April 16, 2008

Yes, Virginia We Live in a Sexist World

I've been a Hillary girl all along. I have no problem telling anyone at anytime that I am proudly voting for the girl. Then again, I don't work in an office with the boys breathing down my neck with this so-called Obama-mania. Rebecca Traister, one of my favorite writers who focuses on women's issues in Salon, this week takes on the overzealous boycentric Obama mania here: Hey, Obama boys: Back off already!

Traister writes: I began reporting this story in part because, as a 32-year-old woman who is more liberal than either candidate, and who was quite torn until Super Tuesday, I had found myself increasingly defensive of Clinton in the face of the Obama worship that rules the mostly white, liberal, well-educated circles in which I work and travel.

I am a loud feminist and a longtime Clinton skeptic who was suddenly feeling that I needed to rationalize, apologize for, or even just stay quiet about my increasing unease with the way Clinton was being discussed. Meanwhile, I was getting e-mails from men I didn't know well who approached me as a go-to feminist to whom they could express their hatred of Hillary and their anger at her staying in the race -- an anger that seemed to build with every one of her victories. One of my closest girlfriends, an Obama voter, told me of a drink she'd had with a politically progressive man who made a series of legitimate complaints about Clinton's policies before adding that when he hears the senator's voice, he's overcome by an urge to punch her in the face.
Writing about women, Hollywood and feminism, I spend my time talking with women who work in the entertainment business. Many of them are struggling to get movies made and released that are about women and ALL are having a hard time. I have not talked to a single woman who has had someone, anyone say that they would looove to make her movie about a woman over 40 who... What they hear is there is no audience for these movies and women can't be counted on to come and and see movies...yada yada yada.

During this long political season every single one of the women I have spoken to has brought up what is happening to Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail in comparison to what is happening for women in the entertainment business. While Hillary is clearly alone in doing what she's doing, these women also feel alone in doing what they are doing.

As a Gen-X feminist, I've been upset at the internecine warfare between my feminist mothers and the third wavers. I've never seen the attraction to Obama, but understand the younger women's desire to believe that we live in a world where voting beyond gender was a feminist act in itself in this supposedly post-feminist world.

But we don't live in a post-feminist world. We live in a sexist world.

So this week I was happy to see that young women are FINALLY starting to realize that gender is an issue. Amanda Fortini who according to my google search has been a fashion writer at Slate and who recently wrote the Lindsay Lohan piece in NY Magazine where she appeared naked as Marilyn Monroe, takes a big step forward for herself with a terrific piece in this week's NY Magazine entitled The Feminist Reawakening. She spoke to many young women who were sadly too fearful to use their names to discuss how gender in the presidential contest is playing out in workplaces and in conversations across the country.

Here are some really good quotes:
Many women, whatever their particular feelings about Hillary Clinton (love her, loathe her, voting for her regardless), began to feel a general sense of unease at what they were witnessing. The mask had been pulled off—or, perhaps more apt, the makeup wiped off—and the old gender wounds and scars and blemishes, rather than having healed in the past three decades, had, to the surprise of many of us, been festering all along.

A few women told me that when they raised this issue with men, the discussion broke down, with the men arguing that racism was far more pernicious than sexism. “If you say anything about the specificity of Hillary being a woman, you’re just doing the knee-jerk feminist stuff, that’s the reaction,” said one woman who asked not to be identified in any way. “Thinking about race is a serious issue, whereas sexism is just something for dumb feminists to think about.”
I am proud to be one of those dumb feminists!

And some of the quotes that relate to Hollywood:
...many women were clued in to the numerous gender-related issues that lay, untouched and unexamined, at some subterranean level of our culture: to the way women disproportionately bear the ills of our society, like poverty and lack of health care; to the relentlessly sexist fixation on the bodies of Hollywood starlets—on the vicissitudes of their weight, on the appearance and speedy disappearance of their pregnant bellies—and the deleterious influence this obsession has on teenage girls.
A high-powered film executive for a company based in New York and Los Angeles recounted a heated debate she engaged in with two of her closest male friends; she finally capitulated when they teamed up and began to shout her down.

It’s just a vibe when you’re a woman and you walk into a room and you’re in a position of power and you have to convince them of something,” a movie producer told me. “You’re constantly juggling: When you’re soft, you’re too soft; when you’re strong, you’re too strong. It’s a struggle in business and a struggle in relationships. It’s always a struggle.”
What these pieces, the campaign, and my work shows is that we really, really don't want to talk about or address gender issues. It's easier just to ignore them. If nothing else comes from this feminist reawakening maybe, just maybe, those of us who think and write about gender won't be called "dumb feminists" anymore. Maybe we'll be called what we know we are already "kick-ass smart feminists."

(BTW Traister's article has garnered over 1100 comments in the two days since it was posted and Fortini's only has 33. Guess most people read NY Magazine in print.)