[DEBATE] : american politricks / white men who vote for hillary are feminists (susan faludi)
tintinyana at gmail.com
Fri May 9 14:57:41 BST 2008
May 9, 2008
The Fight Stuff
By SUSAN FALUDI
NOTABLE in the Indiana and North Carolina primary results and in many
recent polls are signs of a change in the gender weather: white men
are warming to Hillary Clinton — at least enough to vote for her. It’s
no small shift. These men have historically been her fiercest
antagonists. Their conversion may point less to a new kind of male
voter than to a new kind of female vote-getter.
Pundits have been quick to attribute the erosion in Barack Obama’s
white male support to a newfound racism. What they have failed to
consider is the degree to which white male voters witnessing Senator
Clinton’s metamorphosis are being forced to rethink precepts they’ve
long held about women in American politics.
For years, the prevailing theory has been that white men are often
uneasy with female politicians because they can’t abide strong women.
But if that’s so, why haven’t they deserted Senator Clinton? More
particularly, why haven’t they deserted her as she has become ever
more pugnacious in her campaign?
Maybe the white male electorate just can’t abide strong women whom
they suspect of being of a certain sort. To adopt a particularly
lamentable white male construct, the sports metaphor, political
strength comes in two varieties: the power of the umpire, who controls
the game by application of the rules but who never gets hit; and the
power of the participant, who has no rules except to hit hard, not
complain, bounce back and endeavor to prevail in the end.
For virtually all of American political history, the strong female
contestant has been cast not as the player but the rules keeper, the
purse-lipped killjoy who passes strait-laced judgment on feral boy
fun. The animosity toward the rules keeper is fueled by the suspicion
that she (and in American life, the regulator is inevitably coded
feminine, whatever his or her sex) is the agent of people so
privileged that they don’t need to fight, people who can dominate more
decisively when the rules are decorous. American political misogyny is
inflamed by anger at this clucking overclass: who are they to do
battle by imposing rectitude instead of by actually doing battle?
The specter of the prissy hall monitor is, in part, the legacy of the
great female reformers of Victorian America. In fact, these women were
the opposite of fainting flowers. Susan B. Anthony barely flinched in
the face of epithets, hurled eggs and death threats. Carry A. Nation
swung an ax. Yet they were regarded by men as the regulators outside
the game. Indeed, many 19th-century female reformers defined
themselves that way — as reluctant trespassers in the public sphere
who had left the domestic circle only to fulfill their duty as the
morally superior sex, housekeepers scouring away a nation’s vice.
While the populace might concede the merits of the female reformers’
cause, it found them repellent on a more glandular level. In that
visceral subbasement of the national imagination — the one that
underlies all the blood-and-guts sports imagery our culture holds so
dear — the laurels go to the slugger who ignores the censors, the
outrider who navigates the frontier without a chaperone.
Certainly through the many early primaries, Hillary Clinton was often
defined by these old standards, and judged harshly. She was forever
the entitled chaperone. But that was then. As Thelma, the housewife
turned renegade, says to her friend in “Thelma & Louise” as the two
women flee the law through the American West, “Something’s crossed
over in me.”
Senator Clinton might well say the same. In the final stretch of the
primary season, she seems to have stepped across an unstated gender
divide, transforming herself from referee to contender.
What’s more, she seems to have taken to her new role with a Thelma-
like relish. We are witnessing a female competitor delighting in the
undomesticated fray. Her new no-holds-barred pugnacity and gleeful
perseverance have revamped her image in the eyes of begrudging white
male voters, who previously saw her as the sanctioning “sivilizer,” a
political Aunt Polly whose goody-goody directives made them want to
head for the hills.
It’s the unforeseen precedent of an unprecedented candidacy: our first
major female presidential candidate isn’t doing what men always accuse
women of doing. She’s not summoning the rules committee over every
infraction. (Her attempt to rewrite the rules for Michigan and Florida
are less a timeout than rough play.) Not once has she demanded that
the umpire stop the fight. Indeed, she’s asking for more unregulated
action, proposing a debate with no press-corps intermediaries.
If anyone has been guarding the rules this election, it’s been the
press, which has been primly thumbing the pages of Queensberry and
scolding her for being “ruthless” and “nasty,” a “brawler” who fights
But while the commentators have been tut-tutting, Senator Clinton has
been converting white males, assuring them that she’s come into their
tavern not to smash the bottles, but to join the brawl.
Deep in the American grain, particularly in the grain of white male
working-class voters, that is the more trusted archetype. Whether
Senator Clinton’s pugilism has elevated the current race for the
nomination is debatable. But the strategy has certainly remade the
political world for future female politicians, who may now cast off
the assumption that when the going gets tough, the tough girl will
resort to unilateral rectitude. When a woman does ascend through the
glass ceiling into the White House, it will be, in part, because of
the race of 2008, when Hillary Clinton broke through the glass floor
and got down with the boys.
Susan Faludi is the author of “Backlash,” “Stiffed” and “The Terror
Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America.”
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