Pen, if the mountains are now so far away.

The astute ones, of course, are Goodman and Kohrs Campbell. Even though Goodman didn't get a quote in from you (could've been her editor), no doubt you helped her get her thoughts together. And thanks for passing her thoughtful article along to us.

The other astute one is Professor Cramer (aka one of your guest posters, aka Renee and Ann Harpold). She makes this great comment that needs repeating here:

"I think we could push it a bit further and say that Obama's rhetoric is not only feminist, it is nonviolent. And the reaction of many on the left to marginalize this nonviolent feminist speech is disheartening. . . So 'pussy' [a word used to diss Ombama] isn't just misogynist, it has the effect of denigrating nonviolent discourse and limiting its efficacious use in US politics."

(Thanks for the link, and your kind comments.)

J. K. Gayle said...

With the nice comments made, can I also ask your readers to work through a couple of things Goodman says that are very troubling?

These are disheartening days for Hillary supporters. Not just because of the string of losses but because of the kind of loss. Neither the strategists nor the candidate had illusions about the hurdles that would face the first woman president in American history.. . So, has the women's movement made life easier? For another man?

Now a couple of responses. HRC isn't the first woman to run, and to face the double bind (i.e., "you can NOT be a credible woman candidate AND also womanly"). Our American sexist problem with the "either masculinist OR feminist" discourse is precisely the binding binary Goodman fails to help us with.

Thankfully, third wave feminists (yes, those who are also women) are refusing such boxed in choices. What if some day we have all women as front runners for both parties? It could happen! What if in that world then, the candidates exhibited many different discourses? And then the voters (and readers of Goodman's columns) could say, "I'm voting for her because she's womanly, but not for her because she's not."

(But let me, a male, get a little subjective here too. When Obama, because he's a man, leads like a woman--which is not a bad thing!, then give us men and women a break. Please don't put male feminists or feminist allies--if you must--in a double bind either. I don't think third wave feminists, who are women, want such choices imposed, even on men--No?)

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