June, 22nd 2010

Men in Skirts?

– Liz Mair

That's the title of a piece I ran over at BlogHer on Monday... here's an excerpt:

About two weeks ago, following June 8 primary night, the big meme in political media was “The Year of the (Republican) Woman.”  Primary victories by the likes of Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina in California, and a strong performance by Nikki Haley in South Carolina, followed on the back of victory the week prior by Susana Martinez in New Mexico. 

But since then, another narrative seems to be taking hold in some quarters—that these women aren’t really women, they’re men in skirts.  That is so because they a) didn’t emphasize their gender at every turn in the course of their respective primary races or b) don’t focus, or toe the line, on “women’s issues”—or both.  In particular, objections have been raised that these women either are not pro-choice or are insufficiently vocal about being pro-choice, and therefore—the subtext seems to be—they’re more akin to men in skirts than “real women.” 

It’s a sort of modern, through-the-looking-glass version of the critique leveled by a few on the distinct, definite right wing of American politics regarding Hillary Clinton back in the day: She wears pantsuits, therefore she’s not a “real woman.”   The argument went then, real women wear skirts, and the items at the top of their priorities list are kids, husband, and housework, not kids, husband, and career.  It continued: Have a career and want to pursue it, even if it means making some sacrifices like not being a stay-at-home-mom?  Pro-choice?  You’re a feminazi who is destroying America—and you certainly shouldn’t be elected to high office, where you might serve as a role model.

The 2010 version, as I’ve heard it expressed and as seems to be implied in some stories discussing this new “Year of the Woman” from some on the distinct, definite left wing of American politics goes like this: Real women prioritize advocacy surrounding “women’s issues” and their careers, not advocacy on the issues that matter most to them personally and their careers—let alone their kids or their husbands.  Pro-life (or not vocally pro-choice)?  You’re a 1950s throwback who should never be allowed into a position where young women might listen to you or look up to you.

The upshot then, and now, seems to be that for a chunk of the population, left and right, women have to conform to some kind of stereotype in order to be worthy of respect as women, and worthy of consideration for political leadership roles—whereas men can just be men.  This is the ultimate in ironies since we are no longer stuck in the 1950’s.  One is not some sort of misfit outcast if one wants to have a high-powered career in business rather than staying at home to cook and clean and change diapers.  Equally, one is not some sort of un-liberated, subservient throwback to the middle of the last century if one does want to stay at home to look after one’s kids, and make sure the husband doesn’t eat Cheetos and Lucky Charms for dinner every night (most of us know how that goes).  There are many measures of women having achieved equality, but the best one is that we choose to do different things according to what we want, not what either the bra-burners of the 1970’s or those advocating a Stepford Wives-type world want.  We choose.

And, increasingly, it seems, we dominate.  In the July/August edition of The Atlantic, there is a piece running entitled “The End of Men.”  It details the extent to which women, and girls, are matching and often outpacing men, and boys, in pretty much everything... [intro]


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