Tuesday, August 31, 2004
The Gender Gap Isn't About Gender
Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.
Why has the US - salient among democracies - never had a female president or other major elected political leader? There must be many reasons, some of which may have to do with choices of American women themselves (and it begs the question, 'Why, particularly in today's degraded national politics, would anyone want to volunteer for such a terrible life?' The quality of ALL candidates for national office has been on a clear downward path anyway for decades). But I think the correct answer is that women only really started to go - en masse - for elective office in the last 25 years or so, and it takes some time to build up to the higher levels. We will have a female president, VP, Speaker, Majority Leader, etc. one of these days. And unlike some, I don't think gender will matter very much. It depends on who it is, the times she's in, etc. The idea some women (and probably some men) half-harbor that electing women to high office will greatly improve or even 'save' the country is really kind of silly - to re-title a recent movie: 'Chauvinism, Actually'. President Schlafly, anyone? Or how about that other pro wrestler...what's her name? 'Chynna'?
But the more interesting question is: what is the cause of some men's (and plenty of women's) abiding, visceral negative reaction to the very idea of being led by a woman? I'm going to try to leave aside all of the 'personal is political' stuff for now and just focus on politics per se - I don't have the time for a huge essay on 'local' sexual politics, ie relationships, marriage, etc. It's too easy to be reductive when you're dealing with so basic a thing as sex. So let's stick with things which are observable.
So, what is the reason for this resistance? I was never a fan of Hillary Clinton, but also have never found her to be viscerally threatening, a la the fierce reaction against her from conservative circles (baking cookies, etc). The reasons women sometimes mistrust other women are also beyond the scope of this post; the reasons men do is what interests me here. Why is it? You know the answer. 'Women are 'emotional' and 'romantic'. You can't have a woman who is at 'that time of the month' with her finger on the Big Red Button' etc. That's what guys said during the Cold War, anyway. But is that really right? The fact is, men - particularly middle-aged men - are subject to physiological vagaries, too; and at least with women, those vagaries are predictable, or at least acknowledged; whereas many men - particularly men with inflated egos - are loath to admit any physiologically-based error at all, even if it's obvious to everyone outside of their own heads ('oh honey, you always get this way when you're tired').
It bears repeating periodically that it is and has always been men who are the true romantics. Men invented Romance. Of course, like so much else, romance is a great gift as well as a great curse. Romance is pure creativity and imagination. But it's also self-absorbtion and cruelty (love is about the person loved; romantic love is about the romancer himself). Any fool can tell you that women tend to be much more practical and detail-oriented about love - and about many other, non-abstract things - than men. Biology really is destiny, like it or not.
Listening to as much of the speechifying at last night's GOP convention as I could bear - particularly that of the shameless and deeply mediocre little prick Giuliani - I was struck by the fact that the modern Republican Party is now the party of emotionalism and wild romanticism (name me someone of either sex more romantic than Paul Wolfowitz). It seduces people to the idea that details don't matter, that all you need is the right heart, the right Big Idea, and the details about how it's affected will take care of themselves - always 'eventually' or 'in the long run'. Thank god there is a plurality of women out there who are a little more clear-headed. They may make the difference in this election.
But of course, everyone who keeps their nerve will, I hope, make the difference in this election. As the Bush administration (among many others) have shown, imagination, daring-do and 'gut' instinct aren't sufficient. But on the other hand a strictly technocratic, humorless, unimaginative culture is not only extremely boring, it probably leads to one kind of gulag or another (or at the very least, utter stagnation). Men and women both have both instincts! I always thought that was the original point of Feminism ('Equity Feminism', anyway). Whether in an Arab country or in this one, deny - in some fundamental way - a basic part of your humanity, and you are asking for big trouble.
This national decision really isn't about left vs right, women vs men or any other simplistic binary choice. As I and others have pointed out, there is no real, singular polarization in this country. Polarization is a fiction stumbled into by both our decadent political parties - but relentlessly stoked by the mainstream right wing for 35+ years. National identity, like sexual identity, is only worried over, fretted over, when that identity is in question or doubt. Insecurity always plays a defense which pretends to be offense. For god's sake, let's keep our heads here. Overheated jingoism is the worst kind of pie-in-the-sky, idiotic, emotionalist romanticism. Like the aforementioned egoist man who can't see what is obvious to everyone outside his own head, Madison Square Garden is, this week, the hard bone isolating and protecting a squirming, deluded, vaporously romantic mind - willfully oblivious to the messy reality without.