Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 7 Issue 7 | February 15, 2008 |

  Cover Story
  View from the   Bottom
  Special feature
  Photo Feature
  A Roman Column
  Writing the Wrong
  Straight Talk
  Book Review
  Dhaka Diary

   SWM Home

A Roman Column

BILLARY: Politics and the Woman

Neeman Sobhan

The other day, on an international women writer's chat group that I belong to, I had an interesting discussion about the current Obama vs. 'Billary' race for presidential nomination in the US. It had started days ago with most of us generally criticizing the sexist media attacks on Hillary. Then, a well known Indian writer of an older generation declared that she, as an admirer of the feminist movement, was rooting for Hillary to make all women proud by becoming the first woman to preside in the White House. "It is encouraging that America has overcome its racist bias in the person of presidential candidate Barack Obama. Now to see if the US can also overcome its sexist bias."

An upcoming Indian novelist living in the US responded: "As long as US gets rid of Bush and all that he stands for, its all the same to me whether they overcome their racial or sexist bias in their election though I'm afraid voting for a black or a woman doesn't prove either, as we all know. But symbols seem to have precedence over reality.”

Barack Obama
Hillary Clinton

Then, a White-American feminist writer sent us a rather interesting document. It is a petition that was signed by a large number of feminist intellectuals, artists and professionals, explaining why they were voting for the candidate of their choice. In the email, the writer said: "Do not assume that all US feminists support Hillary Clinton and that only the boys support Obama. Many feminists, myself included, support him because of his stand on the war and because we see Hillary as a liberal hawk. Here is a petition laying out this position signed by a number of NY feminists before the primary.”

The petition:
“In the coming elections, it is important to remember that war and peace are as much "women's issues," as are health, the environment, and the achievement of educational and occupational equality. Because we believe that all of these concerns are not only fundamental but closely intertwined, we will be casting our vote for Senator Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, we have watched with shock and sorrow as our country has become mired in war. The resulting tragedy for our own soldiers, their immediate families and for the people of Iraq has been incalculable.

Less obvious, but no less grave has been the impact on our domestic institutions and economy. With a defense budget of half a trillion dollars and expenditures now averaging $12 billion a month for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, resources that might have been used for health care, housing, education, repair of infrastructure, relief of poverty and community development have been drained away.

We urgently need a Presidential candidate, who understands that "preemptive" attacks on other countries and the reliance on military force have diminished rather then strengthened our national security.

And we urgently need a Presidential candidate whose first priority is to address domestic needs. We do not believe that Senator Hillary Clinton is that candidate.

We base our judgment on her seven-year record as the Senator from New York. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she has carefully identified herself as a supporter of a strong, enlarged and proactive military. In 2002, she voted to authorize the "use of force" against Iraq, while voting against an amendment that would have mandated further diplomacy. In subsequent years, she expressed enthusiastic support for the war effort, objected to fixed timelines or the withdrawal of U.S troops and until last summer voted for the "unconditional funding" of the war.

Under pressure from the Democratic base, Senator Clinton has recently issued numerous statements about bringing the troops home "responsibly." But her actual plan would leave tens of thousands of Americans soldiers in Iraq over a period of many years. Her record of embracing military solutions and the foreign policy advisors she has selected make us doubt that she will end this calamitous war.

Choosing to support Senator Obama was not an easy decision for us because electing a woman President would be a cause for celebration in itself and because we deplore the sexist attacks against Senator Clinton that have circulated in the media. However, we also recognize that the election of Barack Obama would be another historic achievement and that his support for gender equality has been unwavering.

In backing Senator Obama, we are mindful of the inconsistencies in his voting record and the limitations of his own plans for withdrawal. Yet it is noteworthy that at a time when this position was politically unpopular and when he was aiming for national office, Barack Obama opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq and has spoken out against the war ever since. This puts him in a far better position to articulate a clear challenge to a Republican opponent.

We are also moved by the positive tone of the Obama campaign, the tremendous energy it has released across the country, the dramatic engagement of young people and the impetus for change that his candidacy embodies. We are speaking out now because we cannot afford to elect another President who will continue the aggressive, interventionist policies of the present.”

Frankly, either Obama or Clinton in the White House means little to me. However, my personal observation of women in politics has been that women undergo a sex-change as soon as they plant themselves in the hot seat of power. Political power creates out of the female a neutral animal, neither a woman nor a man but a hybrid that tries to overcompensate for the perceived weaknesses of her sex and at the same time to assume the preconceived machismo of the other sex. The result can often be, in various degrees and in individual cases, a more rigid, a more corrupt, a more brutal, or a more ordinary leader. Certainly, we have all seen that a woman Head of State hardly ever brings to her role the essential female graces of intuition, humanity, maternal compassion and the moral strength and courage earned from centuries of living with repression and injustice: in other words, all the qualities that we expect a female hero to possess, if we still naively harbour such illusions.

There is nothing wrong with illusion or hope, this last having been the redeeming quality left in Pandora's Box of evils that were let loose on mankind. But politics may not be the right place to hope for redemption or justice. The existence of heroes and heroines, at least among elected leaders was always a myth, and the national quest for that perfect and heroic leader is always doomed to be a journey of self-delusion. The fantasy of a woman in a place of power making the world a better place is one of those fairy tales which, the sooner abandoned the better for the voting world. We have to use other measures to judge candidates, who we all know are just ordinary people put in extraordinary situations; whether they manage to live up to that position is a matter of their individual character.

Remember, women are equal to men? Ergo, they are potentially as fallible and brutish as the men are. In fact, it has often been seen that sometimes a woman, to show her competence or professionalism, strains to be more 'masculine' than her male colleagues. So what does it matter whether one votes in a female head of State or a male? Politics, at best, will neutralize them, and at worst, will make a Dominatrix out of the women and autocrats out of the men.

The political field is hardly the proper arena for the Battle of the Sexes. He/she who triumphs in the political game, only wins personal and party power. It means little to the larger gender community. Hillary in the White House will mean little to ordinary women, and less so to women all over the world. A woman in a powerful place is just a politician. We don't need to leave the Indian subcontinent to know this truth.


Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2008