The Hillary Dilemma: Does Sisterhood Trump Peace?

"It is so wonderful that Hillary is running," said my luncheon companion. "At last, we will have a woman President." It is a popular sentiment. The week before Jane asked a group of political women, "Who is supporting Hillary?" Seven of the eight hands went up. Mine didn't. Jane glared. "You care about women in politics. How can you not support Hillary?" she demanded to know. "Hillary supports the war and I do not," I responded. The group erupted: "But Hillary will end the war because women are better negotiators." "You are being too narrow, there election is about more than just the war." "Women are too harsh in judging women politicians." "She has the best chance of beating a Republican." "We want to see a woman president and Hillary can win."

The divisive question of the women's movement returned. Should women vote for a woman candidate just because she's a woman, regardless of other issues? Looking back in history, it is clear that the various factions of the women's movement rarely supported a woman just because she was a woman.

The equity feminists argued that women were equal to men and it was a matter of simple justice that they be represented at the power tables in numbers equal to their share of the population. Women were entitled to their fair share of the pie. However, support was conditional and choice was the litmus test. The National Organization of Women, for example, regularly endorsed pro-choice men running against anti-choice women candidates.

At the other end of the spectrum were the radical feminists who believed the pie was inherently spoiled. Scholar bell hooks argued that it was important to understand feminism in terms of gender, race, and class within "the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy." The work of feminists was to bake a pie from scratch with new ingredients to assure equity for all. Women who did not support a radical agenda did not win their support.

The difference feminists believed that women would bring a special sensibility to politics because of their experiences as wives and mothers. Not only would they lead collaboratively, they would also pursue a more caring policy agenda that focused on women, children, education and the environment. They would bring peace to the world because they were better negotiators and would be reluctant to send their children into the world to kill other women's children. Even today, Marie Wilson, founder of the White House Project, believes that peace is the most important contribution women in leadership can make.

They did not want to support women who were one of the guys but felt some conflict. It was unrealistic to expect a handful of women to change politics and its inbred masculine norms. It required critical mass. Therefore, women should support women just because they were women. It helped to believe that once there were enough women in politics, they would change the public space dramatically for the good of all.

Returning to the discussion about the 2008 election, what positions will these factions take now? Equity feminists will have little problem supporting Hillary. They might not agree with her other positions (support of a bill making flag-burning illegal, her willingness to use nuclear weapons in Iran, or the Iraq invasion and occupation) but she is pro-choice. They see her victory in terms of symbolic impact. The believe a woman president shows that the doors to political office are open and will encourage more women to seek elected office.

Whether that is true, of course, is open to debate. It did not in England when Margaret Thatcher served as Prime Minister from 1979-1990. During her tenure, the percent of women in Parliament lingered at less than 10%. It was not until 1997 that there was a big jump to the 20% mark, where it remains. Still, it is slightly better than US, where women hold 16% of the Congressional seats. For equity feminists, it is worth supporting Hillary, even if the impact is uncertain.

The radical feminists, on the other hand, will easily dismiss Hillary's candidacy. As the ultimate political insider, Hillary is the darling of the capitalist corporations such as WalMart and Fox News' President Rupert Murdoch. They might also marginalize her as merely "Bill's wife" and suggest that perhaps like Governor "Ma" Ferguson and hubby "Pa" of Texas in the 1920s, Bill and Hillary will share side-by-side desks.

Only the difference feminists face the dilemma of Hillary head-on. While Hillary has compassionately written that it takes a village to care for our children, she has not put her votes there. Instead, she has voted to spend billions on the illegal Iraq war and occupation, just like the guys. Perhaps she felt she had to be a warmonger to prove she is tough enough to lead. Women in politics face this double bind of being tough but not too tough. Perhaps if Hillary is elected, she will find her voice and redefine toughness as the strength to wage peace. That possible but I am not optimistic.

As a feminist, I want to see more women at the political tables wielding power. I would love to see a woman President in my lifetime. However, my support for women in politics reflects my desire for change. Rambo in high heels is not enough of a difference to gain my support.

I fully admit that my opposition to Hillary because of the Iraq war is a "one-issue" position, but then, so is voting for a woman just because she is a woman. Opposing Hillary, I risk being caricatured as Rush Limbaugh in drag. However, I am comforted knowing that I am in the great company of the late Molly Ivins, who also chose not to support Hillary.

The desire for peace trumps false sisterhood.

Gail Johnson

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